How To
7 min read

Memos: How to Write Them, How to Use Them, and Why You Should

Reem Abouemera

July 8, 2022

Any structured format in writing can be tricky, but memos are a vital part of running your organization. They’re one of the most common ways to communicate in the business world. 

They allow you to share information and updates with your team, as well as keep everyone on the same page.

But how do you write a memo that serves its purpose and gets your point across? In a world where we're inundated with information, making your memo stand out in inboxes full of emails and other documents can be hard. 

For that particular reason, in this post, we'll cover everything you need to know about how to write a business memo, including structure, format, and tips on making sure your memo is clear and concise. 

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What is a business memo?

A business memo is an informal, internal document typically used to communicate with multiple people at once.

Memos are often used to share brief yet vital information, such as:

  • Changes to personnel
  • Updates on upcoming events (like meetings or company gatherings)
  • Shifts in everyday operations or workflows

Memos usually follow a standard format and structure. This makes them easy to read and digest, which is essential when you're trying to communicate important information to a large group of people.

Similarly, memos should be clear and concise, getting straight to the point without any fluff or filler. This can be a challenge, but it's important to remember that your reader's time is valuable.

The last thing you want is for your memo to end up in the virtual trash because it was too long, rambling, or otherwise difficult to understand. 

How to format a business memo

To understand how to format a business memo, you first need to know to who the memo is addressed. 

Answering this question will determine the way you format your memo.

Interdepartmental vs external business memos

There are two types of memos: interdepartmental and external. Interdepartmental memos are sent from one department to another within the same company. Meanwhile, external memos are sent to people or organizations outside of the company.

The two are formatted differently.  Interdepartmental memos are typically less formal, while external memos need to adhere to a more professional tone.

In both cases, the memo is meant for a specific audience. Its purpose is to communicate a message to multiple people without having to meet in person.

This means that you don't need to add extra style to make it more interesting or beautiful. All you need is clean formatting and clear writing.

However,  sometimes your boss may have requirements for how memos should be formatted, including:

  • Specific headers
  • Footers
  • An approved font 

If this is the case at your company, make sure that your memo follows those standards.

Tips for formatting business memos

What if there aren't any specific formatting guidelines you need to follow? In that case, here are some general tips to make sure your memo looks clean and professional:

  • Use bold headings so recipients can quickly skim through the document and find what they're looking for
  • Instead of using chunky paragraphs, try using bullet points or numbered lists. This will make your memo easier to scan and digest. It also helps important information stand out, which is helpful for skimmers
  • Maintain consistency throughout the document in terms of things like placement of the dateline, sender, and recipient(s). This will help your memo look clean and easy on the eyes
  • Use simple, straightforward language. A memo is not the place for flowery language or long-winded explanations. Be clear and to the point in your writing. Remember that memos are meant to help employees understand something quickly

The most important thing to remember when it comes to formatting is that your goal is to make the memo easy to read and understand.

How to write a business memo

What elements should you include in your business memo?

Read on to find out!

1. Start with the purpose of your business memo

The first thing you need to do when writing a business memo is establish its purpose. Why are you writing it in the first place?

The very top line of your memo should state the purpose of the memo and make it super clear why you're writing. This is especially important if you're sending the memo to multiple people.

While it’s tempting to just jump into the body of your memo, starting with the purpose helps set the stage for what's to come. It also gives your recipients a clear idea of why they should care about your message.

It can certainly be challenging when you're summarizing complex topics or presenting multiple concepts, but remember that brevity is key to good business communication. You don't want to overwhelm your audience with unnecessary details before they've even made it halfway through your first paragraph.

How to state the purpose of your business memo

So, how exactly do you state the purpose of your memo? Here are a few examples:

  • "The purpose of this memo is to update you on the progress of the XYZ project."
  • "The purpose of this memo is to provide you with an overview of the changes we're proposing to the ABC budget."
  • "The purpose of this memo is to request your approval for the XYZ project."
  • "I'm writing to summarize the findings of the ABC project for you."
  • "This memo is to inform you of the changes we're making to the XYZ policy."

Include a strong headline

It's also a good idea to come up with a strong headline even before you start writing the memo itself. 

This will help you stay focused on what's important and make it easier to develop a clear purpose statement.

A good headline follows this formula: [ACTION TO BE TAKEN] ON [PROJECT NAME]. 

For example, "Approval needed for proposed budget changes" or "Update on progress of XYZ project."

2. Set the tone

As we mentioned before, memos are typically less formal than other business documents, but they should still maintain a professional tone.

This means you should:

  • Be clear and concise in your writing by focusing on the main points of your message
  • Avoid jargon by writing in plain language that's easy to understand
  • Use common words or phrases that your recipients are familiar with
  • Keep the tone of your memo positive and upbeat, regardless of the subject matter or how negative/difficult it is (for example, start with a positive remark before getting into the problem statement)
  • Be polite by using phrases like "please" and "thank you"
  • Use active voice rather than passive voice (for example, “we improved sales figures” instead of “sales figures were being improved by us”)

Because tone isn't always easy to convey in written communication, it's important to be aware of how you're coming across in your memo. 

If you're unsure, you can always use Copy.ai's "Tone Changer" tool to help you establish a professional tone. 

You'll have plenty of options to choose from, so you can be sure your memo hits the right note with your intended audience.

3. Include necessary background information

You'll want to include any background information that's necessary for understanding the subject of your memo, especially if it's complex.

This can be as simple as a quick definition or as involved as another paragraph that provides context and additional details. If you're going to include additional data or statistics, use bullet points to make this information easy to scan.

Keep your description brief and only include the most essential details. 

Don't incorporate any figures or statistics that aren't directly connected to the goal of your memo. This will confuse your audience and detract from the core message of your communication.

For example, suppose you're writing a memo about a new product launch. In that case, you might want to include information about:

  • The product itself
  • The target market
  • Competition
  • Any relevant data points that will help your audience understand why this product is important 

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4. Add your reason for writing

Following your background information, add your reason for writing. In other words, what do you want your audience to do after reading your memo?

Your call to action should be clear, direct, and easy to understand. For example, "I'm writing to request your approval for the XYZ project," or, "I'm asking for your investment in the ABC initiative."

Then, make a note of any relevant deadlines to your request. 

For example, "I need your approval by the end of Friday," or, "The ABC initiative will be launching next month."

Be Concise and Clear

Remember that the people you're writing to are busy, so be respectful of their time by getting to the point quickly and being clear about what you need from them.

At the same time, you need to be aware that they don't necessarily have as much background knowledge on the subject as you do. Don't assume they know as much as you and include all the information they need to make a decision. 

They need to know and understand exactly:

  • What's going on
  • How it might affect them
  • What you need from them

Most importantly, be specific, concise, and clear. It's worth stressing that you need to use language that everyone on staff can understand, not industry insider jargon.

For instance, if you're in the marketing department, it's fine to use industry-specific terms when you're writing to fellow marketers. 

However, if you're including people from other departments, or if your memo is going to be distributed more widely, then it's important to stick to language everyone can understand.

5. Include follow-up details

You're almost done! The final step is to provide any relevant follow-up information your audience needs to know.

This might include details about:

  • Who they should contact if they have any questions
  • The next steps in the process
  • When they can expect to hear back from you

For example, you can say: 

  • "If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me at (email address)."
  • "If there are any questions about the instructions in this memo, please contact me at (email address). I would be happy to discuss this with you."
  • "The next steps are as follows: XYZ."

Giving your audience a clear understanding of what's expected of them (and what they can expect from you)  ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Checklist for writing a business memo

The following checklist will ensure you include all the vital elements of a good business memo.

If you’ve written a memo and it includes all the items on this list, you should be in good shape!

  • The basics: sender, recipient, date, subject line
  • A clear introduction that states the purpose of the memo
  • The body of the memo, which should be clear, concise, and easy to understand
  • A call to action that is clear, direct, and easy to understand
  • Any relevant follow-up information that your audience needs to know

By following this checklist, you can be sure that you're covering all of your bases.

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Conclusion

As long as you keep your business memos short, sweet, and to the point, you'll be sure to impress your colleagues, clients, or boss.

However, if  you feel that writing isn't your strong suit, don't worry! There are other ways to get these ideas across.  You just need someone who can communicate your message clearly. 

Luckily, Copy.ai’s AI-powered writing tools can help you write memos, high quality resumes that secure your future, or a letter of recommendation for students that grabs the attention of the recipient. 

In a matter of minutes, you can have well-crafted content that covers all the bases (without breaking a sweat!). 

So, why not give it a try?

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