How to Write a Killer Memo: 7 Quick Tips
Of course, you know how to write a memo—chances are, you’ve written hundreds of them. However, May 21 is National Memo Day, which makes this the perfect time to highlight the finer points of impactful memo writing.
Memos—short for the Latin word “memorandum” (translation: “it must be remembered”)—have existed since the late 1800s. Kingdoms used them. So did armies. Today, the memo is a professional communication used in business writing to convey internal company news.
As an HR professional, you may find yourself writing policy memos, legal memos, benefits memos, and more. Regardless of your subject, the objective remains the same: to communicate information as clearly and concisely as possible.
Composing masterful memos is a valuable professional communications skill, especially in HR. To that end, consider these seven tips on how to write a memo that hits its mark.
1. State Your Purpose Upfront
Start your memo with a subject line that clearly states its purpose. This will allow your readers to quickly grasp its context and subject.
Here’s a memo example: Say you’re changing the way employees request time off. Your subject line might be: “PTO Update: Revised Process for Requesting Time Off.” It’s concise and straightforward—and you know the term “PTO” will grab your readers’ attention.
Tip: It’s wise to revisit the subject line after your memo is written, when you have a clearer sense of what follows—or to experiment with several variations, and then choose the clearest, punchiest option.
2. Employ an Organized Structure
Your company may have a corporate policy regarding memos, or perhaps HR has a template. In that case, adhere to the prescribed formatting and structure.
Otherwise, lead with a short, to-the-point paragraph that states your purpose, followed by a few supporting paragraphs or bullets.
Tip: Organizing a memo’s talking points into a bulleted format makes it easier to scan, increasing the likelihood employees actually read it.
End your memo with a call to action—i.e., what you would like employees to do with this information and by when. And always identify the appropriate contact for any questions or concerns your readers might raise.
3. Use a Professional Tone and Style
Some employers use a more informal internal tone than others, but whenever you’re communicating in writing, it’s smart to err on the side of formality.
In addition to a professional tone, be courteous. In most cases, it’s best to avoid attempts at humor, which can be tricky to pull off in writing.
4. Write to Your Audience
When composing a memo, consider the knowledge level and background of your readers. For example, a memo written to leadership is a different animal than one written to the entire workforce, because you can safely assume your audience has a certain level of understanding.
Similarly, while acronyms are second nature in HR, not all employees know offhand what terms like DOL, ADA, and ACA mean, so avoid insider jargon.
5. Provide Context and Background
If your memo refers to a larger issue, provide relevant background information to explain the context. Include key dates, previous actions, and any relevant facts. If you are following up on a prior discussion, be specific in recapping where you left off. Don’t assume people remember what you do.
6. Keep It Simple
According to one marketing study, people spend an average of just nine seconds reading an email. Everyone is in a hurry. The more direct and uncluttered your memo, the more likely it is that your readers will get the message.
Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Use bulleted lists when you can. Format your memo with plenty of white space—the open space around the text—so it’s easy on the eyes.
Include only necessary details. If some support information is important, consider providing it in an attachment that your audience can read separately.
7. Proofread and Edit Your Memo
It may be tempting to distribute your memo the minute it’s done, but this is never a good idea. Ideally, give it some “cooling off” time before you review it—or better yet, ask a colleague to take a look as well.
Like every professional communication, memos should be carefully proofread and edited for accuracy, clarity, grammar, and tone.
Remember, once you send your memo, it will take on a life of its own. Make it sure you get it right—and that it will make its intended impact.
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