Brooks C. Mendell, Ph.D.

    Author of: Loving Trees is Not Enough:

                      Communication Skills for Natural Resource Professionals

Click Here to purchase this book through

About the Author Keynote Speaking & Workshops Free Articles Upcoming Events Contact the Author

Book Excerpt

From Chap. 3 on Negotiation...
Telephone negotiations, like telephone interviews, tend to be shorter and may produce additional misunderstandings. Risk comes with speed. Without the benefit of body language and eye contact, both parties have difficulty perceiving inclinations or commitment.

read more    

Free Newsletter

Sign up to receive our free monthly newsletter with valuable information and articles of interest.

sign up    

Number 12, December 2007



How to Write a Business Memo


Learning how to write effective memos enhances your workplace toolkit.  A quality business memo helps members of an organization communicate in an efficient and effective way without the need for time-eating meetings. Business memos may provide a quick response to a specific question or a summary of ongoing research. They are designed to be read and shared quickly within a team.  Today, e-mail messages are the most common form of memo.

Memos possess a particular format that distinguishes them from business letters. This begins with the standard fields in the header, which is a structured block of information at the top of each memo.  These fields include:

Date: Spell out the date because, in some countries, “12/10/07” means “12 October, 2007” rather than “December 10, 2007.”

To: List the intended recipients of the memo in alphabetical order or by organizational level. Titles such as “Ms.” Or “Professor” are unnecessary. Avoid nicknames and double-check the spelling of all names.

From: Avoid professional titles unless those receiving the memo do not know you.  Sign your initials by your name to confirm that you take responsibility for the memo and its contents.

Subject (or “Re”): As with email, a specific and concise subject line can both inform and guide the reader.  For example, “Final revisions to wildlife research proposal budget” is more explicit and direct than the subject “Research proposal.” The latter simply states a topic, whereas the former identifies the specific issue and focus.

Apply the following suggestions to write the body of the memo effectively:

1.   Immediately state your reason for writing the memo. For example, “This memo confirms the logistics of our Selma field tour on Thursday” or “This memo summarizes the options with my recommendation for allocating research funds next year.”

2.   Discuss the issue and give enough information for decision makers to move forward. Your memo may someday be pulled from a file, so your discussion should have sufficient background information.  This may include the names and titles of the people involved, or the dates of earlier, relevant memos.

3.   Politely close with what action you want your readers to take. Should they attend a meeting? Should they provide feedback on the idea by a certain date?

Strive for one page memos. Use attachments or include lists and figures at the end of the memo to help the reader. When using attachments, refer to them in the memo.

Use bullet points to explain key steps in a process or to highlight key facts. Numbered and bulleted lists make information easy to scan. Take care to make lists parallel in grammatical form.

The use of headings or subheadings can also allow your readers to scan efficiently. Be specific and brief in each heading so that the basic point is immediately clear to the reader. For example, rather than state "Introduction", write "Cockroaches in the pantry."

When writing and formatting a memo from scratch, left-align the text; use single spaces within paragraphs and lists; and double-space between sections.

Remember to check for errors!  Rosalie Maggio, author of “How to Say It,” writes that, because of email, memos may be an “endangered species.”  However, emails can be printed and memos can get filed, which means they can come back to haunt you later. The most common locations for errors in memos are in names, dates or numbers. In fact, "memo" comes from the Latin memorandum, "a thing which must be remembered." Be remembered for clear, crisp memos.


The Loving Trees Newsletter.  Copyright © 2007 Brooks C Mendell.  All rights reserved. We welcome sharing this newsletter in whole or in part if properly cited and attributed.