The memo is one of the oldest and most versatile forms of business communication that there is, and all leaders should know how to format a memo. Whether you have 10 employees or 10,000, a memo is one of the best ways to issue short and direct communications to your stakeholders. They can be used to communicate new policies, industry trends or other pertinent information.
They’re a great way to communicate goals and action items, and sometimes your team members will pay just as much attention to who’s listed on the CC line as the content of the message! Here’s a quick look at how to properly format a memo, and some ways that they can help you streamline communications at your company.
What Is a Memo?
So, what is a memorandum exactly? Most of us already know that it’s usually used for internal communication, and that it’s a little less formal than a business letter. Business letters have six or seven basic parts, which depends on whether or not you also include an enclosures line. The parts of a memo typically include:
- Return Address
- Recipient Address
- Body Text
- Complimentary Closing and Signature
- Enclosures Line (if applicable)
You might format a business letter in a few different ways, depending on your audience. You might also occasionally still see typist initials at the end of business letters, but this is a lot less common today. Some professional organizations might also have a style sheet, and any business plan for a small business operation should consider all of their industry segment’s best practices and communication standards.
A memorandum format is far less formal. You won’t need a greeting or a complimentary close, and you won’t need to include address information. In fact, composing a memo isn’t very different from writing an email. It should also come as no surprise that emails are formatted the way that they are to recreate the process of sending memos in a digital format.
You won’t need a salutation and a signature, because that information is already included in your message header. All that you have to do is make sure that your message is as brief as possible and concludes with a clear call to action.
What Is a Memo Written For?
Traditional memos were distributed as hard copies and/or posted in conspicuous locations. Emails have obviated the need to distribute paper copies of memos, but using a consistent format for all internal communication between print and digital media will eliminate a lot of ambiguity. Even if the message is informal and the stakes are low, a memo is still a professional document and should be treated as such.
A memo has traditionally been for internal communications, but today’s digital office doesn’t really have walls anymore. Today's small business scenario planning might include suppliers or strategic partners. You might occasionally send your partners a carbon copy (CC) of a relevant memo, but you should otherwise limit memoranda to people who are in-house. If you need to communicate with clients and other stakeholders, it's generally a better idea to send a business letter.
Memos can be used to communicate both good news and bad news, and you should choose your words accordingly. If you’re having to skip quarterly bonuses, you will definitely need to choose your words more carefully than you would if you’re announcing a planned network outage. You can also use memos to announce service projects or extracurricular activities. They’re less formal than a business letter, but more formal than poking your head out of your office door and asking everyone to gather for a stand-up briefing.
Memos are not an appropriate way to deliver detailed information, but they’re definitely a way to get a lot of things done if you deliver a clear message. Just make sure that you always get to the point quickly and deliver clear follow-up instructions and action items.
How Do You Write a Memo?
If you want advice on how to begin a memorandum, Aristotle once said "Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them." That's exactly the way that you should approach writing a memo. Begin and end with your message, and provide exactly enough supporting information to reduce ambiguity.
Even though it’s an internal document, you should still use a professional tone. You don’t need to greet your audience or bid them goodbye the way that you will for a traditional business letter. All that you need to do is get right to the point.
You should open with a purpose, follow up with some basic details and key points and then summarize with a call to action. Be sure to always include clear expectations and deadlines for follow-up. Don’t write in all caps or use a lot of exclamation points, and make sure to check your spelling and grammar before you hit the send button.
If you’re not required to use a stylesheet, the rule of thumb is that serif fonts such as Times New Roman look best for printed documents, and sans serif fonts such as Arial are better for digital documents. You should avoid using script fonts or fonts such as Comic Sans for business documents, even if the memo is for an informal occasion.
Standard memos are divided into a few segments to organize the information, and we’ll soon be providing a memo format sample to give you an example of how to write a memo. Here’s a brief memo outline to help you when you begin writing a memo to your colleagues or employees:
Your heading segment should include the following basic information:
TO: (recipient names and job title) FROM: (your name and job title) DATE: (current date) SUBJECT: (Your memo meaning or primary message focus) CC: (Indicates other stakeholders included in the message)
You should address your reader by their official name and job title. If you use nicknames around the office, leave them out of your business correspondence. Be specific and concise in your subject line, and date your message.
The CC line is often the most important part of memos, and your employees will often pay as much attention to who’s copied on the message as the content itself. You can use the CC line to keep your stakeholders in the loop and keep your team members honest!
2. Introduction or opening
Wondering how to begin a memo? You’re probably already familiar with the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where and why), and they need to be included in the opening paragraph of your memo. Include your goal for the communication right up front, and prepare your readers for the information that will follow. Journalists are instructed to write using the "inverted pyramid" style, putting all the most important information right up front. You might only need one paragraph to deliver your whole message, so make your first one count.
3. Background and context
The next step is to provide your background and state the problem that you intend to solve. If you’re briefing trained employees, you might not have to include as much information to bring them up to speed on the problem. Use your own judgment with regard to how much time you need to explain the problem to your team. If it’s a really challenging issue to explain, it might be a better idea to schedule a meeting instead of writing a memo.
4. Task and expectations
After you’ve stated an operational definition for your problem, your next step is to summarize your action items. Provide clear expectations and explicit deadlines.
Less is more when it comes to memos, but there’s no maximum length. If you’re writing a lengthy memo, a separate summary will be a welcome addition. You can format it like a table of contents or you can keep it to a simple bulleted list. You can also include research and references in your summary section.
This will be the "meat" of your memo, and you should explain your thoughts and decisions in detail. Employees certainly respond to orders, but a memo is a good way for leaders to empower their team members. A good leader knows that their team will perform more effectively if they know the "why" of what they’re doing.
Your responsibility as the leader is to look at the big picture, and distill relevant information into action items. You're under no obligation to explain all of your decisions, but you’ll get much more "buy in" from empowered employees who understand your expectations.
Wrap up your key points and state your action items and deadlines. You might be inclined to give your team some words of encouragement to motivate them or to cushion the blow of some bad news, but don’t obfuscate your key points or make a long memo even longer.
If you’re including separate attachments or supporting documents, be sure to reference them in your memo. A memo is also a good way to communicate the key points of an annual report or other lengthy reference documents to your employees.
Business Memo Format Example
Here’s a quick business memorandum example for your reference. This example memo is one of many memorandum examples available online:
To: All Employees
From: John Doe, General Manager
Date: June 29, 2021
Subject: New Online Registration System Problems
*As you know, we have recently upgraded to the new WidgetTech registration system to standardize our online order handling process. We're still having some issues migrating existing clients to the new system, and our sales managers have recommended that we continue to maintain hard copies of new orders as a redundant measure. I appreciate their creative solution to our problem, but our priority is filling orders quickly. Please discontinue using the new system until this issue is resolved. *
The staff at WidgetTech have assured me that the new system will be fully operational in two weeks, and I’ll keep everyone updated if this timeline changes. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
How Do You Get a Memo Template on Word?
Microsoft Word offers you a ton of featured memo templates to help you get started. Just browse through the available templates and pick the one that best fits the style of your business. All that you have to do is enter the information that you want to include in your memo, and you can change to a new style or theme at any time.
If you’re using Word 2016 or Word 2013, you can browse through your available memo templates in the Design tab. If you’re using Word 2010 or Word 2007, you can find templates under "themes" on your Page Layout menu.
How Long Should a Memo Be?
Whether it’s a letter, memo or any other type of correspondence, you will have the best results if you keep your message brief. Long memos often have opposite of the desired effect, and your team members will be a lot happier and more effective if you can get to the point quickly. If your memo starts getting longer than a page or two, be sure to open with a summary that gets your readers’ attention and boils down your key points into a compact and digestible format.