When it comes to sharing information in the workplace, sometimes a regular conversation just won’t do. Some information is best conveyed in writing. Forms of workplace-written documents include letters, memos, reports and email. The key is figuring out which form is best for the message you plan to deliver. Letters and memos are two of the more common types of documents created and distributed on the job. Each is distinctive and serves different purposes. Understanding the difference will help you stand out as a successful communicator.
Letters are more formal in nature versus other business communications. A letter is the norm for exchanging information with people outside of your company. You can respond to customer questions, let others know about your services or offer employment to job candidates with a letter. In some cases, letters are suitable for internal communications. A formal letter is best when you need to document or communicate human resources issues. For instance, you will write a letter to let an employee know about a pay raise or a disciplinary action.
Memoranda, commonly referred to as memos, are for internal communications. These documents are less formal, but are used to report and deliver a variety of information. You can issue memos company-wide or to particular teams or groups. You can communicate a policy or procedure update, a change in work schedules, or give instructions on how to complete a task with a memo. A memo is a good choice for explaining a policy change on the use of personal cell phones in the workplace.
Fit and Form
There are basic differences in the format of letters versus memos. Letters are mostly written in a block format and include the following sections: sender's name and address, date, recipient’s address, salutation, body, closing and signature. A letter may also include a subject or reference line depending on the message purpose and receiver. On the other hand, a memo doesn’t need addresses or formal greetings. A memo format includes to and from lines, the date, subject and message.
Size up your audience and message purpose before writing. Then choose the type of document that is the best match for your communication. Choose a letter format when you need to engage with community groups or when you need to follow up a meeting with a formal recap. For example, send a personalized letter to individuals who are affected by layoffs after verbal communications have taken place. Use a memo to give coworkers and managers an update on your work or as a way to provide regular progress reports.
When writing letters, be aware that what you write and send out is a direct reflection on your company. Be sure to check and double-check information accuracy, grammar and punctuation. You should also avoid putting internal jargon, abbreviations and acronyms in your letters. Outsiders will not know or understand these terms. With memos, technical terms and acronyms are okay as long as the intended audience is familiar with the meanings. Whether writing letters or memos, make sure the message you present is clear, concise and appropriate for the workplace.
Deb Dupree has been an active writer throughout her career in the corporate world and in public service since 1982. She has written numerous corporate and educational documents including project reports, procedures and employee training programs. She has a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from the University of Tennessee.