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Writing a business memo
If you can write a good business letter, you can write a good memo (short for memorandum, ‘a brief reminder’). In fact, many office memos are ‘brief reminders’ about an upcoming meeting or taking up a collection to send a card to a colleague who’s in the hospital; but the office setting also requires more complex memos. Think of a memo as an ‘in-house business letter’, somewhere between a note and a brief report in length, to be read and passed on quickly. Most memos are sent as email messages.
Like a business letter, memos provide needed information in an effective and efficient way without a time-consuming meeting, and they are written in a somewhat formal style—no misspellings, slang, or sentence fragments. Because memos are written to be widely distributed and posted, they reach numerous people very quickly and the effects of careless errors multiply, resulting in more memos (requesting clarification or drawing attention to the errors).
There are three basic ways to organize office memos, each suited to providing information in the most effective format:
1 The direct approach
The direct approach states the most important information first and then goes on to supporting or supplementary information. This approach works well if you need to convey routine information or pass on organizational news.
2 The indirect approach
The indirect approach first makes an appeal to the reader or points out the factual elements of a situation or issue and then states a conclusion based on the evidence provided. This approach is especially effective when you want to get the reader’s attention before describing your proposed plan of action.
3 The balanced approach
The balanced approach combines the direct and the indirect approaches, and is particularly effective when the information you are providing is ‘bad news’.
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