The Quick and Easy Guide to
Memos & Email
The memo is the most common form of business communication. Less formal than a letter, it is primarily a tool used for an internal audience with knowledge of the organization. Email has become the delivery tool of choice for memos. However, email is also commonly used for external audiences, blurring the line between communication forms.
Memo Format and Style
Memos typically include standard headings (Date, To, From, Subject, CC, etc.) in the front matter at the top of the document. This front matter is followed by the main message. Typically memos are not more than one or two pages long, although they may append or reference additional materials or other documents.
Strategies for effective memos vary somewhat depending on content and source. However, all memos should have a single topic, use a conversational tone and present messages in a concise way. The content of the subject line is especially important, as it determines how attentive the reader will be. The subject heading should be short, but informative and persuasive. Using sub-headings, lists, text formatting, and other visual cues within the body of the memo will aid the reader.
Types of Messages Sent Via Memo
There are three major uses for the memo: Procedure and Information Messages, Request and Reply Messages, and Confirmation (or Denial) Messages.
Procedure and Information Messages
These are routine messages, typically following a "downward" flow from managers to workers. The goal is to inform and encourage employee participation and cooperation. These messages are also used to document existing policies and procedures internally.
Strategies for effective procedure and information messages include the use of appropriate tone, frontloading/backloading depending on whether the message will be received positively or not, and referencing internal resources for additional information.
Email delivery typically works very well with this type of message.
Request and Reply Messages
These messages either ask for information and action, or provide information on action previously requested. The message flow will be "upward" or "downward" depending on the initial source of the request. These messages may include a wider audience, as the direct response to the initiator may be shared with others within the organization. Again, documentation may be one goal of these messages.
Given the nature of these messages, writers should practice good persuasive techniques. Targeting the appropriate audience(s), providing adequate background information, making a compelling argument and using appropriate tone are all important. Depending on the nature and source of the request, the writer should frontload a positive message and backload a negative one. If the memo format is too brief to make a compelling case, the writer should opt for a formal proposal or report, and use a memo to introduce the longer document.
Email delivery can work well for these messages if the audience has adequate background knowledge and doesn't need a fuller report. Email can also be used to "cover" and introduce a larger report. Email delivery does provide an advantage in tracking who received these messages and when.
These messages function as "Incident" or "To File" reports, documenting decisions, directives and discussion. Details are provided, typically including the names and titles of people involved. These messages typically flow "downward."
Writers should use a direct (frontloaded) message, as the audience is assumed to accept the decision. A request for confirmation of receipt is generally included.
Email can be problematic for these messages. Because details are included, it may be risky to deliver these memos electronically. Care should be taken to target only appropriate readers and to clarify any restrictions for distribution. However, in cases where speed of delivery is an issue or when distribution is to a wide audience, email can be advantageous.
Special Considerations When Sending Email
Email has become the tool of choice for sending most short messages. Also, the standard set of tools for email seem to fit into the memo format very well. However, especially when writing to an external audience, the memo format may NOT be appropriate for some email messages. Long messages, of course, do not fit this format. Messages that assume an understanding of an organization's structure, values, jargon, polices and procedures may be ineffective for external readers. Any sensitive information about the organization most likely should not sent externally. Finally, the tone of a memo, conversational and informal, may be inappropriate for external audiences.
It usually is appropriate to use email to "cover" or introduce a longer and/or more formal document attached, such as a report, contract, etc. It is also appropriate to use email in place of phone or other communication to make simple requests (for meetings, lunch, etc) or to confirm simple actions (such as receipt of documents). Again, timeliness, cost or other considerations may make email the delivery tool of choice. Whenever sending email, however, the writer should practice proper email etiquette.
Basic Email Etiquette
- Keep email messages concise, professional and relevant
- Do not email complex, sensitive or confidential messages
- Quote sparingly
- Use a clear Subject line
- Proof your message before sending
- Send attachments only when necessary
- Confirm recipients' interest, involvement, and addresses
- Use discretion when replying to e-mail
- Do not flame
- Do not send/forward inappropriate material
Written By: George Knox © 2017
About the Author