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Memo Writing
Turney's Tips:
Memo Writing
Underlying assumptions:
A memo is usually an internal working paper written to share information and/or instructions among
peers, most often those working for the same organization or those working together on a common project
even though they represent different organizations. Because they’re informal working papers, memos are
rarely sent to outsiders, especially those you or your organization want to impress. A business letter is
considered more formal, more serious, more forceful, and more impressive than a memo.
Because they’re written to people who are involved in or at least familiar with your work, your
organization, and the standard practices of your profession, memos use an informal style in which jargon,
abbreviations, and short-form references to people and organizations are acceptable.
Most memos request specific information, respond to previous questions, share new information, or give
instructions to do something. They may also be written to create a "paper trail" for future reference.
Note: In recent years and in many organizations, e-mail has increasingly taken the place of hard-copy
memos. In fact, the basic format of e-mail is a direct adaptation of memo format. Consequently,
many of the guidelines for writing e-mail and for memo writing are totally interchangeable.
Working tips:
! Keep the reader in mind as you write and make the memo as conversational as possible.
! Keep it short and focused. It’s often more effective to write a series of short memos, with one topic
per memo, rather than one long one. Procter & Gamble, e.g., considers one-page memos the norm.
! The topic should be evident in the subject line and be immediately addressed in the first paragraph.
! Present the main idea of your memo or make your request before spending time on an explanation.
If background detail is necessary, state the key points first and then fill in the background.
! Explain references fully enough to avoid confusion. If your organization has many manuals or
policies, don't vaguely refer to what "the manual says" or "the policy requires." Specify which
manual or which specific policy you’re referring to.
! Similarly, don't refer to previous conversations, letters or phone calls without specifying the date,
topic and gist of that exchange. When you’re using e-mail it’s easy to provide this context and
avoid confusion by pasting key parts of the previous message(s) in your reply. However, it’s
considered poor “netiquette” and a “waste of bandwidth” to include the entire previous message;
delete any unnecessary or overly-detailed information, as well as any extraneous comments and
For additional information:
Raymond Lesikar, "Memorandums," Basic Business Communication (fourth edition).
Irwin: Homewood, Illinois; 1988; pp. 256-68.
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Memo Writing