Memos and  Reports

memos and reports
Pre-planning your memo?


LAWYERS, BUSINESS PEOPLE and UNIVERSITY STUDENTS SOMETIMES HAVE TO WRITE MEMOS AND REPORTS. As an English language learner you may be wondering whether there is a difference between memos and reports and if so what is that difference? There are several. Memos are distinct but not totally dissimilar from reports. A report can be a type of memo. But not all reports are memos and most memos are not, technically speaking, reports. With both documents, the aim is to be as concise, structured and clear as possible and provide information to the reader.


  1. Heading
  2. Main
  3. Body
  4. Conclusion



  1. Title
  2. Introduction
  3. Main Body
  4. Findings + Results
  5. Recommendations
  6. Conclusion


Below are the explanations of the various types of memos and reports and how these should be structured for maximum impact.



As with any other type of writing, it is important to consider the audience, purpose and motivation whether writing a memo (short for “memorandum”) or report since tone, presentation and organization might change depending on these variables. Is this an inter-office communication? Is it a communication between governmental officials or international actors like states or multinational corporate entities? Is this something you are writing in an academic context?

memos and reports
Having fun writing your memo? Or is it a report?

It is also necessary to ask “what is the purpose of this piece of writing?” Is it to Persuade? Inform? Respond? Highlight? Deny? Question? Confirm? Typically, reports are written to inform or give analysis or in depth evaluation of data or to share your findings after a research project; while memos are written to respond, confirm, question, highlight and possibly persuade and/or recommend a particular course of action. Memos (inter-office memos to be exact) in other words, are a step away from being a letter or email correspondence that can be based on merely subjective criteria, while a report is a type of study that tends to share more objective information.

It is important to remember that even within these two domains – memos and reports – there are many different permutations. For example, you have memorandum of understanding, memorandum of law, interoffice memos, inter-company memos; briefing notes, letters and binders (SEE Wikipedia) to name a few. There are many variations of reports as well which will be discussed later.

Memos are usually shorter than reports but not always. A memo can be a half a page long but it can also be several pages. It depends on the purpose of the memo and the writing style of the writer. There are exceptions. Why do you write a inter-office memo? In an interoffice scenario you write a memo in order to give information or to highlight information to to explain something.

MEMOS AND REPORTS: The interoffice memo

Think of your interoffice memo as a letter or email without the “Dear Sir.” Instead of the salutation in the form of “Dear Sir” you will have a header like the following:





In the body of the memo explain your purpose for writing and get to the point of the memo as quickly as possible. Clarity and brevity are twin friends meaning try to be as clear as possible and get to the point as quickly as possible.


– Use a clear subject line.

– You can start the body of the memo in this way: “It has come to my attention that….”

– State your purpose in the first paragraph.

Summarize any potential objections.

– Keep the paragraphs short.

– Use subheads between paragraph groups.

– Use bulleted and numbered lists.

– Request action.”

(Richard Norquist citing Mitchell Ivers, Random House Guide to Good Writing. Ballantine, 1991)

The Legal Memorandum

The legal memorandum or memorandum of law is a special kind of animal. It is usually sent inter-firm from an associate to a partner where the associate analyzes a legal issue or question and recommends action to be taken – whether the firm should get involved in the case or not, based on the likelihood of winning or losing. But it can also be an external memorandum or “brief” which is submitted to the court. The legal memorandum is a mechanism used by lawyers to explain their understanding of a specific legal issue.

The legal memorandum begins with an issue or question then the body of the memo will contain the statement of facts and an analysis of the facts based on the law. Typically the author will include case law and citations in legal memoranda.

The legal memorandum would have recommendations or conclusions

The memorandum of Agreement

Usually an MOA is between two or more parties who reach a consensus to pursue a certain course of action or work on a particular project. It can also be a type of partnership agreement as well as a dispute settlement mechanism.

The Memorandum of Association

Under company/corporate law, this is like the articles of association that lays out the Relationship between the company and the outside.

Memorandum of Understanding

A memorandum of understanding which is more like a contract (and is seen often in public international law where nation states or international entities enter into legally non binding MOU agreements) can be many, many pages long.

Policy memos.

This is a type of briefing note that summarizes in a concise and coherent manner a public Policy issue and provides a recommended course of action.


Writing a report got you overwhelmed?
Reports are written after making an inquiry, conducting an experiment or doing an investigation. Reports are different from memos in that reports are usually written to inform the audience about factual aspects of a particular issue or subject.

There are different types of reports including but not limited to research reports, analytic reports, situational reports, annual reports and informational reports. In fact, the list is quite extensive on the types of reports there are.

Some examples of reports are:

  • scientific reports
  • recommendation reports
  • white papers annual reports
  • auditor’s reports
  • workplace reports
  • census reports t
  • rip reports
  • progress reports
  • investigative report
  • budget reports
  • policy reports
  • demographic reports
  • credit reports
  • appraisal reports
  • inspection reports
  • military reports
  • bound reports, etc.”
  • (source: Wikipédia)

Structure of a report

Reports are very structured pieces of technical writing and they are usually separated into sections by using headings, subheadings, bullet points and section numbering. Reports require some measure of research and planning in advance of the actual writing of the document.

Many report writers use what is called the IMRAD method:

  • Introduction
  • Method
  • Results; and
  • Discussion

For academic reports you should consider including the following:

  • Title page
  • Summary page
  • Introduction (introduce the five WH words – Who, What? Where, When and Why)
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Summary
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Key considerations when writing a report:

  1. Analysis
  2. Evaluation
  3. Fact-finding
  4. Evidence
  5. Data-gathering
  6. Conclusion-drawing
  7. making recommendations

On making your report more impactful you might:


  1. Charts
  2. Tables
  3. Graphs
  4. Images
  5. Graphics
  6. Abstracts
  7. Picture
  8. Figures
  9. Surveys

Key Language for making recommendations in a Report

  • It is recommened that
  • It is advisable that
  • It is advisable to
  • This study suggests that
  • One possiblity might be to
  • This report proposes the following
  • Several possible courses of action include:
  • The following is advisable



Memos can introduce reports. But both memos and reports are stand alone documents. You can have one without the other. A memo is a shorter synapses of a report often times. It can basically summarize a report. Interoffice memos are particularly common. Each company uses its own specific format. Usually though, inter office memos begin with a heading that looks something like this:Reports can be written for both an internal and external audience. Typically, though, the audience for a report will be pretty specific and the report itself is based on specific directives and instructions from which the report writer produces the final report with his or her recommendations.


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