Memos by decree

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Contexts for Memos
Memoranda—memos, for short—are documents circulated within an organization that
convey important information (announcements of upcoming events or policy changes, for
example) or that ask recipients take some action (provide requested information or read
the attached document, for example). Memos are important documents for keeping lines
of communication open. They also provide a written historical archive of the activities of
an organization and the people who comprise it. In some well-known cases—the Enron
case, for example—memos become the legal record of who knew what and when during
a company crisis.

Purposes of Memos
Your purpose should be to convey information or request action clearly and concisely.
Your readers will likely only spend a few moments reading your memo, so it needs to get
across the important information quickly. It may be tempting at times to be creative with
your memos—to entertain as well as inform, for example—but realize that people may
not respond positively to playfulness. Memos have a form and a moment, in other words,
so careful writers use them judiciously and only when they need to accomplish a specific

Primary and Secondary Audiences for Memos
The primary audience for your memo consists of the person or people who have the
responsibility to address the memo or make note of the information it contains. The
primary audience should be listed in the To: line. The secondary audience consists of
people that need to know the contents of the memo but who do not need to respond to or
act on it. The secondary audience is not directly responsible for responding to the memo.

                         Sample Format for a Memorandum
Project Checklist: Writing Memos
  1. Have you included your name, your recipient’s name, the date, and an accurate
      subject line in the header information? Are all names spelled correctly?
  2. Does your introduction state the memo’s subject?
  3. If you want recipients to do something, do you say so in the introduction?
  4. Have you used a top-down method, placing the most important information
      earliest in the memo?
  5. Are your body paragraphs concise and in a logical order?
  6. In cases where you need to draw attention to information, have you set it off from
      the rest of the text (for example, in a list)?
  7. Does your concluding paragraph let recipients know what they should do if they
      have questions or would like to comment further?
8. Have you named attachments and members of the secondary audience in your
    footer? In some organizations, the CC: line immediately follows the From: line
    and precedes the Date: line.
9. Have you used full block format, with all text flush left, one-inch margins on all
    sides, and a standard font for the body text?
10. Have you edited the memo carefully and fixed any spelling, mechanical, or
    grammatical problems? (For help with this part, consider having a peer review the
    memo before it is distributed.)

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