What's in a Memo?

Business memos are not that much different from the letters, and Dixie would say that for a long time they have been the second type of business correspondence after business letters. Nowadays email has probably ousted them from this position, but still nothing can replace the good old memos and you continue to see them everywhere in the business world.

Business memos are a piece of interoffice correspondence sent between employees in a company or between company subsidiaries to transmit ideas, decisions, requests or announcements. They are more private and more formal than emails but less formal than letters. They can also be compared to reports, but very short ones.

Dixie would like to remind you that business memos appeared in the later nineteenth century along with the increased need for internal communication across distances and between levels of management of the corporate enterprises. Initially the term 'memorandum' was used but by the 1920s when the internal documents were already widely spread it was shortened to 'memo'. Nowadays it is impossible to imagine any office, big or small, without this type of business correspondence.

Dixie is sure you can always distinguish business memos from any other piece of business correspondence because of their own specific format which excludes salutation, complimentary closing and formal signature (at least these are the common rules, which as always can be broken).

Well, what does a business memo contain then? The answer is very simple:

a header and a body

You can further subdivide the body into some segments like opening, discussion segment and closing/summary. And remember Dixie's advice: keep the memo as simple and as brief as possible.

Memo Header

This is one of the very distinctive features of a business memo. Dixie would say that a memo header looks like the following example in about 90% of the cases:


 To: John Carson, Judith Lindsay

 From: Carol McLaren

 Date: Apri 15, 2007

 Subject: Competitiveness Workshop Presentation

In the other 10% the order of the fields in the header can be changed, 'Subject' can be substituted by 'Re:', the 'CC' field can be added but you still easily recognize this type of business correspondence.

Memo Body

The body of a business memo as Dixie has already said is very similar to the body of a letter, most of the principles of letter writing can be applied in writing this part of the memo, and Dixie suggests you visit her Business Writing Page to find some tips for writing business correspondence, memos included. In most cases the first paragraph in a memo is a purpose or a topic statement, in other words Dixie recommends you to get to the point without too much of an introduction.

Further in your memo provide the reader with any necessary background information including dates, briefly describe the current situation and the related problems - this is sometimes called the discussion segment of a business memo.

Close your memo with a courteous ending that states your request or the action you want your reader to take.

The tone you use in the body of the memo depends on who the memo is addressed to. Dixie warns you that the memos should not be too informal as they are usually considered to be internal documents as well as pieces of business correspondence.

Watch a Video about Memos

Dixie would like to draw your attention to a short YouTube video below. In her expert opinion, it demonstrates quite nicely what a memo is and how to compose one.

Dixie's Attitude to Memo Writing

Dixie is sure you must have noticed in the everyday life how difficult it is to establish general rules. Besides, as you know Dixie thinks rules are made to be broken. This applies to memo writing as much as to anything else. There's such a multitude of business memos even within one company, and they are all so different!

Some companies may have very strict format for business memos that each employee is supposed to follow, they even have it stated in their internal manuals. Others pay less attention to the format as long as the memo resembles a memo. Dixie had an opportunity to observe very different memos sent within one company for about 10 years, and it looked like almost every employee used his or her own format.

Some of those memos could have just one sentence in the body, the others were about 3 pages. By the way, Dixie recommends to try and limit yourself to 2 pages at the utmost.

Some business memos were initialed by the author near his or her name in the header, others were signed as regular letters would be.

Memos could be blocked or indented (if you don't know the difference between the two check out Format of Business Letters or go directly to full block and indented/semi-block business letter pages to see it now).

In most cases (but not always) a line was drawn under the memo header. Letterheads are used practically always though...

Well, you get the idea... Dixie doesn't think she needs to go into too much detail.

Dixie's advice is, follow your own judgement! You would say, 'What else is new' and would be perfectly right but Dixie knows it's the best advice she can give you in such situation. She totally trusts you in making the right choice.

External Memos? What?

Dixie understands that you're puzzled, but there really is such a thing. Read instructions on how to write an external memo.

A Couple of Memo Samples

Memo Sample 1
Memo Sample 2

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