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The Keys to Writing a Great Memo: Brevity, Structure, and Clarity

Regardless of what you do for a living, you probably need to write a memo every now and then. A memo is shorter than a letter. It usually has a specific goal, such as to make an announcement or to elicit an action. To be sure your memo achieves what is intended, keep the following in mind:

Keep it short. Too much detail or a tendency to ramble will lose your audience.

Use structure. A few numbered or bulleted points give the reader a visual sense of where you’re headed.

Put the title line to work. Be specific and compelling in the title. “New desk chairs have arrived” is better than “Chairs.”

Address clearly. If it’s an e-mail, place the name of the intended recipients in the “to” line, and all others who should see the memo in the “copy” line, alphabetically. The recipients will then understand that the memo is directed to them, while the persons copied will know it’s simply an FYI for them.

Make action points stand out. Place any calls to action or deadlines in a list at the end of the memo.

Edit out your emotions. Humor and anger are better understood in person. It’s hard to interpret an intended tone when it’s typed on a page, and you may regret putting certain feelings into writing.

Edit. Reread your memo once or twice before hitting “send” or “print.” Check for spelling, grammatical, factual and tonal errors. Once you’re sure it’s clear and concise, you can send your memo with confidence, knowing you’ve made good use of your time and the time of those who will receive it.

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