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Memos

Memos are a common way to communicate in most businesses. Memos are different than letters because they are generally written only for members of your own organization, not for outsiders. Memos may be circulated on paper or via email. The culture of your organization will determine the method of communication (paper or email, memos or letters) and the level of formality.

Memos may be used to communicate many different types of information including short and simple messages dashed off in 15 minutes, a daily report on a project, or a longer report on complex issues that take hours to compose. Whether the memo is sent on paper or by email, it serves as a record of that communication whether it is a decision, a directive, an inquiry, instructions, or a request.

Take care to compose your message carefully and respectfully. All the components of good writing apply as much to memos as to formal reports.

Tip:

Memos may be stand-alone documents or may be attached to longer documents. For example, a transmittal memo would be used when distributing a formal report.

Steps in writing memos:

  1. Heading and Subject Line
  2. Opening or Introduction
  3. Body
    1. Context
    2. Task Segment
    3. Summary Segment
    4. Discussion Segment
  4. Closing or Conclusion

Heading and subject line

The heading is used to say who the memo is being sent to, who it is from, the date sent, and what the memo is about. The format is usually as follows: TO: (recipients' names and job titles) FROM: (your name and job title) DATE: (complete and current date) SUBJECT: (specifically state what the memo is about; some busy people will glance at the subject line and then decide whether or not to read the memo).

Opening or introduction

Clearly state the purpose of the memo. Like the introductory paragraph in an essay, it should catch the reader’s attention with the importance and relevance of the information. Depending on the audience and purpose, the introduction may be formal or informal. The introduction should be no more than a short paragraph, but may be only one or two sentences.

Tip:

Busy readers will only skim memos, so your message must be very clear, obvious, and concise. In other words, do not leave people confused or guessing what you want them to do.

Body

The body of the memo may contain a combination of elements. While the length may vary depending on the purpose of the memo, complexity of the issue, and audience, all memos should be as concise and to-the-point as possible.

Context

The context gives the background to the issue or the problem. The background details will help the reader read further on as they will know a little more. This is basically like giving small doses of information.

Task segment

Describe the problem being addressed, so that the readers understand that there is a problem and that something needs to be done.

Summary segment

If the memo is longer than one page, you should summarize with a brief overview of the conclusions that were reached.

Discussion segment

This is the longest part of the memo. Discuss the details of the issue starting with the most important information. Organize your points from strongest to weakest. Include the facts, supporting ideas, and the basis of the research that support the conclusions in the memo.

Closing or conclusion

Conclude with your recommendations for solving the problem. What action do you want the reader to take? Include the benefits to the reader if she follows your recommendation(s). Close with a courteous comment or a goodwill message.

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