How to Write an Effective Business Memo
Called memos for short, memorandums routinely are used within an organization to communicate a variety of ideas, from a new sick day policy to short reports and proposals. Among their many uses, memos confirm conversations, share ideas, instruct employees, and communicate policies. Because memos either request or share important information, they need to be carefully and concisely written so that the message is clear and accurate. A poorly written memo could confuse readers, offend employees, and create a loss of time.
Even with the popularity of e-mail and teleconferencing, surprisingly, effective memo-writing remains an essential skill in interoffice communications. Memos may be delivered via e-mail, but they still should follow the same professional and formatting standards as those printed on paper.
Typically, memos are short and communicate a single subject. If you have two subjects to cover, consider writing two separate memos.
Here are the basic steps to take when writing a business memo:
1. Jot down a list of the points you wish to cover in the letter.
2. Write the first draft.
3. Proofread, checking for spelling and grammatical errors. Do not rely solely upon your computer's spelling-check program. Computers do not understand context and never will never know if you meant "your" instead of "you" or "you're."
Writing a memo is not difficult and does not require much time. Just remember that a memo is in writing, which means it is permanently documented. Your memo represents you and your company; any glaring errors may cast you in a negative light among your peers and subordinates.
Establishing the Tone of Your Memo
Depending on the type of memo and who your readers are, different memos should be written with different tones. For instance, if your memo is announcing the company's holiday party, it should have a fun and festive tone, not serious and formal.
Change: It has been decided that the annual holiday party will be on Friday, December 16. It will begin at 6 p.m. and end at precisely 9 p.m.
To: Ready for some fun and festivities? Our holiday party will be on Friday, December 16, from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be music, snacks, drinks, and even a secret Santa gift exchange! We hope to see everyone there. Happy Holidays!
On the other hand, if you are requesting a deadline extension from a superior, you would take a professional and formal tone. However, formal does not mean stuffy, droning on, or using big words from a thesaurus. Writing like that can leave you looking stuffy and out of date.
Change: In can be seen from the lack of progress in gathering the second quarter's numerical data that we will need additional time to conclude the assignment.
To: Because of the Shanghai office's two-week closing, we were unable to gather all of the second-quarter data. Now that the Shanghai office has re-opened, we will need an additional two weeks to retrieve the final numbers and finish the project.
A Memo's Opening
Typically, a memo should begin with you stating your precise purpose in writing it. That may begin with a brief summary of the problem, but the main point should be covered.
1. The office will be open the day after Christmas.
The exceptions to putting the main idea first are when:
· you are giving bad news.
· when readers are likely to be skeptical.
· when you are in disagreement with your superiors.
In the above cases, it will work to your advantage to use a more persuasive tactic by first stating the problem and then presenting points that support your recommendation. When done properly, this method can lead readers to your desired conclusion before you even tell them what it is.
Making Your Memo Easy to Read
Long blocks of text are hard to read and unappealing to look at. It is often a good idea to use short paragraphs, headings, and lists to break up text and lay your message out in a logical format.
Short paragraphs: Try to limit each paragraph to one idea. If a one-paragraph idea seems too long, see if you can make your point more precise or try to create two paragraphs, each communicating a different part of the point.
Headings: In long memos, headings are a great way to divide the material into manageable segments. They not only call attention to main topics but they let the reader know when there is a change in topic.
Lists: Using lists to emphasize critical points is much more persuasive than lost text in a lengthy paragraph. Just be sure not to overdo bulleted or numbered points. A memo full of lists is difficult to understand because readers need to connect the points themselves, rather than being guided by text.
A Memo's Ending
Typically, memos do not require a conclusion other than the optional "Please contact me if you have questions" or something similar. Memos are not letters and do not require the writer to include a closing signature. To signify that you wrote and approve of the memo, a writer should write his or her initials next to the name in the "From" line of the heading.
The Parts of a Business Memo:
Here is an example of a typical business memo:
The Dashing Dance School
DATE: May 23, 20--
TO: Advertising Department
FROM: Mandy Joyne
SUBJECT: Third- and fourth-quarter marketing ideas
After our meeting on Tuesday, we had a chance to review your marketing suggestions for the third and fourth quarters and would like to immediately move forward with the "Back to School" series of advertisements.
We are still reviewing the other marketing ideas you presented but wanted to give you the go-ahead on this one. Thanks for all your hard work, and we will have a decision on the remaining ideas within a week or two.
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