TO: All Business Writers RE: How to Write an Effective Memo

Cartoon of a business man holding up a piece of paper, showing it off to his secretary, and the caption says, "Ms. Simpson, I believe I've finally done it. I've written the Great American Memo."
(Image: cwln305/CartoonStock)

Clear and timely communication is a key to running any business effectively.

Business memos help us let our employees or customers know about a specific situation or to inform them of a solution to an ongoing problem. Examples of when memos can be useful include when they discuss a policy change or a price increase, or when they persuade readers to take action—such as attending a meeting or changing the way things are done.

Whatever the goal, the business memo is most effective when it connects your own purpose with your readers’ interests.

If you would like to write more effective business memos, here are five tips.

1. Choose Your Audience

To make sure your memo gets read and acted upon, you need to address it appropriately. We all get inundated with junk mail, so direct your memo to the right audience. If the information is intended only for a few people, don’t direct it to the entire office.

Be careful about sending sensitive or personal information in your memo. In some cases, a memo may seem harsh or could even enflame a situation. Sometimes the best form of communication is still an old-fashioned phone call or an in-person meeting.

2. Clearly State the Purpose

A good business memo is brief and to the point.  Clearly state your purpose without going into exhaustive detail and description.

Let’s say you’re announcing that a product is being discontinued. State when production will cease and briefly cite any pertinent facts that back up the decision. You could also mention the figures from a recent sales report to back up your points.

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Image of quote that says, "A business memo is most effective when it connects your purpose with your readers' interests."

3. Attach Data and Documents

Fact: More people will read a concise memo.

So, what does that mean?

Attach any bulky forms or documents to the memo so that your audience can read them for more information if they’d like to do so.

If you’re asking all employees to fill out a new questionnaire, the memo can state the purpose of the survey and how the results will be used for their gain. Then you can state that the actual form is attached.

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4. Use an Appropriate Tone

The tone of the memo should reflect its purpose:

  • A memo about the company holiday party can be light and upbeat.
  • A memo about the upcoming memorial service for the company founder should be respectful and subdued.

Most memos should simply be clear and business-like.

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5. Proofread Carefully

Because memos are shorter pieces of writing, you may rush though the proofreading process. Don’t fall into this trap.

Any typos, misspellings, or other errors will detract from the purpose of the memo (and your credibility). Proofread slowly and carefully, perhaps reading the text aloud or asking a colleague to give it a look as well before you send it out.

We strongly recommend running your memo by someone professionally trained to spot errors—like Super Copy Editors. We hear it all the time: Our reputation-saving services were well worth the small price. You’d be amazed by the errors we catch that you’ve missed during a dozen different reads. Contact us now for a quick, free quote.

Pay close attention to the spelling of your recipients’ names and use correct job titles whenever appropriate.

A Few More Tips

Plenty of white space and some formatting details can improve your memo’s readability. Try short paragraphs and indented or bulleted lists to avoid a dense, copy-heavy look.

Close with a courteous tone, and if you are asking your readers to take an action step, be sure you’re clear about what you want them to do. Consider including how they should contact you or another appropriate person if they have questions.

Sample Business Memo

Here is a sample business memo and a suggested format. You can adjust this sample as necessary for your company’s needs:

To: All part-time employees
From: Daniel Smith, vice president
Date: Tuesday, December 10
Subject: Parking concerns

Thank you for letting us know about your parking lot concerns at Monday’s meeting. I wanted to let you know of three possible solutions to the parking crunch we have been experiencing while the annex is under construction. Here are three places you can park:

1. Graham Avenue on the north side of the main building
2. Non-designated spaces behind the main parking lot
3. The orthodontist’s lot near the south side of the main building (after 5 p.m. and on weekends only)

With these added options, you should be able to find parking spots for the rest of December. If the weather cooperates, your normal spaces will be out of the construction zone around January 1.

Thanks for your patience, and please let me know if you have any concerns.

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I'm Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than two decades of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes after Hurricane Katrina. Today, I have put together a hand-picked team of copy editors, and we especially love working with ad agencies, marketing departments, and education companies to make their text as polished as possible. Learn more here.


  1. Sherricka Calvin
    January 21, 2020

    Having these informative options is very helpful when needing to determine and find supportive information for my writing material.

    1. Dave Baker
      January 21, 2020

      Glad to hear it, Sherricka.


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