In this segment of the course, you?ll learn how to write effective memos. Email
messages are the modern incarnation or version of memos. Or put another way,
email messages are electronic versions of the now old-fashioned memos. The
reasons that I include memos in this course, in place of email messages, are these:
? Whether you learn to write a memo or an email is almost irrelevant, because
memos and emails share the same basic features, with just a few minor
? Because company employees typically write email messages much more
often than any other type of documentation, it is important for you to gain
knowledge and practice in how best to organize, format, and write parts of an
email/memo. Later on, you can then easily apply the strategies you learn
about memo writing to your email writing.
? I want you to learn, right away in this course, how to format all types of
business documents (memos, emails, reports, proposals, websites, and so
on), and it is much easier for you to learn how to format a memo created as a
Word document than to learn how to format an email.
? For the sake of efficiency, I need to use D2L for all major assignments for this
course ? it would be very difficult for me to easily process (and provide
written feedback on) 28-30 email messages for any major assignment for this
Maybe some of you have written memos before, but I?m pretty certain that all of you
have written an email message by now. Even so, I?m assuming no knowledge
whatsoever, so it?s ok if you?ve never written a memo or an email before.
There are four main parts to a memo (or a lengthy email):
(a) Reference information at the top
(b) Purpose statement
(c) The ?body? of the memo
(d) The closing of the memo
I?ll go through each of these parts, one at a time. Turn first to the next page, which
shows you the basic structure of a memo. If this seems oversimplistic to you, don?t
think I?m being condescending! Remember that I?m assuming no knowledge at all.
Re: What is this about?
(Purpose Statement) What is this about?
What is your purpose for writing this?
Why is it important for the reader to read this?
?or, How could the reader benefit from reading
Begin the ?body? of the memo with a heading. It also helps to end your purpose
statement with one or several of these conventions:
the words ?the following? or ?as follows?
(Body) Include only details that are absolutely essential
Divide the ?body? of the memo into sections with
headings; Within each major section with a
major heading, use other format devices (such as
vertical lists or subsections with subheadings) to
help readers locate particular details within
seconds, and read through the memo quickly
(Closing) It is conventional in the close of a memo to offer
more help, suggest a meeting, or provide your
phone number/email address and encourage
Be friendly and courteous ? at the very least, say
REFERENCE INFORMATION AT THE TOP OF A MEMO
The top of a memo often looks like this:
At the top, you might find the word ?Memorandum,? but you don?t have to include
that word. Some companies put their name/logo at the top. What you decide to put
there all depends on where you work.
Along the left you?ll list, To, From, Date, and Re (or ?Subject?). Next to those words,
you indicate your target audience?s name and title, your own name and title, the
date, and the subject line. Sometimes you?ll add ?CC:? under ?To: and list people
who are receiving copies of the memo.
You can write your initials next to your name if you wish. Some people think
doing this adds credibility/authenticity to your memo.
Including the date is important for purposes of filing and deciding on
whether to read the document quickly or later on.
The subject line should consist of a brief phrase that indicates what the
memo is all about. You should imagine at least two different audiences for
this subject line: your target reader and an administrative assistant who
needs to know the subject of the memo for filing purposes or for decisions
about whether to rush this to the target reader (whether to give it top
priority) or whether to delay giving your memo to the target reader.
Use either white space or a horizontal line to separate the top portion of the memo
from the purpose statement.
Begin your memo with a purpose statement. Do not include a heading. Also, do
not sum up the main conclusion of the memo. Instead, just write a brief statement
that (a) explains the topic and purpose of the memo, and (b) indicates how the
reader would benefit from the information. Also, if you are responding to a reader?s
request, indicate that you are doing that (e.g., ?As you requested,? ?In response to
The purpose statement might be a single sentence or a full paragraph, but it always
answers the question, why are you writing this memo? Your reader is wondering:
What is this memo about? Why are you writing this to me? Why should I care
about this? How would I benefit from reading this?
As you can see in the example of a memo on the next page, the reason that Pat
Crecine wrote the memo was to inform everyone on campus about changes to the
spring, 2002 academic calendar. It might seem obvious why it?s important for
people to know about these changes, but Mr. Crecine decided to make it very clear
to readers why they should care about this topic: ?These changes will affect the end
of the semester, the number of reading days for students, and when final
examinations will be scheduled.? It?s likely that everyone who received that memo
read it completely, because the purpose statement made it clear that these changes
would affect everyone?s work schedule.
Notice how the subject line and the purpose statement in a memo both answer the
question, ?What is this about?? In the example of a memo on the next page, both
contain the words, ?Changes to the Spring, 2002 Academic Calendar.? Mr. Crecine
doesn?t repeat this information in two spots because he thinks that his readers are
stupid. Instead, it?s common practice to explain what the memo is about both in the
subject line and in the purpose statement. Why? In the workplace, different kinds
of readers tend to read different parts of a document. For memos, the
administrative assistant is often the key reader of the subject line (for filing
purposes), whereas the target reader of a memo often skips the subject line and just
reads the purpose statement. In business writing, therefore, repetition can be
useful, because it helps you make sure that all of your readers will see key
information, somewhere in the document!
After your purpose statement, you should insert a section heading if the section is
more than a paragraph or two in length; you can also use any of the following ways
to separate your purpose statement from the ?body? of the memo that will follow it:
? white space between the purpose statement and the ?body?
? a colon after the last word in the purpose statement
? the words ?the following? or ?as follows? in the purpose statement
On the next page, a colon, the words ?the following,? and white space are used.
CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY
TO: The CMU Campus Community
From: Pat Crecine, Vice President for Academic Affairs
Date: November 22, 2001
Subject: Changes to the Spring, 2002 Academic Calendar
The Educational Affairs Council has recommended several changes to the Spring,
2002 academic calendar. These changes will affect the end of the semester, the
number of reading days for students, and when final examinations will be
scheduled. They are an attempt to relieve some of the pressure on our students
during the final examination period. I concur with these recommendations.
Therefore, the following changes will be made to the Spring, 2002 academic
1. The last day of classes will be Friday, April 24.
2. There will be two reading days: Monday, April 27 and Wednesday, April
3. Final examinations will be scheduled on Tuesday, April 28; Thursday,
April 30; Friday, May 1; and Monday through Wednesday, May 4-6.
These changes do not affect the Spring 2002 academic calendars of GSIA or SUPA.
I trust that this early notification of these changes will permit you to adjust your
THE BODY OF A MEMO
1. Detail Selection
What should you include in the ?body? of your memo? Because most of your
readers will be extremely busy, provide them just with key details that are
absolutely essential to their knowledge of a topic. Think about what your readers
probably want or need to know about your topic and include that information for
sure. Don?t bother your readers with extraneous details on a topic that they don?t
absolutely need to know. Those details can go in an attachment, be presented in a
separate document, or remain unknown to your readers.
Consider these questions when deciding what information to include and what
information to omit from your memo:
? Do my readers absolutely need to know about this fact or detail to make a
decision, approve something, or do their job well?
? Do they need to know about this information to understand the topic?
? Do they need to know this information to be convinced or persuaded?
If the answer to any of these three questions is ?yes,? include the information! If it?s
?no,? don?t include the information in your memo.
2. Structure and Formatting
In business writing, your readers will almost always be very busy. They?ll be
swamped with things to do and things to read. Writers need to give them a break by
structuring their memos with a set of major sections with major headings. Also, use
a lot of white space and other ways of arranging information so that readers can
scan (not read ? just scan or skim!) the memo and (a) locate particular items of
interest to them within seconds, and (b) understand the contents within seconds.
Using format devices is a wonderful way to help out your readers. They don?t want
to hunt and search for key facts or key information they need to do their jobs. They
need to find information within seconds! They can?t read a memo quickly if it?s full
of paragraphs with no headings/sections. They need your help to find particular
points of interest to them within seconds. Look on the next page, which is an
example of an unformatted set of instructions. Imagine that your reader is a
diabetic and needs to find out, within seconds, how to inject herself with insulin. If
she were to read that unformatted version, she might take so long to read through
the set of instructions that she?ll lapse into a diabetic coma before finding out what
she?s supposed to do.
Giving the IM Injection
First of all, the preparation for giving the injection must be carried out. This
includes: selecting the correct medication, preparing the needle, and drawing the
medication. In selecting the medication, it must be triple checked to ensure that the
right medication and dosage is being given. This is done by checking the order
against the medication card, against the label on the drug container. Have the
needle ready to go in order to prevent fumbling with the needle and medication
bottle when drawing up the medication. Make sure that the needle is tight to the
syringe and that it is the right side. Freeing the plunger so that it will draw back and
push forward easily is a good idea as it prevents fighting with it when it may be in an
awkward position, like in the patient?s leg. Drawing up the medication has several
points that are important tin avoiding contamination of the needle, or medication,
and in ensuring that the right dosage is being given.
For ease of explanation I am assuming that the medication is in liquid form in
a container with a rubber seal that is supposed to be the correct dosage.
Now look at the next page, which is a formatted set of instructions. Your
target readers, diabetic people, would be able to find particular information within
seconds ? such as just how to draw up the medication ? because the writer has used
sections and informative headings to help readers locate important details right
away. Look at the formatted set of instructions and make a list of the format devices
you see in that example. Then check the page that follows the formatted set of
instructions to see if your list matches mine.
GIVING THE INTRAMUSCULAR INJECTION
Selecting the Correct Medication and Dosage
CAUTION: Triple-check the physician?s order against the medication
card and the label on the medication container, to ensure that you administer
the correct medication in precise dosage.
After selecting the correct medication and dosage, prepare your
needle and syringe.
Preparing Your Needle and Syringe
1. Choose a twenty-six (26)-gauge needle and affix it tightly to the
neck of your syringe.
2. Free the syringe plunger so it draws back and pushes forward
easily, to avoid later difficulties when the needle is in the
With your needle and syringe prepared, you are ready to draw up the
Drawing up the Medication
CAUTION: Use aseptic technique to avoid contamination of the
needle and/or medication; recheck the correct dosage on the container label.
* * * * * * * * *
In the example on the previous page, I identified these format devices. How
did you do?
Headings and sections
White space (between letters, words, sentences, and sections)
Vertical numbered list
Here are additional format devices that you can consider using in your
Lists with bullets, dashes, asterisks, or other icons
Boxes around text
Use of color
Use of shading
Now compare the memo on the top of the next page with the memo on the
bottom of that page. The first version is unformatted and notice how hard it
is to figure out what it means! The second version, which is formatted with a
vertical list, is much easier to understand.
It is generally acknowledged that proper time charges have been thoroughly
confused within the division. In an effort to reduce the amount of legwork
incurred by designers within the unit, I have asked Mr. Walden to establish
the responsibility of giving time charges for new projects to L. Harris. This
has been agreed to; therefore, the Unit Secretary shall maintain an up-to-date
time sheet concurred to by Harris of all charges, including overhead. Any
unresolved questions should be referred to immediately to Harris.
To correct the improper making of time charges within the division, Mr.
Walden has empowered Mr. Harris to:
(a) see that time charges for new projects are made properly,
(b) have the Unit Secretary maintain an up-to-date time sheet of all charges,
including overhead, and
(c) answer all related questions from personnel.
No memo should consist of just a set of vertical lists. In any memo that you write,
begin each new section with a major heading followed by a brief overview. Then be
selective ? write a few sections with vertical lists that follow the brief overviews, but
also, write some sections that are just brief paragraphs or that contain subsections
with subheadings. Variety is important, and so is your opportunity to go into some
description/explanation at times, which you probably can?t do well in vertical lists
alone. Maybe use a vertical list only when it makes sense to do so, because you
would have just a handful of simple terms or phrases to present that you could list
easily, but use paragraphs or subsections (with subheadings) when you are
presenting more complex and detailed information that you could convey more
effectively in full sentences than in vertical lists.
Whenever you do use a vertical or horizontal list, you should make sure that each
item in your list has the same grammatical construction. This is called parallelism.
For example, each item in your list might begin with infinitive phrases, as in the
I like to ski, to bike, and to drive.
Or, maybe each item in your list will begin with a gerund (ing) phrase, as follows:
I like skiing, biking, and driving.
Or, maybe each item in your list will be a full sentence. It?s your choice! Just be sure
that all items have the same grammatical construction.
Try rewriting the following sentences to correct faulty parallelism. On the next page
are the answers:
(a) Eating is time-consuming, expensive, and it makes you fat.
(b) The most dangerous forms of transportation are riding motorcycles, cars,
and pedaling a bicycle.
(c) He collected information from letters, newspapers, from diaries, and city
(d) Different persons respond to different types of music, such as folk, rock,
or they like to listen to blues.
Here are some possible versions. You might have come up with other versions that
also have correct parallelism:
(a) Eating is time-consuming, expensive, and fattening. (Each item is an adjective)
(b) The most dangerous forms of transportation are motorcycles, cars, and bicycles.
(Each item is a plural noun)
(c) He collected information from letters, from newspapers, from diaries, and from
city records. (Each item has the word ?from? plus the plural noun).
(d) Different persons respond to different types of music, such as folk, rock, or
blues. (Each item is a noun, a type of music)