Memos may not be the most interesting thing to write in English. They’re used to communicate within a workplace, so they’re often very dry and direct.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore them in your business English studies.
In fact, writing clear memos in the correct format is essential to communicating effectively with your boss and coworkers. Good memos can help you plan effectively, solve problems, support a transparent workplace and boost your career.
In this article, we’ll give you all the tools you need to write memos in business English that impress everyone in your office.
- So What Is a Memo?
- What to Do Before You Start Writing a Memo
- Do’s and Don’ts of Memo Writing
- 7 Steps to Write Impressive Memos in Business English
So What Is a Memo?
A memo (short for memorandum) is a note or a document typically sent from one person to one or more people within the same company.
It may be a note left on your desk, a bulletin on the company notice board or an email sent to all employees. A memo can record the details of a staff meeting, a policy change or even an employee’s performance.
Although they can take different forms, memos are always written in a particular format and in a formal style (which we’ll cover below). One more thing to remember: memos can be sent as emails, but not every email is a memo.
What to Do Before You Start Writing a Memo
Look before you leap.
Ever heard this proverb before? It means you should plan before you take action, and it’s true for life as well as memo-writing.
The first step you should take before writing memos is to learn the appropriate business vocabulary. And luckily there are countless books, web resources and apps out there to help you do that. Another engaging way to learn business English is through authentic English content, like TV shows and movies that are set in an office.
You could also try a virtual immersion platform. FluentU, for example, has a large library of culturally-relevant short English videos with a dedicated section for business-related material. The videos all have interactive captions to let you look up unfamiliar words as you see them and multimedia flashcards for reviewing the business terms you’re learning.
Next, it’s a good idea to sit down with a pen and a piece of paper (yes, the old-fashioned way) and follow these planning steps:
1. Write a draft: First make a draft of your memo listing all the possible points you can think of.
2. Establish the purpose of your memo: Identify the main purpose or “takeaway” of the memo. In other words, what’s your reason for writing it? This will be your subject and opening sentence.
3. Decide the audience for your memo: Ask yourself, do you really need to send it to all the employees in a particular department, or just the executives?
4. Edit your draft: Now go back to your first draft. Narrow down your points to the most important and essential ones.
Do’s and Don’ts of Memo Writing
Keep these rules in your head as you’re writing the memo, to be on the safe side.
- Don’t use informal/emotional language: Keep it strictly formal. No slang words or colloquial language.
Even if you’re writing about an employee’s inadequate performance, don’t berate or use sharp words. Be detached but polite in your criticism.
- Do use bullet points: If you have several issues to cover in the body, break it up using bullet points. This will keep your memo easy to read and understand quickly.
- Do be succinct: Don’t include unnecessary details or use tons of adjectives. Ask yourself, “Can I write this sentence in a more clear or direct way?”
- Don’t forget to review: Even if you’re in a hurry, make sure you carefully review and proofread your memo before sending it. We’ll provide more in-depth guidance for proofreading later in this post.
7 Steps to Write Impressive Memos in Business English
Now that the guidelines are clear, let’s plunge right in.
1. Know the Format
Essentially, a memo has just two parts: a heading (which we’ll explain below) and a body (the text of the memo). Assuming that you’re typing it out, make sure your paragraphs are left-aligned.
To see how it looks when done correctly, check out these sample memos:
- WikiHow’s memo tutorial plus sample memos to customers/coworkers/a boss
- Examples.com’s sample memos on topics like company policies, legal questions and more
- Sample memo from the online writing resource Purdue OWL
2. Label Your Memo
Make it clear that it’s a memo and not a notice or any other official document. Simply write “Memorandum” or “Memo” at the top of the page.
3. Create Your Heading
Generally, the pattern goes like this:
To: (the people you’re sending it to—use complete names and job titles)
From: (your name and job title)
Subject: (the reason you’re writing the memo)
Date: (including day, month and year)
A sample heading of a memo would look like this:
To: Alice Arora, Marketing Research Assistant
From: Ajay Dugar, Sales Manager
Subject: Quarterly Sales Promotion
Date: October 15, 2017
Remember to use only official names (no nicknames or short forms) and keep the subject as specific and direct as possible.
4. Write a Concise Introduction
Unlike most emails and letters, memos don’t require opening salutations. Instead, just plunge into the topic straight away without bothering with a “Dear Ms. Jones…”
Don’t waste space introducing yourself or giving a detailed overview of the issue. In fact, the first sentence should summarize the reason why the memo was written.
For example, here’s a sample opening:
“I’ve noticed that the quarterly book sales have dipped by 10%, so it would be prudent to think of different marketing strategies to promote our upcoming line of authors.”
This tells us that the memo is going to be about the dip in sales and the ways it can be countered. It’s most likely to end on a call to action—suggesting/telling the reader to do something specific to improve the situation.
You can spend two to three lines discussing the issue in a bit more detail, by stating facts and figures or dates and names, to highlight the sense of urgency and importance. Think of the introduction as opening with a thesis statement, followed by examples illustrating it.
5. Write the Memo Body
After the brief opening paragraph, you can use the memo body to add more information. You can highlight the actions steps that should be taken, or the issues that are at stake.
Again, be as specific as possible, but depending on the subject matter, you may choose to divide the body into smaller sections with subheadings.
For instance, if the memo is essentially an announcement about a policy change, the body can consist of one paragraph describing the change and its consequences for employees.
However, it would be better to break your memo into shorter body paragraphs or bullet points if you’re doing any of the following:
- Exploring potential solutions to a complicated company problem
- Listing the different topics covered in a recent meeting
- Highlighting three or more issues
6. End with a Conclusion
Now you can finish your memo by writing the conclusion. The conclusion should be about one or two sentences long (though it’ll depend on your memo topic). You can summarize the issue in a positive manner or include a positive call to action.
Some phrases and sentences that you can use include:
- I look forward to your support in this matter.
- We hope that this new policy change will be of greater benefit to our employees.
- We are confident that these strategies will lead to a boost in our sales.
- I am excited to discuss your opinions in the next meeting.
- Thank you in advance for your continued support.
If you’re printing it out, you can choose to sign or stamp the memo, but the signature isn’t really necessary.
Once you’re done writing, look for mistakes in the memo.
Read your memo at least two or three times, keeping a lookout for typos or grammar errors. Then read once more to ensure you’ve covered everything you wanted to. You can also keep an eye out for unnecessary details that could be cut.
When it comes to proofreading, you’re not completely on your own! Turn on your spell checker, or better yet, run your memo through an intelligent editing tool like Grammarly.
Grammarly is like a smarter, super-charged spell checker. It looks for spelling and grammar mistakes in the context of your writing (for example, it notices correctly spelled words that are used the wrong way). It provides explanations of all the mistakes it finds, and even tracks your progress so you become a better business English writer with every memo, letter and email.
Practice makes perfect! You can improve your memo writing skills by taking a random topic or a workplace issue, writing a brief memo about it and then having a peer or study buddy evaluate it.
Go through the memos others have written, especially the ones who have a higher position in the company. Of course, your first memo won’t be perfect, but if you follow the instructions you’re sure to come up with a fairly decent one. And even if you goof up, don’t fret, but learn from your mistakes.
Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, artist, educator and a self-taught Italian speaker. Feel free to contact her on LinkedIn for freelancing inquiries.