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:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

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