How to Write a Memo at a Business Office

Published on October 10th, 2012 by | Category: Management

The memorandum, or memo, is used in business offices as a means of internal communication for two reasons. First, it s as a written record; it prevents misunderstandings, and it saves the receiver from relying on memory or checking back on what was said or meant. Second, a memo can be sent to someone without interrupting him with a phone call or personal visit.

The memorandum and the Note

Memos and notes are fairly distinct in some companies, while in others there is little or no distinction. Where a distinction is made, a memorandum is more formal. It is usually typed in a certain format and size, and is intended to be filed. A note in this case is simply a handwritten message of no permanent value—arrangements for luncheon, reminders of an appointment, notice that a phone call came in, and the like. If standardized paper is used for notes, it is often a small message form on which standard information or queries can be checked off (“Called,” “Will call again,” “Please call him,” “Please see me,” and so on). Some executives use note paper with an identifying phrase such as “From the desk of John Jones” printed on it.

Most of the material in this section pertains to memos, since they are somewhat standardized in many companies.

The Memorandum Format

There is no one way to write or arrange memos, but within any one company there should be consistency. Without it, there is likely to be confusion. A memo format is also a work saver; a secretary can type a memo more easily from notes when she is familiar with a definite style, and even writing up a memo is both quicker and easier when there is a format to follow.

The memo sample below shows a typical memorandum format.

September 10, 20_

TO: James R. Jameson, Personnel Department

FR: Alex Cooper, Methods and Systems Department


This will show you the style we follow in writing memorandums for interoffice use. The style is designed for speed both in typing and in reading. Memos are typed on 6 x 9¼” paper, punched for insertion into binders.

The best reference line is one that conveys the essence of the memo, yet is brief. This helps the receiver when he reads the memo, when he files it, and when he has occasion to find it again.

Supply has copies of this sample memorandum available now, if you would like to order them for the people in your department.

Typewrite (Print) a Memo

Since the memo is almost always filed, it should be typewritten. Typing a memo provides it with two important qualities:

1. It gives the memo the needed formality and clarity. For ex ample, if the memo is one that gives the recipient instructions on how to perform a certain task or assigns a task to him, it should be typed. This gives it authority and avoids misunderstandings.

2. Typing gives the memo permanence. Typewritten documents do not fade or smudge the way handwritten ones do.

Write a Note Longhand

Because notes do not usually have to be filed and generally refer to an immediate, transitory situation, they are usually written in longhand. This saves time, and since notes are generally more personal than memos the reader will value the personal touch of your handwriting on the note.

Routing Memos

A memo containing subject matter that is pertinent to more than one individual is often routed, instead of sending a separate copy to each.

When routing is necessary, certain problems of etiquette and office management arise. Should they be distributed alphabetically? By rank? By convenience of location? By job priority? There is no definite answer to these problems. A great deal depends on the individual needs of your organization. The four basic routing methods are discussed below.

1. Alphabetical routing. This method has two basic advantages. First, it is easy to do. The person sending the memo does not have to search through office, building, or state location files. He doesn’t have to find out individual ranks within the firm. There is no need to find out who has to see the memo first. All he has to do is decide who should see it and then arrange their names alphabetically in the “TO” notation of the memo. The second advantage is that alphabetical routing makes no rank distinction. No one in the office can have his feelings hurt because he thinks that John Doe in the next office is “a privileged character.” This seems a small advantage, but it is often necessary so that harmony can be maintained in the office.

The disadvantages of alphabetical routing are two. First, no allowance is made for location; if the memo is passed along strictly by alphabet it may have to follow a tortuous path. Also, alphabetical routing makes no distinction of job priority. The person who should see the memo first may see it last.

2. Routing according to location. The main advantage of routing according to location is that it saves time. A memo can be sent to all the recipients in one location and then sent to another location for distribution there. This is a logical system that is best used when the memo is general and gives no specific job assignments or instructions.

Locational routing has two major drawbacks. Here, as in alphabetic routing, no attention is given to job priority. Also, routing according to location may involve more work than alphabetical routing. The person sending the memo has to find out where each of the recipients is located, if he doesn’t know, and then he has to route the memo accordingly.

3. Routing according to rank. Routing according to rank, from top to bottom, is fairly easy to do. All that is necessary is a list of company employees and their respective ranks in the organization.

The faults of this system are that it makes no job priority distinction, and pays no attention to location. A better way to keep executives informed and to show deference to the executive position is discussed below in the section called “Informational routing.”

4. Routing by job priority. The advantage here is that the person who must act on the memo’s contents first sees it first. There are no delays in following the directions in the memo.

The disadvantage of this system is that no attention is paid to the location of the recipients.

Routing by job priority is one of the best routing methods possible when it is combined with informational routing (see discussion of informational routing below). This combination not only allows the person who has to act first to see the memo first, but allows executives to keep in touch with company operations as well.

As you can see, the four basic routing techniques all have their advantages and disadvantages. What is an advantage for one firm may be a disadvantage for another. The most important thing for you to do is to choose one method, flexible to your needs, and stick to it.

Informational Routing

Occasionally, memos must be routed to certain executives who are not directly affected by their contents. This is called informational routing. The name of each executive who is indirectly affected is included in the heading of the memo, often with the letters “FYI” (meaning “for your information”) next to his name.

September 28, 20_

TO: John Adams, Personnel

Philip U. Olsen, Production

James R. President, FYI

TM. Treasurer, FYI

How to Send Memos through Appropriate Channels

A basic rule in business etiquette demands that you never go over the head of your immediate supervisor without his knowledge and consent. This means you should direct a memo to a higher executive only if your superior knows about it and approves of your action. If you have any doubt, it is best to direct the memo to your supervisor and let him convey the information to the higher party.

How to Reply to Memos

Some memos are sent with no expectation of a reply. A memorandum intended only to convey information would be an example. Included would be memos intended primarily for someone else but routed to you (or a copy sent) to keep you in formed. A memo setting forth a policy or announcing an activity or forthcoming event doesn’t usually require a reply unless your compliance or participation must be made known.

When a memo does call for an answer, remember that it is a business communication and deserves prompt attention. Where a brief reply is in order—”yes,” “no,” or “will do,” for instance— then a verbal answer, especially by telephone, is often used, unless the matter is not important enough to merit interrupting the other person’s day with a call. A method used in many companies for brief, non-urgent answers is to write the reply on the memo itself and return it to the sender. This method does not interrupt him, gives him a written answer, and results in just one paper to file if he wants to keep it. If a speedy reply is needed, however, the telephone is best.

With any but the simplest reply it is best to give it in writing in the form of an answering memo. A memo is also used to confirm an answer that was first given orally because of urgency. A memo of reply should be typed on the same size paper as the original, for purposes of filing.

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