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Memos--short for memorandum--are almost the same as letters. A main difference between them is that letters convey information to people outside an organization, while memos generally are written to people on the inside. Another difference between letters and memos is the format. A letter uses a salutation ("Dear Madam") and a close ("Sincerely"); a memo doesn't. A memo always contains a subject line. Memos can be formal or informal, depending on who will read them.
List the points you need to make in the memo and write down the information needed to support those points. Include background information that's needed to give the topic a context.
Order the information. If the topic is complex, unpleasant or controversial, the background context probably should go first. Otherwise, start with the main idea.
Check to make sure you haven't left out supporting or main information.
Gather up supporting documents you will need for reference as you write your memo.
Format the Memo
Check to see if your company has a preferred format for interoffice memos. Some companies even have preprinted memorandum forms. Use the preferred or preprinted format if one is available.
Set the margins, leaving at least a 1 1/2-inch space at both the top and bottom and a 1-inch space on each side. The content of the memo should be centered on the page; if the memo is very short, the top and side margins should be increased.
Set the style of the word processing document to block format: left aligned, single spaced, with a space between paragraphs.
Create a Heading
Type in heading components to start the memo, one component per single-spaced line. Each component should be followed by a colon. For example: Date: To: From: Subject:
Fill in the subject information using a title style. That is, the words in the subject should all be capitalized except articles, prepositions and conjunctions with less than four letters, unless they start or end the title. Make the subject specific.
Fill in the "Date," "To" and "From" lines, aligning the first word of each with the first word of the subject line. The date should be written with a spelled out month--July 4, 2020, for instance. Use full names for the "To" and "From" lines.
Create a heading on the second and subsequent pages if the memo runs longer than one page. If the memo is to multiple recipients, use a shortened form of the subject line, single space and include the date, then single space again and include the page number. If to one person, you can use an alternative form, listing the reader's name, page number and date on one line, the name right aligned, the number centered and the date left aligned.
Write the Body
Write an introductory paragraph if the reader needs it for context. This paragraph gives history, states the problem that is to be addressed in the memo and/or refreshes the reader's memory about previous communications about the topic.
State the main idea of the memo. This will be the opening line if you didn't write an introductory paragraph. Here you announce a policy, solution, decision, recommendation, finding or event. If there was no introduction, provide brief context, for instance, "As we discussed..." or " Since the cafeteria has been experiencing long lines..."
Provide any information needed to explain, support or fully convey the information the reader needs to understand the topic.
Provide notations at the bottom, such as a "cc:" if you are sending a copy of the memo to someone besides the person listed in the heading.
Edit the memo. Make sure spelling and grammar are correct, ideas are developed and that the reader will understand what you need to say.
Print out the memo and initial it. Some organizations want the initials written next to the "From" line in the header. Others want the initials at the bottom. Check company policy.
Whether writing a memo to a superior or a subordinate, to several people or to inform others about controversial or unwelcome topics, keep the tone businesslike and formal. Keep memos concise, clear and easy to read.
When writing, keep in mind that memos are no longer temporary communications as they once were. The contents likely will linger indefinitely, kept on file as a record of company activity and history. So write with permanence in mind.
- Technical English; Nell Ann Pickett, Ann A. Laster, Katherine E. Staples; 2001
- Handbook of Technical Writing; Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, Walter E. Oliu; 2000
- Business Communication: Building Critical Skills; Kitty O. Locker, Stephen Kyo Kaczmarek; 2007