English Corner – On Writing Memos

“What is a memorandum you may ask? A memorandum or ‘memo’ is a type of written message passed along in a business for internal changes and review. Being able to edit, write, and understand memos is a key part of being successful in the business world.”

What is a memorandum you may ask? A memorandum or ‘memo’ is a type of written message passed along in a business for internal changes and review. Being able to edit, write, and understand memos is a key part of being successful in the business world. Memos are usually shorter in terms of written length and can range from as little as 100 words to about 1000 words depending on the subject matter. Memos are not only used in the business world, but they also carry over to governments as well as to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at times.

While memos are not as popular anymore due to the rise of electronic mail (e-mail), they are still a fast, secure, and cost-effective way of communicating with other people in the business or company. If you are to work in a business setting, you’ll need to do a wide variety of vocabulary as well as have a good understanding of formal grammar and syntax.

Some key aspects of the memo include the header or title to sum up what the memo is about, the subject line to describe the focus of what the memo’s topic is, and then you have who the memo is addressed to with the To: line and then below that is the From: line to indicate who wrote the memo and where it is from. Then, you have the body paragraph(s) where the ideas of the memo are divulged and then the conclusion which re-states the ideas and sums up the purpose of the memo.              

You also want to make sure that the memo is single spaced or double spaced depending on the guidance you receive from your workplace. If there is an ‘attachment’ such as an image or a text, make sure it is attached to the memo before you send it out and that you indicate that there is an attached file when you write up the memo. Lastly, it is very important to leave your name at the bottom as well as the date at the top so that person who received the memo knows not only who it came from but when it was written to see how fresh or old it is.                                   

Memos place a high emphasis on timeliness but also orderliness while being able to sum up a large amount of information in a short amount of space. Most memos are only a page long but can get up to no more than five pages depending upon the subject or general content you are writing about. The style of any memo you write should always be concise and succinct.

You have to show analytical clarity with your writing. (It has to make sense to the reader). It may be sensitive material so you will have to be your own editor and not rely on others in the company. The content has to be informative, persuasive, and relevant to the audience. When you write or read a memo, you should expect for it to be impactful in some manner to inform the reader.

There are main questions you will want to answer in any memo that you write such as:

  1. What is relevant for the person reading it to be aware of from my memo?
  2. Why does it matter to the business / company / organization?
  3. What is the objective of the memo?
  4. Who is my audience for it?
  5. What is the issue that we are working on?

The most important thing to be aware of when asking these questions is what is the objective?, who are my audience?, and what is the issue I care about? If you forget the other questions, it is very important to remember OAI: objective, audience, issue. As long as you address those three main questions, your memo should be really concise and informative.

When it comes to the actual structure of the memo, the scope of your issue have to be addressed up front as well as the main points you want to focus on. The Subject of your memo should always be both descriptive and short (about 4 to 8 words)

1. Example: How to Increase Our Fourth Quarter Earnings

The ‘bottom line’ or summary sentence must be upfront or at the top of the memo. You should always have a good ‘hook’ to draw in the reader’s attention. You’ll also want to articulate the key points or the recommendations in the first or second sentences of your memo. You have to assume that the reader of the memo may only have time to read one paragraph of it especially if you are in government or in the business world for your career.

You should always be using specific facts and relevant information to bolster your bullet points. You’re going to want to paint a comprehensive picture of the situation at hand and what can be done about it. Always be able to articulate the risks of your reasoning, the possible consequences to your action points, as well as the counterpoints (additional context) if your memo calls for it. The memo should have a logical flow and is not as structured as an essay or article. Lastly, remember to utilize precise language and avoid unnecessary words.

When it comes to what you should always do in memo writing, the Do’s are quite obvious from a writer’s perspective: Choose your words carefully. Be brief and clear as much as possible. Anticipate and address the reader’s questions in them. Avoid leaps in logic and assumptions based on the memo’s content. Proofread or edit your writing thoroughly and consistently. Use correct grammar throughout the entire memo.

The don’ts of memo writing is a bit more difficult but also involve some common sense in addition to having the structure and the techniques memorized. Perhaps most importantly, don’t summarize but analyze instead. Don’t ever use either abbreviations or acronyms to save some space as it is important to spell all the words out to retain their meaning. It’s important to not have unclear terms that will confuse the reader or audience. Keeping any run-on sentences at all in the final version is also a big no-no. You also would not like to have unprofessional or unrelated jargon (vocabulary) that is not related to the memo in the text of what you have wrote.

Memo writing is an advanced form of English writing, but it can be quite useful to know how to do if you are willing to put in the work. For business, government, or NGO purposes, good memo writing will be essential to your career so please make sure to study the structure, the techniques, and the overall uses for memos even after reading this article. Good luck to you and I hope being able to write formal memos will further your business and career goals as an English writer.