“Memos” was written by Lee Ann Hodges, Tri-County Community College
Functions and Audience
Short for “memorandum,” a memo is a type of document used to communicate with others in the same organization. Memos (or memoranda) are typically used for fairly short messages of one page or less, but informal reports of several pages may also employ memo format.
Memos are distinguished by a header that includes DATE, TO, FROM, and SUBJECT lines. Other lines, such as CC or BCC, may be added as needed. An RE (“Reference”) line may be used instead of SUBJECT, but this use is becoming rarer as “RE” is often mistaken as “Reply” because of its use in email.
- DATE: List the date on which the memo is distributed.
- TO: List the names of the recipients of the memo. If there are several recipients, it’s acceptable to use a group name, such as “All Employees” or “Personnel Committee Members.”
- FROM: List the name and job title of the writer(s).
- SUBJECT: Think of the SUBJECT line as the title for the memo. Make it specific so that readers can immediately identify the topic.
These headings may be double- or single-spaced, and the SUBJECT line is often in all capital letters. Furthermore, the order of the items can vary. Many organizations have their own style preferences on these issues. If not, the order listed above, double-spaced, is the most common.
The text of memos typically uses block format, with single-spaced lines, an extra space between paragraphs, and no indentions for new paragraphs. However, if a report using memo format stretches to a few pages in length, double spacing may be used to improve its readability.
Professional communication forms are organized according to one of two strategies: Direct and indirect.
- The direct organization strategy presents the purpose of the document in the first paragraph (sometimes the first sentence) and provides supporting details in the body.
- The indirect organization strategy opens with relevant, attention-getting details that do not directly state the purpose of the document. The purpose is revealed in the body of the message, usually sandwiched between supporting details.
The direct approach is used for good news or routine communication; the indirect approach is used for persuasive, sales, or bad news messages.
A directly stated purpose is welcome in good news or routine messages but could be viewed as abrupt or insensitive in a bad news or persuasive message. When the audience is not receptive to the message, it is best to lead up to the purpose gradually.
In both types of organization, action information (such as deadlines or contact information) or a courteous closing statement is placed in the last paragraph.
|Type of Document
|Writer arrives at purpose quickly, sometimes in the first sentence.
|Used for good news or routine communication (audience is receptive or neutral)
|Action information or courteous close
|Writer gradually builds up to the purpose, which is stated in the body.
|Used for negative, persuasive, or sales messages (audience is not receptive)
|Relevant, attention-getting statements
|Purpose statement is sandwiched by details.
|Action information or courteous close
Sample Direct Memo
Sample Indirect Memo
Style and Tone
While memo reports and policy memos are examples of documents that have a more formal tone, most memos will have a conversational style—slightly informal but still professional. The audience of memos are those with whom the writer works, so the writing style usually assumes a relationship with them (and therefore a certain lack of formality); just keep in mind that the relationship is a professional one, so the writing should reflect that. Furthermore, as with all workplace documents, the audience may contain a variety of readers, and the style and tone should be appropriate for all of their technical and authority levels.
|Too Formal, Stuffy-Sounding, Wordy
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Common Memo Writing Situations
Memos are used in a variety of workplace communication situations, from documentation of procedures and policies to simple announcements. Below are some common types of memos:
- Policies (changes and new)
- Trip reports
Memos may be distributed manually through print medium in organizations in which not all employees have access to email. Organizations with access to email may distribute memos as attachments to email.
In organizations in which email reaches every employee (or every employee in the memo’s audience), writers must determine whether to send a memo or an email message to convey their information. In cases such as this, writers should consider three factors: the nature of the message, the depth/number of its details, and its likelihood of being printed for easier reference. These types of messages should be written up in memo format and attached to an email message for fast (and environmentally friendly) distribution:
- Messages that have an official aura, such as new policies or revisions of policies.
- Messages containing much detail (such as instructions on how to calibrate a complicated piece of machinery).
- Messages requiring reference away from a computer (necessitating a print copy). Print copies of emails generally use a small type that is difficult to read.
*Some articles are used across multiple genres and disciplines.