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Like other business communications, a memo requesting information provides a compact summary of the issue you're addressing. You're aiming to save time by giving a concise overview of the topic for those employees who need to know about it. Keep that goal in mind when you write and format your memo.
Follow a Consistent Format
State clearly whom you're addressing in your memo. The most common format is to type "TO" and "FROM" on the first and second lines, respectively, followed by a colon. Then add the sender's and recipient's names, titles and departments. Place them flush left on the page. On the third line, type "RE," for "regarding." Write a one- or two-line summary of the issue you're raising, such as, "RE: Office supplies: cost control measures." Add the date at the top of the page. Single-space lines, but leave one space between paragraphs.
If you wish, you can also add a "MEMO" or "MEMORANDUM" heading at the top of the page to further clarify your memo's purpose. However, this step isn't required.
Prepare a rough outline before you start writing. Jot down the main points you want to cover. Then prepare a sentence for each one.
Get to the Point
Establish your main idea in the first paragraph. Follow a "who, what, when, where and why" format so that everyone understands the memo's relevance. For example, if office supply spending is the topic, tell employees how to respond. Say something like, "To stay on budget, we must review what we're spending for office supplies. Departments X, Y and Z should submit that information to me by Date X."
Stick to one thought or idea per sentence, and one topic per memo. If you can't express your ideas more succinctly, continue revising until you eliminate redundant words and phrases.
Fill in the Details
Spell out supporting information in your next two or three paragraphs. This is the place to expand on the subject of the memo, if necessary. For example, your office supply memo should include instructions on how to complete the spending reports you require. Explain references when necessary. Instead of writing, "Our policy manual states," say, "Per Policy XYZ, a supervisor's signature is needed for copy and fax paper purchases over X dollars."
Don't mention past conversations, letters or calls without specifying the date and context for them. If you're emailing your memo, include only the most relevant portions of any prior communications, not whole messages.
Close on a Strong Note
Maintain your businesslike tone in the final paragraph. Tell employees how you'll proceed, once you receive the information. Close by offering to answer any questions or concerns. Note additional documents that you've attached to your memo by adding "Enclosure," or "Enc.," below your signature line. Acknowledge any copies that you distribute by adding "cc," followed by the individuals' names.
Proofread your memo for brevity, grammar and spelling errors before sending it out.
Allow the nature of your working relationship and the details you're sharing to dictate your memo's level of formality or informality. When in doubt, address recipients by full names and titles.
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.