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How to Write a Memo

Updated on March 7, 2008

Office Memos

A high-quality memorandum is the best tool available to effectively communicate information that is otherwise hard to pass on. However, the ineffective use of even the best tools can produce poor outcomes.

Writing a competent memo is crucial for clearly passing information on to other people. A poorly written memo often leads to misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the message it is supposed to communicate.

Before you start writing the memo, create an outline. The memo has three sections:

  • Opening – Include some sort of background information. Establish the purpose of the memo in general terms.
  • Body – Clearly outline the points of the message.
  • Ending – Focus on the next step, beyond the memo.

 Mmmmm....Peter....did you get the memo about the cover sheet for the TPS report???
Mmmmm....Peter....did you get the memo about the cover sheet for the TPS report???

Effectively Writing a Memo

To effectively write a memo, consider the following before you start writing:

  1. Identify whether you need it. Sometimes, writing a memo is inappropriate. Think about the information you need to communicate with others, and decide if a memo is the proper tool.
  2. Identify if you have enough well defined information for the memo. If you don’t have enough information to share in a memo, then perhaps you need to find another way to communicate your information.
  3. Identify your target audience—this is who you will be writing for.
  4. Identify the proper format for the memo, and then use it to organize thoughts and ideas.
  5. Identify how you can write your message clearly and how to choose words wisely, but at the same time keep it simple.
  6. Identify ways to keep sentences short and understandable.

Common Memo Mistakes

Sometimes people misuse or overuse memos. Even if we are great writers, some information doesn’t require an official form of communication. Often, when writing a memo we have a hard time differentiating our major points from our minor points. Common mistakes include:

  • Forgetting to proofread your memo. Sometimes, you find errors or ways to simplify your message by reading it after you are done writing.
  • Using an inappropriate tone in your correspondence. Emotions have a huge impact on the tone of your writing. Hold on to the memo before hitting the send button because you might need to change something you haven’t yet noticed.
  • Being afraid of using a passive voice. Sometimes it is better to use passive voice for political reasons. Creative writers have a difficult time doing this, but it is appropriate for memos.

The Last Steps

After you are sure your memo is ready to leave your desk, go ahead and make copies. You can now distribute your message around the office.

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    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 9 years ago from New Zealand

      Must admit it been a long time since I wrote a memo - more often I put the content in an email and send it to the relevant people.

    • Stacie Naczelnik profile image
      Author

      Stacie Naczelnik 9 years ago from Seattle

      Lissie - me too, but there are some situations when a memo is necessary, like when you need to keep a written record of the information distribution. Sometimes managers request that everyone initial a copy to prove they have read the memo. Sometimes the memo takes the place of a missing document, like a receipt that can't be found for budget purposes.

    • Kathryn Vercillo profile image

      Kathryn Vercillo 9 years ago from San Francisco

      Great article and definitely one that's still relevant today. In fact, I think some of the common memo mistakes (such as using the wrong tone) are a direct effect of the fact that we use other forms of communication (such as email) on such a regular basis. Going back to the basics of this kind of writing can really help with that.

    • terenceyap07 profile image

      terenceyap07 8 years ago from Singapore

      Hi /stacie,

      Thanks for sharing these guidelines with us. This is a very useful hub, my friend.

      *smiles*

    • profile image

      Hira khan 6 years ago

      hmm..that's quite helpful n interesting..having a reading of this article i m much able t solve my confusion regarding memorandums..

    • profile image

      Paul 5 years ago

      Hey Pal,

      Thanks for the advice... Great Job !!!

    • profile image

      WalkCafe 3 years ago

      Sorry, I've found a reference to it. The Yankees comemnt wasn't a numbered item in the list, just a side comemnt prior to it:"One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."Some of the highlights from the Top Ten list:7. Keyed Tina Fey's car3. Finally met one of those Jewish people Mel Gibson's always talking about2. Bought makeup from Bloomingdale's to update her "slutty flight attendant" look Quality Letterman.

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