A memo (or memorandum, meaning “reminder”) communicates policies, procedures, short reports, or related official business within an organization. It assumes a one-to-all perspective, broadcasting a message to a group audience rather than to individuals, like email or letters often do. Memos are objective in tone and avoid all personal bias or subjective preference, especially because they may have legal standing when reflecting policies or procedures. Accuracy is therefore paramount in memos lest ambiguities result in mistakes that then become legal matters (Business Communication for Success, 2015, 9.2).
Before exploring memos in more detail, let’s review the advantages, disadvantages, and occasions for choosing memos during channel selection.
Table 4.2 Excerpt: Memo Pros, Cons, and Proper Use
A memo’s purpose is often to inform, but it occasionally includes an element of persuasion or call to action. All organizations have informal and formal communication networks. The unofficial, informal communication network within an organization, the “grapevine,” is often a way for employees to relate and share useful, reliable information, but can also be a channel for rumour, gossip, and innuendo. On the grapevine, one person may hear that someone else is going to be laid off and start passing the news around. Rumours can distort the truth more and more the further along they are passed — and, before you know it, the word might be that the company is shutting down an entire department.
One effective way to address informal, unofficial speculation is to spell out clearly for all employees what is going on with a particular issue. If budget cuts are a concern, then it may be wise to send a memo explaining the imminent changes. If a company wants employees to take action, they may also issue a memorandum. For example, a company memo may announce a new program incentivizing employees to use public transit or other alternatives to driving to work and filling up the parking lot with their single-occupant vehicles. In this way, memos often represent the business or organization’s interests. They may also include statements that align business and employee interest, underscoring common ground and benefit (Business Communication for Success, 2015, 9.2).
A memo often has a letterhead with “MEMO” and the company name and logo at the top of the page. Below this are the header fields identifying the recipient, author, date, and subject — much like you would see in an email. In fact, the header fields of an email are based on those traditionally found in memos, so the same principles for what to include here, such as how to title the document in the subject line, hold for both (see §4.1.1 ).
Unlike emails, memos omit the opening salutation. However, from there, they are similar in their three-part message organization, being made up of an opening, body, and closing. Always direct-approach, the memo message opening states the main point, the body supports this with details, and the closing gives action information or a summary.
Let’s examine a sample memo in Figure 4.2.2 below.
To: All Employees
From: Larry Ogawa, President, University of State
Date: February 14, 2009
Subject: Future Expenditure Guidelines
After careful deliberation, I have determined it is necessary to begin the initial steps of a financial stewardship program that carries UState through what appears to be a two-year cycle of a severe state shortfall in revenue and subsequent necessary legislative budget reductions.
Beginning February 9, 2009, the following actions are being implemented for the General Fund, Auxiliary Fund, and Capital Fund in order to address the projected reductions in our state aid for the remainder of this year (2008-09) and next year (2009-10).
- Only purchases needed to operate the university should be made so that we can begin saving to reduce the impact of 2009-10 budget reductions.
- Requests for out-of-state travel will require approval from the Executive Committee to ensure that only necessary institutional travel occurs.
- Purchases, including in-state travel and budget transfers, will require the appropriate vice president’s approval.
Please understand that we are taking these prudent steps to create savings that will allow UState to reduce the impact of projected cuts in expected 2009-10 legislative reductions. Thank you for your cooperation, and please direct any questions to my office.
Reproduced from Business Communication for Success, 2015, 9.2
For more on memos, see the following resource:
- Purdue OWL’s four Memos modules, starting with Audience and Purpose (Perkins & Brizee, 2018)
- Memos communicate policies, procedures, short reports, or related official business within an organization. They broadcast a message to a group audience rather than to individuals, like email or letters often do. They are objective in tone and avoid all personal bias or subjective preference, especially because they may have legal standing when reflecting policies or procedures.
- Memos lack the opening salutation provided in emails and letters but are otherwise structured similarly to emails (opening, body, closing).
- Let’s say a new bylaw affects the way you do business in the career you are training for. Assuming you’ve risen to the position of manager at your workplace, write a memo that explains the new bylaw and how you will adjust the way you conduct business there. Be creative with both the bylaw and your policy or procedure with respect to it.
- Imagine that your company is about to adopt a new technology (e.g., new software, new laptops, mobile phones, etc.). Inform the employees and discuss the benefits of the new tool in a memo. Explain in point-form, as in the example above, how this development will impact their work.
- Write a short summary of a class lecture in one of your other courses this week. Use a one-page memo to summarize the lecture as if you were preparing it for classmates who could not attend. Summarize the lecture topic accurately and concisely.
Perkins, C., & Brizee, A. (2018, March 23). Memos: Audience and Purpose. Purdue OWL. Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/590/1/