First: Concentrate on essentials
The term “memo” means a document that is used for information or decision-making and is usually written for superiors and colleagues. In some Company Such documents are also called “template”, “statement” or “note”. Usually, memos are no longer than four pages, although I have also seen templates with more than 30 pages.
Before you get a step-by-step tutorial, make a remark: The goal of a good memo should be to describe as accurately and objectively the underlying problem or the situation. So, focus on the essentials, as the topic of your memo is usually only one of many problems that your boss or colleagues are dealing with.
Step 1: Answer the principle questions
Before you start writing, you need to clarify some basic questions:
- Who are the recipients? How much prior knowledge do they possess?
- When is it necessary to explain the background or context, and when?
- How important is the topic to the recipient (is it “loved” or “hated”)?
- How would the recipient wish to be informed? Is the recipient eye or ear-man, ie does he prefer to receive information in writing or verbally?
- Does the recipient require detailed information or a summary?
- Is the receiver fact-oriented or not?
- Who needs to comment on the topic or contribute his point of view, such as his own superiors, superiors of other departments, colleagues from his own department, colleagues from other departments as well as external experts (lawyers, consultants, tax consultants, experts ...)?
Step 2: Name the priority of the topic
The recipient must be able to immediately classify the problem or the facts. Therefore, first try to indicate the priority. For classification, I recommend the so-called “Eisenhower method” (named after the American general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower).
This results in the following combinations of importance and urgency:
- Type 1: rapid, but minor importance;
- Type 2: urgent and high importance;
- Type 3: slight urgency, but high importance;
- anything else is not suitable for memos.
Step 3: Write a concise subject line
On the high meaning of the subject line was already in the episodes over letters and eMails pointed out. The same applies to memos: Briefly and precisely describe the problem or the facts, ideally as a question. So not: “Restructuring the sales system”, but: “How should we redesign our sales system?”
Because it always applies: Memos are for information or decision-making purposes, they should be short and precise. In general, as detailed as possible and as short as possible.
Step 4: Describe your concern
Before you begin with the actual remarks, you should let the recipient know what you expect from him.
As a recipient, you read a text differently if you know that something has to be decided than if you should only take note of something. For example, you could use the following categories: "Take note", "Decide until ...", "Have a conversation" or "Take action".
Step 5: Identify the problem or situation
Considering the variety of topics that can be discussed in memos, it is difficult to recommend a general outline. It is always helpful, however, to check whether all important aspects have been mentioned by means of W questions: Who? What? When? Where? As? Why? By which? How long?
If your memo is longer, you should summarize key statements in (active) subheadings. Also write an executive summary that precedes your remarks. Memos should not only convey information, but also reflect your own opinions and assessments in order to force decisions.
If you write to several recipients who have different degrees of good knowledge of the underlying topic, you can outsource detailed and further information in attachments. For example, a history or history, calculations, legal foundations or details of alternative solutions are suitable (see step 7).
Step 6: Arrange the problem or the facts
After you have described the problem or the facts, you should go a step further and try to establish a reference to the topic of the company strategy or the profit target.
What exactly is meant by this? The receivers of memos are, as I said, usually the superiors. And they think strategically and profit-oriented (at least they should do that). Therefore, always show - as far as possible - how your proposal helps to achieve the company strategy or increase the profit.
Step 7: Name solution alternatives with advantages and disadvantages
Now follows the most exciting part for the receiver, namely the part where you submit your suggestions for solutions. Here are a few tips:
- Find meaningful terms for alternative solutions (for example "minimal solution", "comfort solution" or "savings package").
- Keep in mind that the alternatives are different.
- Limit the “solution space” - do not work out too many variants.
- Say what is needed to implement the solutions - in terms of time, money and personnel.
- Use a graphical representation (such as a decision tree) for explanation.
Step 8: Name the alternative of non-action
Frequently in the representation of solutions one possibility is overlooked: namely, to do nothing. Sometimes this can be a quite reasonable alternative. So tell what happens if the problem is not solved. Enter the advantages and disadvantages of non-trading.
Working with scenarios and categories
It may also be useful to design scenarios (“best case”, “worst case”), that is, to predict how a problem or situation will develop if nothing is done.
So once again as a reminder: the recipient of your memo reads your text very differently if he or she knows that something has to be decided. That is why I have already recommended that you use different categories such as “Take note”, “Decide until…”, “Have a conversation” or “Take action”.
This almost automatically follows: If your memo is longer, you should summarize key statements in (actively formulated) subheadings. Also write an executive summary that precedes your remarks.
Step 9: Make a recommendation and name the next step
In conclusion, your judgment is required. Facilitate the decision by choosing an alternative. Justify your opinion with coherent arguments and examples.
Your own point of view
If you can not clearly decide on a solution, or if other departments or colleagues may be of the opposite opinion, then for the sake of fairness, all points of view.
In order to speed up the decision-making and the implementation process, you should also clarify what is to be done in the next step from who until when. Finally, give an outlook:
What is the “final state”? For example: "If we manage to implement the new distribution system by the end of 2011, we will be able to increase our market share by 30 percent."
Step 10: Correct your memo
As with letters, eMails and other types of text as well, is the last step to be corrected, again in terms of content, spelling, punctuation, style, comprehensibility and form. Now ask yourself the most important question:
Does my memo make the decision or understanding easier for the recipient? If you can answer “yes”, you may circulate your memo. If you have any doubts, you have to lend a hand again.
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