A memorandum or “memo” is used to communicate within an institution or company. A memorandum is used, among other things, to convey requests, arrangements, complaints, notice of meeting, suggestions, etc. The first thing to be clear on is the purpose of your memo. It could be a request, in which you will need to be persuasive in getting what it is you need, or a confirmation memo to formalise some agreement that took place in a meeting – which is very important from a paper-trail point of view. It could be a suggestive memo, putting forward, or requesting solutions to a specific problem, or a report memo to give an account of progress on a particular project or endeavour.
The first and possibly most important thing is to use a headline that is eye-catching – and places a question in the audience’s mind. It encourages them to read further as it has some kind of relevance. For example, a title like “Good first quarter results, but more effort required to reach some targets” gives a good summary of the memo, but encourages people to read on to find out which areas still require improvement.
Memos are characterized by being brief, direct, and easy to navigate. They are less formal than letters but should maintain a professional, succinct style. Often, the purpose of a business memo is two-fold: to identify a problem and propose a solution. Other times, memos may provide or request factual information. Remember that different people will read the memo differently, and you need to cater for all of them:
- Those who read only the executive summary
- Those who skim the entire memo for its key points and a few details they’re interested in
- Those who read the entire document for the details that support its major claims or recommendations.
Start with an executive summary – this will cater for top decision makers who don’t have time to read the entire memo. Readers should quickly grasp the content and significance of the memo. If readers have a question or problem, they want to know the answer or solution immediately—if readers want more information, they can continue reading. Ask yourself: Who is the intended recipient of this memo? What do I want the recipient to do after reading the memo? What information will the recipient be looking for in the memo? These kinds of questions will help guide your content, structure, and style choices. The executive summary serves the follow purposes:
- Presents the main request, recommendation or conclusion
- Summarizes then previews the main facts, arguments and evidence
- Forecasts the structure and order of information presented in the remainder of the memo
- Like the subject line, the executive summary provides a quick overview of the purpose and content of the memo. The reader uses it to guide both a quick first reading and subsequent rapid reviews.
The body should be as short as possible while still conveying all the necessary information and arguments in favour of what you are requesting or suggesting. Don’t get lost in winding complex language, the shorter and more succinct your memo the more people will actually engage with it. Use simple English- you should not use complex language while writing your memo because the readers may end up missing important points and your memorandum will not have served its purpose. Avoid too much use of vocabularies and jargon in your work. The style of your writing should be appropriate to your audience: In this case, your audience is your boss, your co-workers, or both. So, your style should be professional, straightforward, cordial, and easy to read. To achieve such a style, use short, active sentences. Avoid jargon and pretentious language. Maintain a positive or neutral tone; avoid negative language if possible. In addition to making memos easier to read, a professional writing style also improves the writer’s credibility.
The format of an internal Memo is as follows:
Here’s an example of a good memo: