How to Write Office Memos that Won’t Incite Mass Panic

Sam Cook
2 min readAug 27, 2022
A photo of hand holding a pencil over a notebook, with broken bits of pencil scattered on the page.
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

The most important thing I’ve learned about professional writing, especially when addressing a large number of people, is that you can’t just say the thing that you need to say. You also need to say all the things that you’re not saying. In fact, most of your messaging needs to be focused on what will not happen, what won’t change, and which plans and people won’t be impacted.

Why do you need to do this? Because readers, for whatever reason, fill the slightest ambiguity with wild speculation and vaguely-connected assumptions. They will go full-on fanfiction with your three-sentence interdepartmental memo, and you will spend the rest of the week doing damage control on a bunch of ideas that you in no way implied.

For example, suppose that you need to write “I am going to eat a sandwich.” If you only wrote that, you’d immediately get back:

“Are you going to eat MY sandwich?!”

“Is someone giving out free sandwiches?”

“Were we all supposed to bring a sandwich today?”

“My free sandwich is not in my mailbox. Did someone take it?”

Ten minutes after you simply announced your lunch plans, someone would be lodging a complaint with HR about the free sandwich fiasco, and a year from now you’d overhear a colleague complaining about how they’re still mad that they weren’t included in the sandwich event planning, and that they hope it will be handled better this year.

If you want to be an effective professional communicator, you have to anticipate this kind of thing, and cut off absolutely every avenue for misunderstanding:

“I am going to eat a sandwich. It’s my sandwich, that I brought from home. No one else needs to eat a sandwich right now, unless they want to. It’s just what I’m doing. No meetings will be canceled because of the sandwich. The website is still up. I plan to continue working here for the foreseeable future. No positions, current or future, will be impacted. No salaries, job titles, or organizational structures are changing because of me eating my sandwich. Thanks.”

For clarity: This post does not mean I’m resigning any position I currently hold. I am not leaving Medium. I do not have any issue with sandwiches, the people that eat them or the people that don’t eat them. I am not starting a sandwich consulting business. There is no sandwich in your mailbox, as far as I know. Have a good weekend.

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Sam Cook

Former writer for and, currently a technology professional, teacher, and father. I write about whatever is on my mind.