Memo Writing Tips

Whether you have to create a memo for an actual position, or for your class, co-op, or internship, it's important to know how to draft an effecient memo. Read the tips below and then visit the Academic Writing Center to learn more about how to draft a memo!

Composing a Memo

  • Like most business correspondence, memos need to be short and direct, easy to read and understand. The first step in writing a memo is thinking carefully about what you want to say and how to say it clearly and briefly. This brainstorming can be surprisingly time-consuming, but is necessary to write a memo that can be read quickly and easily. 
  • Expect to revise your memo like you would a school paper: the first draft you write will probably not be clear and concise. Consider giving it to someone else to read to see if what you’ve written makes sense to them. 
  • Memo Subjects: Choose a representative phrase that immediately tells the reader what the memo will be about.

Formatting a Memo

  • Memos have one-inch margins around the page and are on plain paper (not stationery).
  • Use a professional font and black color.
  • All lines of the memo begin at the left margin, except the MEMO line, which can be centered.
  • The body of the memo is single-spaced, with two spaces between paragraphs.
  • Second-page headings: If your memo is more than 1 page long, use a subsequent page header that includes who the Memo is addressed to, the page number, and the date. 
  • The sender usually signs the Memo next to the FROM line, using initials, first name, or complete name.
  • Don’t add a greeting between the memo heading and body. 
  • Some organizations have special memo forms or pre-made templates. If not, use the “MEMO” (or “MEMORANDUM”) label and heading to format your memo.

Memo Tone

  • Memos inform the reader of new information and often instruct them on how to act based on that information. In this context, you need to be specific and detailed without including unnecessary (i.e. time-wasting or confusing) information and without insulting your reader’s intelligence. Pay attention to your tone through word choice, the verbs you use (commands vs. declarative verbs), and your sentence structure (complex vs. simple). 
  • To make appropriate decisions about the content you include and the style and tone you use, you need to think carefully about who your audience is, what they already know, and what you want them to do with the information you’re giving them. 
  • Because memos usually circulate “in-house,” they can have a more informal tone than correspondence with outsiders. Remember, however, that what counts as “formal” or “informal” is defined in terms of each organization’s culture, so pay attention to your audience and context.

Memos Sent as Emails

  • A lot of business communication once circulated as print memos is now circulated via email.
  • For professional emails that work as memos—that inform and instruct the reader to do something—use a format similar to a printed memo, remembering to use direct, clear language and specific directions. 
  • Email programs will fill in the To/From/Date lines and prompt you for the Subject, so you don’t need to use the full memo heading. 
  • Unlike in printed memos, however, use a greeting to begin the body of the email memo.