In case you happened to miss my blog tagline, it is: “Encouraging and equipping those who love to write. Rescuing those who don’t.” This post is one of those “rescue” moments.

I know of many people who have been forced into writing on their jobs for one reason or another. Sure, many of us love expressing our thoughts on paper (or computer) and going to great lengths to find the perfect word to say what we mean, but there are just as many others who didn’t plan on actually having to write for a living–and hate it!

I’m thinking of engineers, business owners, health care professionals–you name it–who started out not having to write a word during their daily jobs, but because of promotions or maybe company cutbacks, they are now expected to handle various forms of corporate correspondence. This post is for you!

Today, let’s tackle the company memo. Writing a memo sounds easy enough, right? Just write a quick letter to your customers, employees, or boss. But make sure you say exactly what you mean, don’t offend anyone in the process, and say it quickly but thoroughly. On top of that, you need to sound like you really know what you’re talking about. Maybe this is why memo writing causes so much anxiety!

For today’s purposes, let’s look at 5 must-have characteristics of any memo you write:

1. Memos must be brief. Memos by definition are “short notes designating something to be remembered.” Memos should ideally be less than one page. Otherwise, call it something else. To accomplish this, don’t use unnecessary words (adjectives and adverbs can typically be eliminated), watch out for redundancy and repetition (hope you caught that!), and write in succinct sentences, using bullets where applicable. Read over your memo several times, and trim back as much wordiness as you can.

2. Memo must have effective formatting. In your memo you should always state your most important points first. Don’t “bury your lead” (as journalists love to say) somewhere deep in the heart of your memo. If it’s key to your message, be sure your reader won’t miss it. Also, set off any important points you have by using bullets or by bolding key phrases.

3. Memos must be precise. Avoid ramblings, tangents, and vague statements that don’t really mean anything. Leave all that to the politicians. (Unless, of course, you are a politician, then you can ignore this point.) The goal of your memo is to cut to the chase, say what you need to say in as few words as possible, then get out. Make sure every sentence or bullet has a precise meaning and isn’t just a waste of words.This is especially true when you are making directives or requests of your readers. Be certain that your words are conveying exactly what you want them to do and that there’s no chance of them misinterpreting what you want.

4. Memos should be simple. Again, leave the big words for the politicians (or professors) and don’t try to impress anyone with how well you can use a dictionary. Say whatever you have to say as simply as you can with common language. It has been said that when we write (unless we’re writing to a specific technical audience), we  should aim for a 5th or 6th grade reading level. That doesn’t, however,  give you license to use words like “dude” and “whatever!”.

5.  Memos should not use sexist language. Some companies are more sensitive about this than others, so you have to gauge where your company lies on the “politically correctness” scale. But, for the most part, make sure your memos don’t always talk about “hes” and never any “shes” or make any reference whatsoever to inequality between the sexes one way or another. You’d think this is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the things some people write! Just look over your memo before you send it out, and make sure you haven’t written anything that could be inferred the wrong way and that you’ve given both sexes equal time.

There is much more that can be said about memo writing (believe it or not!). If you need more pointers I suggest checking out the following books:

Get to the Point! by Elizabeth Danziger; 135 Tips for Writing Successful Business Documents by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts; Write First-Class Business Correspondence by Sue Baugh; and The Elements of Business Writing by Gary Blake and Robert Bly. All of these authors have many other books covering various business writing topics that are worth looking into.

Happy memo writing!