How to Write a Formal Business Memo

by Natalie Smith

The word "memo" is derived from the Latin word "memorandus," which translates to "to be remembered." Formal business memos are documents meant to be used for communication within an organization. They can be addressed to one person, but they are often written for a group of people.

Purpose of the Memo

Both formal and informal memos can have two purposes: to bring attention to a problem or to solve a problem. For example, a memo can discuss a problem with customer service or describe the manner in which the company will solve the customer service problem by implementing a new program. Memos can contain information about policy changes, procedure changes, persuasive information designed to get the reader to take an action or other business-related topics.

Parts of a Memo

Memos contain several distinct parts, and the parts can differ according to the contents of the memo. One part that all memos have, however, is a heading. The heading contains the "To," "From," "Date" and "Subject" lines. These lines identify the essential identifying information about the memo. Formal business memos include full names in the "To" and "From" lines. If the memo is longer than one page, it should also have a summary section at the top. The body of the memo should have sections that are identified by headings to make the memo easy to skim.

Organizing the Memo

Because memos are business correspondence, they should get to the main point as soon as possible. This allows the audience to determine whether the information contained in the memo is pertinent to them. To this end, the formal memo typically begins with the summary section or, if it is a short memo, an opening paragraph that describes the purpose of the memo. The details are then outlined in the rest of the memo. Finally, a memo should close by describing the action you would like the readers to take, such as "Please get your new parking permits by Friday, October 11."

Formatting the Memo

Formal memos are formatted in a similar manner as other business documents. They should have a 1-inch margin all around the page, and they should be single-spaced and left-justified. The information in the memo should be organized into block paragraphs, or paragraphs that do not have indents and that have a space between them. Important points should be organized into lists to help readers quickly identify and locate the main points of the memo. This organization also helps the audience remember the information in the memo better.

About the Author

Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.

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