15 – Correspondence


Annemarie Hamlin; Chris Rubio; Michele DeSilva; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; Kalani Pattison; and Matt McKinney

A memo (or memorandum, plural: memoranda or memorandums,  meaning “reminder”) is normally used for communicating policies, procedures, or related official business within an organization. It is often written from a one-to-all perspective (like mass communication), which broadcasts a message to an audience, rather than a one-on-one interpersonal communication, which delivers a message to an individual. It may also be used to update a team on activities for a given project, or to inform a specific group within a company of an event, action, or observance.

Memo Purpose

A memo’s purpose is often to inform, but it occasionally includes an element of persuasion or a call to action. All organizations have informal and formal communication networks. The unofficial, informal communication network within an organization is often called the grapevine, and it is often characterized by speculation and rumor. On the grapevine, one person may hear that someone else is going to be laid off and start passing the news around. Rumors change and transform as they are passed from person to person, and before you know it, the word is out that they are shutting down your 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 what changes are imminent. If a company wants employees to take action, they may also issue a memorandum. For example, on February 13, 2009, upper management at the Panasonic Corporation issued a declaration that all employees should buy at least $1,600 worth of Panasonic products. The company president noted that if everyone supported the company with purchases, it would benefit all.[1]

While memos do not normally include a call to action that requires personal spending, they often represent the business’s or organization’s interests. They may also include statements that align business with employee interests and underscore common ground and benefit.

Memo Summaries

Memos typically open with a Summary section before moving to the main body. The Summary should be longer than the Purpose section, because the Summary’s job is to cover the most important information in the memo, whereas the Purpose section simply explains the function of the memo. Here’s an example of the difference:

  • Purpose: The purpose of this memo is to report the current status of our project and explore next steps.
  • Summary: The first task in the project has been completed, which entailed a review of prior plagiarism cases investigated by Texas A&M’s Student Conduct Office (SCO). We are currently working on the second task, which is arranging an interview with the head of the SCO, but this has proven difficult. The third task, surveying students involved in these cases, has not yet been completed. Based on the status of each task, we are going to amend our data collection schedule and allot more time to collecting survey data.

Note how the Summary elaborates on the Purpose while also helping the reader to anticipate the takeaways in the memo’s discussion of each task, which will be conducted in more detail in the main section.

Summary sections in memos typically fall under one of two types of summary: pure or executive. Pure summaries provide a comprehensive overview of the entire memo, giving relatively equal weight to all subsequent sections. Executive summaries, by contrast, privilege information that enables a high-ranking organizational audience to make an informed decision. Although both types of summary are meant for audiences who don’t need (or intend) to read the full memo, the executive summary is more pragmatic and narrowly focused.

For example, say you were writing a memo about a research study you conducted. If you chose to write a pure summary, you would give equal weight to Methods, Results, and Discussion. If you chose an executive summary, you would focus primarily on Discussion and Results, with little or no mention of Methods.

For more discussion and examples of pure summaries, executive summaries, and a third type of summary (abstracts) see Chapter 18: Proposals, Chapter 19: Informational Reports, and Chapter 20: Recommendation Reports.

Memo Tone and Content

What a writer puts in a memo will be driven by the rhetorical situation. In general, memos are internal documents, meaning that their content should be geared toward a particular person or persons within the organization. They are also formal and objective, often reflecting company policies, official updates, or employee schedules.

When composing a memo, you will want your content to be immediately accessible to a reader. Memos, like most technical and professional communication, privilege putting the most important information first. An effective memo, therefore, will not bury information in the middle of a paragraph. A memo writer will also provide detail appropriate to their audience.

Table 15.1 below offers five specific tips for crafting an effective memo, with particular attention on the impact of tone and content on the audience.

Table 15.1. Tips for creating effective memos.

Effective Memos... Explanation
Address audience needs Always consider the audience and their needs when preparing a memo. The goal is clear and concise communication at all levels with no ambiguity.

Example: The memo writer clarifies an acronym or abbreviation that is known to management but not known by all the employees in an organization-wide memo.

Adopt a professional, formal tone Memos are often announcements, and the person sending the memo speaks for a part or all of the organization.

The memo may have legal standing as it often reflects policies or procedures and may reference an existing or new policy in the employee manual, for example.

Identify their subject early The subject is normally declared in the subject line and should be clear and concise.

Example: If the memo is announcing the observance of a holiday, the specific holiday should be named in the subject line. Use “Thanksgiving weekend schedule” rather than “holiday observance.”

Announce their purpose The purpose of the memo is clearly announced.

Some written business communication allows for a choice between direct and indirect formats, but memorandums are always direct.

Are objective Memos are a place for facts alone and should have an objective tone without personal bias, preference, or interest on display.

Memo Format

At a glance, most memos look like particularly formal emails, though instead of having the To, From, Subject, and Date information located outside of the email, memos include that information on the page. Many organizations will have a “house memo” or equivalent format that they use for internal communications. Sometimes, these documents will contain a company letterhead or logo to signal the document’s official status.

While each organization’s preferred format will be different, Figure 15.3 provides a useful base memo format for you to use in your course, as well as some specific tips on what to include in each section. As you review Figure 15.3,[2] pay attention to the use of headings and situations in which you may alter them to help your reader more quickly read and understand the content.

This image shows the layout of a typical memorandum as it should appear on the page or screen. The header (to, from, subject, date) are shown, as well as the major sections of the document, such as the Summary, Discussion and Recommendation. Click the link at the end of the caption for an accessible PDF of this information.
Figure 15.3. An example of a memo with explanatory content. (Alternative PDF version: Figure 15.3.)

This text was derived from

Gross, Allison, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva. Technical Writing. Open Oregon Educational Materials, n.d. https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/technicalwriting/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The above authors derived their text from:

Saylor Academy. “PRDV002: Professional Writing.” April 2016. Online Course. https://learn.saylor.org/course/view.php?id=56. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

McMurrey, David. Online Technical Writing. n.d. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

  1. Leo Lewis, “Panasonic Orders Staff to Buy £1,000 in Products,” The Times, Feb. 13, 2009, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/panasonic-orders-staff-to-buy-pound1000-in-products-8z3mszj2rml.
  2. Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt, “An Example of a Memo with Explanatory Content,” 2020. This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication Copyright © 2022 by Annemarie Hamlin; Chris Rubio; Michele DeSilva; Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt; Kalani Pattison; and Matt McKinney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.