4 Steps to Effective Memo Writing

Effective memo writing
Effective memo writing

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

Other questions:

–  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.


T0:         Frank

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

2 thoughts on “4 Steps to Effective Memo Writing”

  1. Even if the memo is interoffice, it needs to be more formal than the memo above. The purpose of the memo is not clear. It is missing complete date information, people’s full names, and it is not clear of the value of the webinar. It does not mention when or where they should get together to talk about it. The memo does not sell his idea or thought.

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