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How to Write a 2-Page Background Memo

  If you've never written a background memo before, don't panic. These types of memos follow a particular format. Once you learn that format, you can write whatever memos come your way during your professional career.  

What Is a Background Memo?

A background memo is a type of memo that gives readers the background information they need to form an educated opinion on an issue, problem, policy or candidate. It should provide a summary of historical and/or technical information. They are often used during political campaigns, but can also be used in business. For example, you may need to write a background memo when asking for support from your manager on a proposed policy change.  

Who Reads Background Memos?

Background memos are usually read by bosses, CEOs or other decision makers within a company or organization. They use the information in the memo to discuss a potential policy or issue knowledgeably and intelligently with their board of directors or staff. These decision makers need background memos because they are very busy and are usually dealing with multiple issues at once. The memo provides them with the short briefing they need in order to understand, discuss and make decisions on a topic. Keep the memo under two pages; decision makers rarely have time to read anything longer.  

Focus on Your Proposal

When writing a background memo, it's important to focus on the issue, problem, or policy. For instance, you shouldn't devote any time to why other policies don't solve a particular issue; this detracts from your point. Instead, open with a brief summary of the issue at hand and then explain how your proposed policy resolves the issue. Keep your intro as short as possible to keep your readers' attention.  

Keep It Objective

Although a background memo is meant to promote a particular policy, keep in mind that it is not an opinion piece. Instead, use the body of your memo to lay out all your facts so that readers can make up their own minds about the policy in question.  

Use Logic

Once you present the background, you can provide reasons why that background supports your proposal. Use rational arguments. Avoid over-sensationalizing or overly emotive language. Remember: you want to keep the memo as objective as possible. Your facts and arguments should speak for themselves in order to persuade readers to adopt or support your policy.  

Provide Only As Much Background As Necessary

Although a background memo is supposed to provide the necessary background to help readers make up their minds about your policy, it's important not to overwhelm them. If your policy has a historical context, include only as much historical background as necessary to make your case. Similarly, don't add technical details that are not required for a thorough understanding of the subject matter. Extra details can distract or confuse your reader.  

Write for Your Audience

Throughout your memo, keep your audience in mind. Use words that are likely to resonate with your audience. In most cases, you should choose shorter words and sentences; your readers are likely to be busy or reading in a hurry. Unless you are writing for a highly technical audience, avoid technical jargon.  

Finish Strong

Your conclusion is the most important part of your background memo; use it to your advantage. Summarize the issue, your proposal and the reasons why your solution will be effective. Try to keep your conclusion short. End with a powerful statement to get people thinking.  

Double Check Mechanics

It's important that your memo flows well and is free of errors. Use plenty of short paragraphs; devote each paragraph to one idea. Read the completed memo aloud to ensure transitions are smooth and the completed memo makes sense. You should also proofread to catch spelling and grammar errors. If you follow these tips, you can write a polished, professional and persuasive background memo. Keep your memo to two pages or less so you can provide readers with as much information as necessary without taking up too much of their time.  You can write a memo on any topic by following these tips. Your format will be entirely the same; only the content will be different.


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