In many courses, you are asked to submit your writing in memo form, and in some cases your assignments are given to you as memos. This not only gives you practice in writing a professional document, it invites you to see your writing as purposeful and aimed at a particular audience. A detailed instructional memo about memo writing—a "metamemo," if you will—follows.
To open an instructional memo about memo writing within this page, click here.
MYTHIC UNIVERSITY ONLINE
DATE : August 9, 2008
TO : Users of Style for Students Online
FROM : Joe Schall
SUBJECT : Writing Memos for your Classes
This memo provides you with tips on writing memos for your classes, with special attention to a memo’s audience, format, organization, content, tone, and style. Because my advice comes in the form of a memo, you can use this document as a model for writing your own memos.
The Audience for a Memo
It is useful to begin by considering that a memo is essentially a one-on-one communication between writer and reader. Although a memo may be written to a group of people or with various audiences in mind, usually it is a highly goal-oriented communication between two people who need to share information. When you write a memo to a professor in the classroom setting, you are much like the employee who has been assigned to investigate a problem and report back to a supervisor. Therefore, you are expected to provide concrete information, even information that the supervisor might already know, in a form that clarifies ideas and puts them into context. Finally, a memo enjoys a broader context than an essay; hence, you might refer to other related memos as you write, or you might respond to specific requests made by the audience in your text, in effect, carrying on a professional conversation.
Typical Memo Format
The overall format of a memo can be broken down into the heading, the body, and the closing notations. What follows is a brief description of each component.
The heading has two parts: part one includes two centered lines at the top of page 1, identifying the name of the company or institution on the first line, with the word "memorandum" on the second line; part two includes the "DATE," "TO," "FROM," and "SUBJECT" lines at the left margin, filled in appropriately.
The body of the memo follows the Introduction, and it is usually presented in single-spaced paragraphs with a line skipped between each paragraph. The first lines of new paragraphs can appear at the left margin or they can be indented five spaces.
The Closing Notations
The closing notations, used to identify such things as attachments, appear at the left margin two lines below the text of the final paragraph. By simply typing the word "Attachment" as a closing notation, you automatically refer the reader to any attachment, such as a map, a set of calculations, spreadsheets, or a References page.
How Memos are Organized
The general organization of a memo mirrors that of an essay: an introduction, followed by body paragraphs, followed by a conclusion. However, the first paragraph of a memo is typically used as a forecasting device. Note how the opening paragraph of this memo defines the memo’s function and reflects its organization. It is sensible to open memos for your classes in the same way, first directly stating the memo’s purpose, then setting forth the organization and noting how the memo can be used.
Organization in the body of a memo is typically characterized by the use of section headings and short paragraphs. Paragraphs should not be too bulky—five or six per page is usually ideal. On the sentence level, you should take full advantage of the same organizational tools that you employ when you write an essay: meaningful topic sentences; carefully selected transition words; focused section headings; indented blocks of cited text; a bulleted series of examples; powerful punctuation marks such as the colon, semicolon, and dash.
Selection and Citation of Content
A memo’s content, of course, is guided by the assignment and the research required. It is important to remember as you present the content that selectivity and relevance matter greatly. Your job is to select and present the most pertinent, most current information available to you. Do not hesitate, of course, to let your memo’s content be heavily informed by your research, but also provide your own interpretation and organization of this research.
As in any essay, you must document the sources of your information so that your reader could find the original source of the information if desired. If your memo uses sources, provide the bibliographic information related to your sources on a References page as an attachment at the end of the memo—just as I have in this memo.
A Memo’s Tone and Style
Memos for your classes require a highly informative and straightforward tone, but allow for a slightly informal style compared to essays. As in this memo, "I" and "you" are handy because they provide a straightforward way of communicating, but you must be careful not to overuse these terms. Stylish prose is key to good memo writing, and you should not hesitate to use active, interpretive adverbs and verbs and concrete, carefully chosen adjectives and nouns.
A memo need not be written in a dry, dull fashion; rather, it should emulate the same stylistic standards that good prose has always embraced. These standards are summed up neatly in the popular style guide, The Elements Of Style, as follows:
A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary
sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines
and a machine no unnecessary parts (Strunk and White 1979).
As this quote suggests, good prose can achieve elegance by its clarity, efficiency, and sense of purpose.
The conclusion of a memo should not simply provide a summary of the memo’s entire contents, but it should be a true conclusion—that is, an articulated conviction arrived at on the basis of the evidence presented. The closing paragraph is the place to spell out the bottom line to the reader. Therefore, I close with my bottom line about writing memos for your classes:
- Study and use standard memo format to present your text;
- Use internal organizational tools such as section headings, topic sentences, transition words, and powerful punctuation marks to enhance the flow of ideas;
- Write with the same clarity, grace, and efficiency expected of you in any essay.
Strunk, William Jr and White, E.B., 1979: The Elements of Style. Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., New York, 92 pp.
Like most forms of writing, memos come with so many rules, instructions, and suggestions that it's easy to forget a few. Since we've already addressed the dos and don'ts of how to write a memo, let's take a moment to look at these rules in practice.
While reading over the below memo examples, pay special attention to the key features of a memo. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it addressed to the right audience?
- Does the subject line accurately convey its contents?
- Does it anticipate and address potential objections?
- Is it formatted clearly and consistently?
When considering each memo's main text, pay close attention to the structure. The opening paragraph should restate the memo's purpose indicated in the subject line. Subsequent paragraphs should build on this opening statement and explain the memo's purpose in detail. Unnecessary information should be removed, and word choice should remain straightforward and professional.
Memo Example 1: A General Office Memo
To: All Staff
From: The Manager
Date: May 27, 2010
Subject: Inappropriate use of time on Google Doodle games
It has come to my attention that many in the office have been spending time on the Google home page microgames. This memo is a reminder to use your work hours for work.
According to a recent article, the estimated daily cost of people collectively playing these games instead of working is over $120 million—which is calculated based on the daily average increased time spent on the Google home page (36 seconds).
If these estimates are applied to our 600 office employees, this results in a nearly $700 weekly loss.
This is a conservative estimate considering the extensive discussions that occur about beating the office's current high score. The extra cost quickly adds up.
Of course, we don't want you to view our organization as a place of drudgery and draconian rules. I encourage a fun and competitive environment, and I recognize that we certainly won't be profitable if you are unhappy or dissatisfied with your jobs. This is just a reminder to be careful with your use of company time.
Wright, Tony. (2010). The Tragic Cost of Google Pac-Man – 4.82 million hours. Retrieved May 26, 2010 from: http://blog.rescuetime.com/2010/05/24/the-tragic-cost-of-google-pac-man-4-82-million-hours/
Memo Example 2: A Departmental Memo
To: Computer Programming Division
From: Vice President Lumbergh
Date: February 19, 2016
Subject: Attaching cover sheets to TPS reports
This is to remind the division that, starting today, we are now filing all Testing Procedure Specification (TPS) reports with new cover sheets.
The reason for this change is simple. In addition to a new format, the cover sheets provide a summary of the report as well as the updated legal copy. The new cover sheets also include Initech's new logo.
Though this change may initially seem like a headache and an extra step, it is necessary to include the new cover sheets due to their updated information. Failing to do so will result in a confusing and inaccurate product delivered to our customers.
Please be sure to follow this new procedure.
Vice President Lumbergh
By following these memo examples and addressing your audience in clear, concise language, you'll be able to effectively communicate with your coworkers in all your correspondence.
Good writing comes from good editing. A professional editor does more than correct mistakes; they can help you turn lead into gold! The following are 10 reasons to hire a professional editor.
In today’s Internet- and email-driven society, the need to write a formal letter arises less often than in the past. However, it is still occasionally necessary to present a formal letter to obtain information, to apply for an academic program or a job, to complain about a product or service, or simply to express your opinion in an effective and coherent manner.
To learn how to write a memo, you must know your intended audience and understand basic memo format. This article will help you with both!
Back to Advice and Articles