How to Write an Office Memo

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Keeping your supervisors, peers and subordinates well informed is essential to a smooth running office. While a lot of day-to-day information is exchanged in person, via email, or on the telephone, sometimes it's necessary to write an office memo that memorializes discussions and actions that have already taken place (including employee evaluations) and/or gives everyone a "heads up" regarding impending changes. Here's what you need to know to collect your thoughts and write an effective memo.

Identify the purpose of the memo you want to write. Try to summarize it in one short sentence. Examples: Orientation for New Employees; New Procedures For Processing Travel Claims; Holiday Potluck. This sentence will constitute the "Subject" line at the top of your memo directly below the addressees.

Identify the individuals that the memo is going to go to. If it's only to a few people, the memo will identify them each by name, title, and department. If, however, it's going to a large group, they will be identified by a collective title. Examples: All Employees; Division 4 Managers; Clerical Support Staff. This information will be placed in the "To" line of the memo.

Identify yourself and your title in the "From" line. Even if everyone knows you as "Bob," you should identify yourself by both your first and last name.

Follow the "Rule of 3" in constructing your memo's content; specifically, tell your readers what you're going to tell them, tell them what it is, and finish by reiterating what you have just told them. For instance, perhaps your memo is about reminding your employees that the distractions of the holiday season make it a popular time for thieves to steal items like purses and personal items left in plain sight. The first paragraph would advise them of the need to be cautious. The second paragraph would deliver tips about locking desks and doors and being more aware of visitors. The third paragraph would recommend actions to take if they observe suspicious behavior or are the victim of an office theft.

Use bullet points for memos that are providing procedural content or any type of checklist. These are much easier to follow and understand than embedding them in a narrative paragraph.

Observe the rule of 1-inch margins on the left and right sides and the bottom of the page. The top of your page is probably some form of letterhead or a template that will drop your top margin down several inches. If you don't have letterhead, you can create a nice looking document yourself by centering the word "MEMO" in bold 2 or 3 inches down from the top of the page. The "To:", "From:" and "Subject:" would be typed at the left hand margin. The body of the memo is single-spaced.

Use a 12 pt. font that will be easy for your recipients to read. Times New Roman and Courier are standard; Bookman and Palatino are acceptable as well.

Proofread your content thoroughly before printing it out.

Photocopy as many copies as you need and distribute them to the recipients.

Tips & Warnings

  • Whenever possible, keep your memo to one page. With as much as everyone in an office has to do, any memo that goes to multiple pages is likely to be set aside for later reading and will eventually make its way to the bottom of the stack. If the content is of an urgent nature or is regarding an upcoming meeting they need to put on their calendars, make sure that this stands out in the subject line so that your readers won't miss it.
  • If the content of your memo is negative or perhaps written in the spirit of an upsetting moment, set it aside for a few hours or until the next day and read it again.

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