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Parts of a Memo

Summary:

This handout will help you solve your memo-writing problems by discussing what a memo is, describing the parts of memos, and providing examples and explanations that will make your memos more effective.

Contributors:Courtnay Perkins, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2010-09-24 02:19:39

Standard memos are divided into segments to organize the information and to help achieve the writer's purpose.

Heading Segment

The heading segment follows this general format:

TO: (readers' names and job titles)
FROM: (your name and job title)
DATE: (complete and current date)
SUBJECT: (what the memo is about, highlighted in some way)

Make sure you address the reader by his or her correct name and job title. You might call the company president "Maxi" on the golf course or in an informal note, but "Rita Maxwell, President" would be more appropriate for a formal memo. Be specific and concise in your subject line. For example, "Clothes" as a subject line could mean anything from a dress code update to a production issue. Instead use something like, "Fall Clothes Line Promotion."

Opening Segment

The purpose of a memo is usually found in the opening paragraph and includes: the purpose of the memo, the context and problem, and the specific assignment or task. Before indulging the reader with details and the context, give the reader a brief overview of what the memo will be about. Choosing how specific your introduction will be depends on your memo plan style. The more direct the memo plan, the more explicit the introduction should be. Including the purpose of the memo will help clarify the reason the audience should read this document. The introduction should be brief, and should be approximately the length of a short paragraph.

Context

The context is the event, circumstance, or background of the problem you are solving. You may use a paragraph or a few sentences to establish the background and state the problem. Oftentimes it is sufficient to use the opening of a sentence to completely explain the context, such as,

"Through market research and analysis..."

Include only what your reader needs, but be sure it is clear.

Task Segment

One essential portion of a memo is the task statement where you should describe what you are doing to help solve the problem. If the action was requested, your task may be indicated by a sentence opening like,

"You asked that I look at...."

If you want to explain your intentions, you might say,

"To determine the best method of promoting the new fall line, I will...."

Include only as much information as is needed by the decision-makers in the context, but be convincing that a real problem exists. Do not ramble on with insignificant details. If you are having trouble putting the task into words, consider whether you have clarified the situation. You may need to do more planning before you're ready to write your memo. Make sure your purpose-statement forecast divides your subject into the most important topics that the decision-maker needs.

Summary Segment

If your memo is longer than a page, you may want to include a separate summary segment. However, this section not necessary for short memos and should not take up a significant amount of space. This segment provides a brief statement of the key recommendations you have reached. These will help your reader understand the key points of the memo immediately. This segment may also include references to methods and sources you have used in your research.

Discussion Segments

The discussion segments are the longest portions of the memo, and are the parts in which you include all the details that support your ideas. Begin with the information that is most important. This may mean that you will start with key findings or recommendations. Start with your most general information and move to your specific or supporting facts. (Be sure to use the same format when including details: strongest to weakest.) The discussion segments include the supporting ideas, facts, and research that back up your argument in the memo. Include strong points and evidence to persuade the reader to follow your recommended actions. If this section is inadequate, the memo will not be as effective as it could be.

Closing Segment

After the reader has absorbed all of your information, you want to close with a courteous ending that states what action you want your reader to take. Make sure you consider how the reader will benefit from the desired actions and how you can make those actions easier. For example, you might say,

"I will be glad to discuss this recommendation with you during our Tuesday trip to the spa and follow through on any decisions you make."

Necessary Attachments

Make sure you document your findings or provide detailed information whenever necessary. You can do this by attaching lists, graphs, tables, etc. at the end of your memo. Be sure to refer to your attachments in your memo and add a notation about what is attached below your closing, like this:

Attached: Focus Group Results, January- May 2007

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