Before the computer age, written memos were the de facto method of communication in the workplace. Whenever an announcement needed to be sent to a large number of employees, a memo would be written on a piece of paper, duplicated, and delivered to a real-life inbox (a tray on your desk or a cubby mailbox).
Businesses still communicate via memo today, but email has made the process paperless. Whenever you use an email to send company updates to multiple employees, you’re writing a memo.
What is a memo?
A memo, or a memorandum, is a written message used to communicate essential information to a group of people within one workplace. Businesses use memos to announce everything from minor office happenings, like informing staff that the coffee maker broke, to major corporate news, like announcing the hiring of a new CEO. Memos keep employees on the same page and help foster a company culture of transparency by sharing information with everyone in the workplace.
A memo is usually concise—around three to four paragraphs—and written in simple language. It’s designed to be easy to digest. The main goal of the memo is to share information—this communication is only effective if employees read it.
Elements of a memo
A memo can cover many announcements, but all clear memos follow a standard memo format with the following elements:
- Heading. Memo headings are made up of the sender, the recipient, a subject line, and the date. For modern memos sent via email, many of these components are already baked in. For clarity, you may choose to include an introductory phrase, typically bracketed and capitalized, in the email subject line, which can make it clear an emailed memo isn’t a regular email. For example, you might write the subject line: “[ALL OFFICE] An Amendment to our Dog-Friendly Office Policy.”
- Introduction. An opening paragraph highlights key information. It should explain the purpose of the memo, and make clear why employees should read it. In the case of an amendment to an office policy, you might write: “We have decided to amend our dog-friendly office policy to clarify that we will no longer allow dogs on the second floor.”
- Body. The body of the memo should provide context for the information supplied in the introduction. If the intro states a new company policy, the body of the memo might go into detail about the factors that informed your decision-making. The writer of the dog policy memo might use this section to explain that there have been employee concerns around noise—specifically barking—in the office, and so there needs to be one section that is entirely dog-free.
- Action items. A memo should clearly call out any actions or behavioral changes that employees should make. Use bullet points or bolded text to make action items jump out to anyone who may be skimming the email copy. For example, you might summarize the dog policy changes and format them as follows:
To ensure our office remains a productive environment for all employees, please follow these protocols if you bring your dog into the office:
- Keep your dog on a leash.
- Do not allow any dogs to drink from the office water fountains.
- Do not visit the second floor with your dog.
- Signoff. A memo concludes with a brief signoff that includes your name and provides a resource for any follow-up questions. It may anticipate and address potential staff concerns—for example, you might reassure the team that dog treats will still be available in the office kitchen.
How to write a memo in 5 steps
- Decide what you need to say
- Determine your target audience
- Write a clear and succinct draft
- Proofread or run it by a colleague
- Send it and field any questions
Follow these steps to master the art of effective business memo writing.
1. Decide what you need to say
The purpose of the memo encompasses what you need to communicate, why your employees need to know, and how this information might affect them. Reasons you might consider writing a memo include: announcing a new hire, introducing a new product line, or addressing a policy change.
2. Determine your target audience
Who needs to know about this? If the memo is about office operations or a policy update that affects everyone, it should probably go to the entire company. If it’s about a change to the marketing budget, it should only go to the marketing team. Limiting unnecessary communications will increase readership—employees will understand that every memo they receive contains information pertinent to them.
3. Write a clear and succinct draft
The memo should follow the standard memo format. The first paragraph should contain a short introduction, a body paragraph, and a signoff. Remember that your primary goal is to get people to read what you wrote so keep the memo short and only include essential information to minimize the number of people who will skim the memo.
Memos have a broad audience, so be sure to use accessible writing. For example, instead of “Eschew obfuscation by avoiding sesquipedalian business terms,” you might say, “Use clear, simple language.” As you write a draft, try to anticipate any questions or concerns that employees may have, and address those in the memo.
4. Proofread or run it by a colleague
Memos should be easy to read and free of typos. Proofread your memo and use spell-checking software, like Grammarly or the native Google Docs or Microsoft Word spell check, before finalizing it. If the memo contains sensitive or complicated information, such as announcing budget cuts, it’s a good idea to ask for an extra set of eyes to review the memo for accuracy and tone.
5. Send it and field any questions
Once you’ve double checked it, send your memo and prepare to answer any questions that employees may have about it. If you’re announcing a big change, employees may have follow-up questions—announcing budget cuts may bring up questions about company performance or finances. Keep up the good communication by making time to address any comments or concerns. If the information is sensitive, consult with legal or HR for advice on answering difficult questions.
6 tips for writing memos
- Be aware that anything put in writing may be shared publicly
- Make it accessible
- Keep it short
- Write a strong headline
- Include relevant team members
- Use a consistent memo format
Effective business memos are clear, concise, and professional. Try these six tips to ensure that your internal communications are read and your employees are informed.
1. Be aware that anything put in writing may be shared publicly
Updating employees helps them stay informed and feel included, but it also creates a written record of your business happenings. Anything shared in writing has the possibility of being disseminated publicly and perhaps even wind up on the front page of a newspaper. Keep this in mind and be extra careful about how you write your memo and how much is disclosed if you’re sharing sensitive information, like an update to a yet-to-launch product or a negative company progress report.
2. Make it accessible
Avoid formal language or technical terms (including financial and marketing acronyms like EBITDA or TAM) that some employees may not be familiar with. Memos have a broad audience, so they should be easily understood by everyone who receives them.
3. Keep it short
Brevity is the soul of wit—and also of memo writing. Keeping your memo short to increase the likelihood that employees will read it in its entirety.
4. Write a strong headline
Capture the immediate attention of your readers with a sharp headline that highlights the importance of the memo.
5. Include relevant team members
Only include team members who are directly affected by the content of the memo.
6. Use a consistent memo format
Using the same format for each memo you send, but changing the subject line and message, will help employees distinguish memos from regular emails. Consider creating a standard memo template in your email or word processor and use it each time you write a new communication.
Sharing memos FAQ
What’s the difference between a memo and an email?
Most memos are sent via email, but most emails are not memos. A memo is a written announcement about the business that is designed to provide information to employees. In modern offices, memos are usually distributed by email, making them a subset of this larger category of communications. Email, on the other hand, refers to any electronic mail sent or received on a computer.
Does a memo require a signature?
No. The memo should include your contact information and the contact information of any other relevant parties, but a formal signature is not required.
Do memos need sources?
Consider your memo a primary document. You do not need to include sources, but you may link to relevant information if that would help your employees have a better understanding of the issue.
How can I make sure people read my memo?
You can increase the likelihood people read your memos by writing clear, brief memos. The headline should grab a reader’s attention and highlight why the memo is important. The body of the memo should be concise and written using short paragraphs and colloquial language.
Should memos be written in a formal voice?
A good memo should strike a balance between sounding formal and sounding relatable. While memos are official business communications written in a professional tone that conveys respect, they should also be easy to read. Overly formal writing may complicate the subject and lose readers.