Memo Writing: a common form of business writing often done poorly
Let's look at what a memo is, why it is used and how to write a professional-looking memo. Finally, you'll have a chance to correct a poorly written memo in the role of the sharp-eyed editor.
First, a memo is a short, informal, written communication used within a company. Although it may be informal, it still needs to be done properly. Your colleagues as well as your superior may read it -- and undoubtedly judge it. Remember that anything you say, do or write should reflect well on you.
Second, a memo usually has three purposes:
1. To show or explain important facts - summary of a meeting, a progress report, or new information.
2. To ask permission or let others know what you're doing - describe a new technique you are using, for example.
3. To propose an idea or persuade others to do something - start a new project or suggest improvements.
Third, a professional-looking memo should be "SMART." Garrett and Dennis in their book, 10 Minute Guide to Effective Business Writing (not available on Amazon) define SMART this way:
Specific: focus on one, clear issue
Measurable: show that the objective of the memo is achieved
Actionable: demonstrate that to achieve the purpose of the memo is within your control
Rewarding: achieve a purpose that is of value for you and your company
Terse: state the purpose clearly and concisely
Let's now look at the three-step process for writing clearly and effectively: 1) know your purpose, 2) picture your audience, and 3) get your audience to do something. It's a process I describe in more detail in my writing book, Write Now: Business Writing That Gets Results.
Memo writing tip 1: Know your purpose
Ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I writing?
- What am I writing about?
- What is my purpose or objective? Is it to inform or persuade?
- Do I have a single, clear purpose?
Memo writing tip 2. Picture your audience
Ask yourself these questions:
- Who's going to read the memo?
- Depending on its purpose, am I sending it to the right people?
- Will they have an impact on the issue I'm writing about?
- What do they already know about the issue?
- Do they have a point of view about your proposal or request?
Memo writing tip 3: Get your audience to do something
More questions to ask yourself:
- What do I want my audience to do? (Take action, approve the action I want to take, agree with my point of view)
- Do I make it clear what I want my audience to do?
- Do I respect my audience's time?
- Do I understand my audience's perspective on the issue?
- Will my recommendations affect my readers' success, failure, or day-to-day actions?
Memo writing tip 4: Have impeccable style and layout
- Is my memo "SMART"?
- Am I using dates and capitals correctly?
- Do I have proper alignment?
What's wrong with this memo?
Match the number in the memo with the mistakes following the memo.
INTEROFFICE Memo [1.]
From: liam [2.]
Date: December 12 [3.]
Re: New project [4.]
Cc: Louise [5.]
Jim Fox, the president of Lotus Communication, wrote me recently. He proposed that we create a webinar together. [6.]
Lotus Communication works with major universities around the world. It offers online learning programs aimed at non-native English speaking university graduates. Jim would like us to work together to offer a live webinar describing our new business writing course. [7.]
The details and content of the webinar are up to us. Let’s talk about it. [8.]
a. Not clear about the value of the webinar
b. Missing the year: 2015
c. Alignment incorrect
d. First letter of name not capitalized
e. Not clear about the purpose of the memo
f. Not clear about what action to take
g. Capital letters missing
h. Message not specific enough
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Suggested answers: 1. g, 2. d, 3. b, 4. h., 5. c., 6. e, 7. 8. f