What you’ll learn to do: Compose emails and memos intended for an audience within the same company or team as the writer
Since email and memos are part of the daily workflow it is important to be aware professional standards that need to be followed in today’s workplace communication. When considering these standards of professionalism, what are the key features of an email intended only for internal distribution? How do we write an internal email message? How do we write an internal memo?
- Describe the professional standards of intra-office emails
- Identify common types of internal emails
- Identify key features of the structure and format of internal emails
- Write an internal email
- Identify key features of the structure and format of memos
- Write an internal memo
You probably learned about table manners, thank-you notes, and other forms of etiquette when you were younger. Many people believe that the way you conduct yourself says a lot about who you are in life, and by extension, in business. Although many companies have a casual dress code, don’t be quick to assume that protocol and established practices aren’t important. It would be easy to misinterpret lack of formality as lack of professionalism.
Email has become the most accepted method of communication in most businesses, whereas text messages, instant messages, and messages through social networks can also be commonplace depending on the company. Since the use of these channels varies by company and even by department, it is crucial to be aware of etiquette when using any of these methods of communication.
One way to practice etiquette when communicating in a business setting is to take time to choose your method of communication carefully. Letters, memos, proposals, and other written communication are considered formal, whether they are sent on paper or transmitted via e-mail. However, text messages, instant messages, and social networking are considered informal methods of communication and are best used to communicate less-formal information, such as a the change in a meeting time if schedules have been adjusted during a factory tour. Text and instant messages should never be used to communicate company policies, proposals, pricing, or other information that is an important part of conducting business with customers.
It’s also worth noting that in all these methods, your communication is permanent, so always take the time you need to write a complete and accurate message. The following tips for electronic communication will help you be viewed as professional.
Things you Should Do
- Do use an email subject line that clearly tells the recipient about the content of the email. For example, a title like “New Promotional Materials” might be too vague if you have several promotions running at the same time, instead try “Spring 2018 Housewares Promotion.”
- Do create a short, concise message that uses proper grammar and spelling—use spell-check to be sure all words are spelled correctly. Use uppercase and lowercase letters as grammar dictates.
- Do proofread carefully. Look for missing words or extra negatives (such as not), which make your meaning the opposite of what you intend.
- Do use email, text messages, and instant messages when appropriate, according to your company’s practices. Use with your customers only when you need to communicate factual information such as to confirm meeting date, time, and location.
- Do use social networking sites to join the conversation and add value—you can build your personal brand by creating a blog or joining a professional conversation on social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook.
things You Shouldn’t Do
- Don’t use all capital letters in an email; it will appear that you are shouting or angry.
- Don’t use “Reply to All” unless it’s absolutely necessary that all the recipients see your response. Be selective to avoid mailbox overload. Use your best judgement about whom to cc.
- Don’t send an email, text message, or instant message when you are angry or in an extreme emotional state. Take the time to think about what you send because you can’t take it back after it’s sent.
- Don’t use abbreviations like “ur,” “2b.” This is not appropriate language for business communication. It’s easy to forget to adjust our language for professional purposes since we use electronic communication methods with friends and acquaintances.
- Don’t use company email, text message, or instant message accounts to send personal correspondence. All communication that takes place on company hardware and servers is property of the company.
- Don’t use text messages, instant messages, or social networks to communicate information such as pricing, proposals, reports, service agreements, and other company information that should be sent using a more formal method.
Common Types of Internal Emails
In the past, the standard workhorse for inter and intra-office communication was the memorandum or memo. According to Merriam-Webster, a memo is “a usually brief written message or report from one person or department in a company or organization to another.” For all intents and purposes, the email has become the memorandum of modern business. Internal business emails can be used to communicate almost any and all types of information.
An internal email can be created in the form of a newsletter, event notification, company policy change, announcement, meeting request, status update, appreciation, etc. In other words, email can be used for any number of purposes. This is perhaps the reason that many employees today feel inundated with the daily barrage of email.
Here is an example of a very simple message informing of an agenda change for an upcoming meeting:
From: John Jaurès [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2017 10:13 AM
To: Team Members
Subject: Changes to Agenda
- New software installation
- Changes to protocol
- Email monitoring policy
Here is an example of an internal newsletter email:
Here is an example of an internal email memo:
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, February 08, 2017 2:06 PM
To: Eddie Bangston
Subject: Team Cloud Employee Benefits
WELCOME TO TeamCloud!
Team Cloud is committed to providing our employees with the highest quality of benefits at an affordable price.
In our efforts to make your orientation a pleasant one, we have implemented a web based employee self-service system to assist you in completing the new hire process, including benefits enrollment.
A personalized account has been created for you. To login, please visit
www.mybenefits.com and login using the User ID and Password provided at the end of this email.
Before logging in, please be sure to disable any Pop-Up Blockers or adjust your settings to allow pop-ups from mybenefits.com. Also, it is helpful you have all your dependents’ social security numbers, birthdates, etc.
Please log in as soon as possible. This system is designed to provide you with information regarding our benefit programs to make the enrollment process more efficient. If you need assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Once again, welcome to TeamCloud!
Human Resources Generalist
User ID: ebangston
The Structure and Format of Internal Emails
There are six primary features of an internal business email:
- Subject line
Email Subject Line
The subject line is one of the most important features of any business email message. It should quickly and concisely summarize the contents of the email in such a way as to make the recipient want to open the message (remember an inbox is a sea of subject lines- make yours stand out). Try to use verbs in the subject line wherever possible to get maximum attention: “Attend Friday’s call—Important,” “Respond to this customer ASAP,” “Your initiation is about to expire—Please get back to us!” There’s not always a viable verb, especially if your email covers multiple topics (“Changes in Management and New Produce Line”); however, you should still be concise: no one wants a full email in the subject line.
The greeting is really just a matter of good etiquette. Your goal is to sound professional yet friendly. If the recipient is a teammate or colleague, a less-formal, friendly greeting is appropriate: “Hi John”; “Good Morning Ben.” If your audience is outside your department, in a different location, etc. you would be more formal, “Dear Cathy.”
You might need an opening paragraph if the message is a long one with many details. Make sure you make it clear to the recipients why they are receiving this email. Think of an executive summary where you are condensing down to the gist of the message without all of the details. This is especially helpful for messages to senior management, who may not be interested in all of the finer points.
Body of the Message
The body of your message should be concise and to the point. As with any writing, always keep your audience in mind. It is common for people not to read all the way though long emails or only read with half of their attention. Ask yourself whether you are conveying your message in a way that will be best understood and minimize misinterpretation. Are there plentiful facts, background information, or documentation that must be included? Since emails are generally short, you must decide what information should be included to write a complete and accurate message and what information would be best suited as an attachment.
As you write the body of your message, you might notice how challenging it is to include as much information as possible while also trying to keep the email short. Are you writing in long, compound sentences? Take note of your sentence structure and make sure each sentence has one clear idea or connected ideas to make the sentences more digestible. To summarize information, you can also use bullet points in your message to keep it brief but thorough.
The close of your message should include a call to action with specific desired outcomes and dates. Ask yourself why you wrote this message in the first place. Why is this message important and what do you want the reader to do? By when? For example you may want a response from the recipient such as “Please confer with Jane and respond to the team no later than June 2nd.”
Your signature should contain full contact information including your name, title, address, voice number, and email address. Remember, this message is not a personal note, it is from the organization.
We are going to see a host of email examples in the next sections.
Writing an Internal Email
Think about your message before you write it. Don’t send emails in haste. First, decide on the purpose of your email and what outcome you expect from your communication. Then think about your message’s audience and what they may need in order for your message to have the intended result. You will also improve the clarity of your message if you organize your thoughts before you start writing. Jot down some notes about what information you need to convey, what questions you have, etc., then organize your thoughts in a logical sequence. You can try brainstorming techniques like mapping, listing, or outlining to help you organize your thoughts.
Reflect on the tone of your message. When you are communicating via email, your words are not supported by gestures, voice inflections, or other cues. This makes it easier for someone to misread your tone. For example, sarcasm and jokes are often misinterpreted in emails and may offend your audience. Similarly, be careful about how you address your reader. For instance, beginning an email to your manager with “Hey!” might be perceived as being rude or presumptuous (as in, “Hey you!”). If you’re unsure about how your email might be received, you might try reading it out loud to a colleague to test its tone.
Strive for clarity and brevity in your writing. Have you ever sent an email that caused confusion and took at least one more communication to straighten out? Miscommunication can occur if an email is unclear, disorganized, or just too long and complex for readers to follow easily. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that your message is understood:
- Briefly state your purpose for writing the email in the very beginning of your message.
- Be sure to provide the reader with a context for your message. If you’re asking a question, cut and paste any relevant text (for example, computer error messages, assignment prompts you don’t understand, part of a previous email message, etc.) into the email so that the reader has some frame of reference for your question. When replying to someone else’s email, it can often be helpful to either include or restate the sender’s message.
- Use paragraphs to separate thoughts (or consider writing separate emails if you have many unrelated points or questions).
- Finally, state the desired outcome at the end of your message. If you’re requesting a response, let the reader know what type of response you require (for example, an email reply, possible times for a meeting, a recommendation letter, etc.) If you’re requesting something that has a due date, be sure to highlight that due date in a prominent position in your email. Ending your email with the next step can be really useful, especially in work settings. For example, you might write “I will follow this e-mail up with a phone call to you in the next day or so” or “Let’s plan to further discuss this at the meeting on Wednesday.”
Format your message so that it is easy to read. Use white space to visually separate paragraphs into separate blocks of text. Bullet important details so that they are easy to pick out. Use bold face type or capital letters to highlight critical information, such as due dates.
A few notes of caution: do not type your entire message in capital letters or boldface—your reader may perceive this as “shouting” and won’t be able to tell which parts of the message are especially important. Also, avoid using color to emphasize important information.
Proofread. Re-read messages before you send them. Use proper grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. If your email program supports it, use spelling and grammar checkers. Try reading your message out loud to help you catch any grammar mistakes or awkward phrasing that you might otherwise miss.
Here is the same message using some of the simple tips we suggest:
To: Western Team
From: Jane Doe
Subject: Materials Needed for Wednesday Staff Meeting
For tomorrow’s 3 p.m. staff meeting in the conference room, please bring 5 copies of the following materials:
- Your project calendar
- A one-page report describing your progress so far
- A list of goals for the next month
- Copies of any progress report messages you have sent to clients this past month
See you tomorrow—
You can find more writing tips visit this guide to effective email communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Here is a video that covers the basics of writing an email quite nicely.
Memorandums, or memos, are quite similar to email messages. Memos, like emails, also contain a “To” and “From,” a meaningful subject line, and states the reason for the communication immediately in the message. Memos also require strong organization in the body of the message for readability, and a call for action at the end. However, memos differ due to stricter formatting conventions and do not require a closing phrase nor a signature.
Here is an example of a traditional interoffice memo:
From: Olivia Alvarez
Date: March 1, 20XX
Subject: Employee Appreciation SpotlightJason,Our yearly employee appreciation dinner will be held on Friday, June 10. Due to your excellent performance in the last year—especially your work in the Northwest Region!—we would like to feature you as one of our spotlight employees.As a part of this spotlight, we would love to give everyone a chance to get to know you better. If you are interested, please write a short (250 words or less) paragraph about yourself. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few question prompts:
- What is your favorite hobby?
- What is your greatest personal achievement (outside of work)?
- What is your favorite thing to eat?
Please let us know if you’re interested by March 15, and if you are, please submit your paragraph by March 30.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
As you can see from this example, a memo has well defined formatting. The address block is always single-spaced and includes “To, From, Date, and Subject.” The body of the memo is formatted in block paragraph structure, double-spaced between paragraphs. The author of this memo does a good job utilizing bullet points to further organize the information for ease of reading. Also notice the overall look of the text on the page with equal spacing for left and right margins.
Write an Internal Memo
Similar to an email, you should pay attention to the following points when composing a memo:
- Subject Line
Not everyone needs to read every memo—and most people don’t want to sort through unnecessary mail—so you should be considerate when deciding who to send your memo to. When deciding how formal or informal your tone should be, consider whether your recipients are supervisors, peers, subordinates, or some combination of those groups. And remember, your readers are busy. They don’t have time to waste on long-winded, confusing, or disorganized information. That means your memo must be organized, informative, and succinct.
The purpose of a memo could be to announce a change in policy, an upcoming event, or a personnel action. They may solicit more information or request that someone take action. They may be written to persuade someone to support an initiative or change a policy. They can also be used to thank or praise someone.
The writing style seen in a memo is succinct and professional. You do not want to be pretentious or too formal if you are talking to your colleagues. Ostentatious language, jargon, or complicated syntax will make you sound stuffy and pompous. Instead, write short sentences in the active voice to maintain a cordial, straightforward, and conversational style. Generally, your tone should be neutral or positive, but there are cases where memos are used for complaints or reprimands. In these situations, use caution. You never know who will ultimately read the memo, so be aware of the effect of your words.
The heading should include:
- Date: Write the full name of the month (January 3, 2016) or its standard abbreviation (Jan. 3, 2016).
- Subject: Make the subject line concise and accurate, since that often determines where or how the memo will be filed and even if it will be read. (In some instances, this line will say “RE:” which is short for “Regarding”).
- CC: List names of other people who will receive copies of your memo. The “cc” line can be placed in the heading, next to the heading, or at the bottom of the document. The term “cc” is short for “carbon copy,” a holdover from the days when memos were written on a typewriter. Some writers now use a single “c” for “copy.” This line is optional; it won’t be found on every memo.
The opening paragraph states your purpose for writing so that readers can quickly grasp the memo’s content and significance to them. Focus your reader’s attention on main ideas, not details and digressions. Be plain, direct, and brief and remember that most memos are less than a page.
Decide on a pattern of organization that best suits your purpose. The two most common for memos are deduction and induction. A deductive style of writing a memo presents ideas in decreasing order of importance and assumes the reader is acquainted with the topic. Most memos use this pattern. To write in a deductive manner, place supporting facts in subsequent sentences for readers who are unfamiliar with the subject. Background information should be presented last. A memo written in an inductive fashion presents ideas in increasing order of importance. If you must give bad news or if your reader may not understand the main idea without prior preparation, use this form. Lead up to the most important idea and then present that idea at the end of the memo.
If your memo is more than two or three paragraphs, you may want to add body headings for your body paragraphs. Use headings that capture the section’s key topic and set them in bold.
Finish with a courteous and clear call for action. Tell your reader precisely what results you expect to follow from reading your memo. It may be helpful to include deadlines. Close the memo with an invitation to give feedback or request further information.
You can find more writing tips visit this guide to writing professional memos from Texas A&M University Writing Center.
Here is a video that covers the basics of writing a memo quite nicely.