Writing an Effective Memo

To:                 All FSB Students
From:             The Howe Writing Initiative
Date:              April 2, 2013
Subject:          Writing Memos Effectively and Efficiently

The memo is the basic mode of business communication, so familiarity with this genre is essential. Consider the following tips when writing memos.

Audience and Rhetorical Situation

Know your audience—the person or group in the “To” line at the top of the memo, not necessarily your professor. Focus on what the audience needs to know and on what the audience has asked you to supply, not on everything you have done or learned.
Organize the memo according to purpose and audience, and write so that your reader can quickly grasp the main points. Communicate “need to know” information and eliminate “nice to know” information.

Form and Format

All memos have a general heading—the section at the top of the document that tells when the memo was written, who the memo is to and from, and what the memo is about. The format is the same whether the memo is sent as an email or as a hard copy. If you’re covering a lot of information, consider using headers to group and organize your content so your audience can skim the document quickly. Foreground your topic, findings, or conclusions in the first paragraph/sentence. Though a formal introduction is not necessary, it may be useful to include an overview paragraph—as we did, for example, at the beginning of this memo. 

The body should contain short, focused paragraphs and should be single-spaced. Do not indent paragraphs; separate them with a blank line. Use bulleted lists where appropriate, such as:

Use consistent (parallel) grammatical structure when writing bulleted lists. In the above list, for example, each point begins with a verb in the infinitive form (to set, to make, to draw).


Use professional prose: clear, straightforward, specific language that is easy to follow and understand. Take out throw-away words (this, that, very, just), and use strong verbs (eliminate be, am, is, are, was, were, been) whenever possible. Eliminate passive voice.

As with any writing, you should proofread carefully.  

Howe Writing Initiative ‧ Farmer School of Business ‧ Miami University

If you need this resource in another format for accessibility, please contact hwi@miamioh.edu