Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

The Complete Guide to Writing Office Memos

ARCHIVES
Bartek Zyczynski/Shutterstock.com

A recent all-staff internal memo from two senior Yahoo executives addressed its readers as “pilgrim,” then “sailor,” and mentioned “T-Rex,” “The Itsy-Bitsy Pterodactyl,” the “hippocampian wagons” and  “Ayn Randian Objectivism” all in one paragraph.

That widely ridiculed email served as a reminder that internal memos matter as much as any marketing brochure or press release—especially given how likely they are these days to leak online. ”What we write in memo form is going to become our business persona,” says Sandra Lamb, author of How to Write It.

That persona could be someone who speaks in jargon and “stilted business-school gobbledygook”—as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did in a memo announcing leadership changes. It could be brutally matter-of-fact, as former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop was in a wake-up call to staff. Or it could be funny and endearingly honest, as Groupon CEO Andrew Mason was when he announced his resignation. Here are some tips to ensure that your memo is clear, effective, and memorable—for the right reasons.

1. Keep it short

“A word-heavy memo is likely to be less inviting to your time-crunched co-workers and upper management, who have limited time to quickly assess whether or not to save, read or delete your memo,”  says Jane Dvorak, who’s worked in public relations and business communications for 30 years. Longer, in-depth documents can be shared as a follow-on.

2.  Start strong 

Show some style in the subject of your email and make your first sentence strong and compelling. ”Your initial sentence is your most important,” says Robert D. Behn, a Harvard University lecturer and author of a well-regarded memo on writing memos. It should make readers want to keep reading.

A memo from the CEO of deals site LivingSocial begins with: “This email is important so please read it to the end. We recently experienced a cyber-attack…”

3. Choose the right tone

Many memos are meant merely to inform. But some need to leave their readers feeling something—inspired, or confident, or (as in the case of Elop’s Nokia memo) scared.

If you want to inspire, get beyond the basic “what” to the “why’s” and “how’s.” Share some details or a story that engages, impresses or conveys your values or your vision. When Tim Cook took over as Apple’s CEO in 2011, his memo showed his emotional commitment to Apple’s culture, values and “the best products in the world.”

But if there’s no particular feeling you’re aiming for, stick to a factual and professional tone. Otherwise, too much tone (we’re looking at you, Yahoo) will merely distract your readers from your message.

Read more at Quartz

(Image via Bartek Zyczynski/Shutterstock.com)

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.