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How to Write a Briefing Memo

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One of the responsibilities of staff members working in various levels of government is writing briefing memos for policy makers, who use the memos to educate themselves about issues and to guide them in forming protocols, procedures and laws. A briefing memo is a concise summary of an issue or case that presents a call for action to the reader. A successful memo persuades the reader to act by providing concrete evidence that is easy to understand and evaluate.

Begin the memo by writing "To:" and "From:" Insert the name of the sender and the recipient after the colons. On the next line, write the date that you wrote the memo. Finish this section by writing "Subject:" followed by the topic that the memo references.

Specify the action that you want to reader to take in the first sentence or paragraph of the memo.

Maintain the reader's attention by using brief, succinct paragraphs that are no more than 5 sentences long. When stating the reasons for taking action, list each reason in a separate paragraph.

Use empirical evidence to persuade the reader of the need for the proposed course of action. For example, cite low-income housing statistics when seeking a change in a given zoning policy. Avoid generalizations that you cannot support with facts.

Outline the alternative courses of actions or policies, describing the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Avoid unnecessarily wordy or formal expressions, for example "as per our discussion," and technical jargon when you are citing facts and figures. Use simple, direct language that any reader can understand.

Use the active voice, as opposed to passive, throughout the memo to encourage action. If you know the recipient of the memo well, use first person pronouns like "I" and "we," because people are more likely to do something for those they feel they know personally. Emphasize such personal connections further by using contractions, such as "I'm".

Reiterate the necessity for action at the end of the memo. Be sure to indicate if there is a deadline for action that must be met.


A briefing memo that exceeds two pages in length becomes a report, which the reader is unlikely to read right away upon receipt.