Memo

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Memo Guidelines

by Nicolette L. Cagle, Ph.D. on September 3, 2015

What is a memo?

A memo is “a short distillation of the major findings or recommendations on a key issue or significant problem.”[i] It reflects both the needs of the decision-maker and your in-depth research.[ii] Often, memos are used to record the chronology of ideas and maintain records.[iii] Remember, Memo formats vary by organization and professor, so be sure to learn the conventions of your organization or class before drafting a memo.

What content should a memo include?

  • Definition of problem
  • Summary of key findings or recommendations
  • Evidence to support your recommendation or analysis
  • Important “counterarguments, caveats, and reservations to your findings”[iv]
  • Clear answers to: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?

What is the form of a memo?

  • Heading (including to, from, date, and RE)
  • Executive summary
  • Subsections with subheadings
  • Conclusion
  • Exhibits (if needed)

What does a Heading look like?[v]

To: Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Treasury (Writer’s Audience)

From: Michelle (Min Eun) Jeon, Policy Advisor (Writer’s name and title)

Date: 2/20/2012 (Date)

RE: Overcoming the Obstacle: House Speaker John Boehner (Main Idea)

What should an Executive Summary include?

  • Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) explanation[vi]
    • State the problem
    • Offer reasons for initiating policy changes
  • Recommend a primary course of action
  • Offer support for that action (e.g., We recommend x, based on our analysis of y)
  • Remember: this is not an introduction

You may also want to include the following in an Executive Summary:

  • Key policy options
  • Pros and cons of each option
  • Methods used to examine data

How should the Body of a memo be arranged?

  • Inverted pyramid (most important information first)
  • Use subheadings or bold the thesis statement
  • Support the thesis statement
  • May include background first, then analysis

What should the Conclusion include?

  • Definition of problem
  • Motive for policy change
  • Goal of policy recommendation
  • Consequences of not implementing the recommendation

What guidelines exist for creating Exhibits?

  • Number the exhibits
  • Include one exhibit per page
  • Include a clear, explanatory caption at the top
  • Cite sources

What are some other tips for writing an effective memo?[vii]

  • Be concise
  • Use active verbs
  • Avoid jargon
  • Stay objective
  • Design it so that the reader can find the essential points by scanning

Additional guidelines developed by the NSOE Communications Studio can be found here. You may also want to look at the Thompson Writing Program’s webpage on policy memos.

References

[i] Herman, L.  2012. “Policy Memos.” Harvard Kennedy School. Available at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/HO_Herman_Policy-Memos_9_24_12.pdf [Last accessed 27 Aug 2015]

[ii] Herman, L.  2012. “Policy Memos.” Harvard Kennedy School. Available at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/HO_Herman_Policy-Memos_9_24_12.pdf [Last accessed 27 Aug 2015

[iii] Jesko von Windheim, personal communication, 1 Sep 2015, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University

[iv] Herman, L.  2012. “Policy Memos.” Harvard Kennedy School. Available at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/HO_Herman_Policy-Memos_9_24_12.pdf [Last accessed 27 Aug 2015

[v] Duke Writing Studio. n.d. “Policy Memo.” Duke University Thompson Writing Program. Available at http://twp.duke.edu/uploads/media_items/policy-memo.original.pdf [Last accessed 27 Aug 2015]

[vi] Herman, L.  2012. “Policy Memos.” Harvard Kennedy School. Available at http://shorensteincenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/HO_Herman_Policy-Memos_9_24_12.pdf [Last accessed 27 Aug 2015]

[vii] New York University – Wagner. 2010, Aug 15. “Memorandum” https://wagner.nyu.edu/files/students/WritingMemos.pdf Available at [Last accessed 27 Aug 2015]


Suggested Citation:  Cagle, N. L. 2015. Memo Guidelines. Nicholas School of the Environment Communications Studio, Duke University.


 

 

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