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Recommendations and Summaries

The most common business documents written are recommendations and summaries. Use a recommendation when you're asking the reader to take some action or to approve your taking some action. Use the summary to convey information to the people who need it. Both follow a similar framework. For the purposes of this book, we call this framework the "standard memo framework."

The Standard Memo Framework

The standard memo framework consists of the following five sections: the Overview; the Background; either the Recommendation or the Conclusions, depending on whether your memo is a recommendation or a summary; either the Rationale (for a recommendation memo) or the Key Findings (for a summary memo); and the Next Steps. The contents of these sections are:

  • Overview: Two or three sentences that provide a synopsis of the entire memo, including a brief statement that summarizes your conclusions or recommendation.

  • Background: One or two paragraphs describing the business situation relevant to why the recommendation is being made or the conclusion is being given.

  • Recommendation: A brief description of exactly what you want to have happen. This would typically include what needs to be done, what it would cost, and how quickly it could be done.

  • Conclusion: A brief description of your interpretation of a business analysis, research analysis, or other information analysis.

  • Rationale: Three to five paragraphs, each of which provides a reason for the reader to agree to your recommendation, and the support needed to back up each reason.

  • Key Findings: A list of facts obtained from business analysis, research analysis, or other information analysis.

  • Next Steps: What needs to be done, by whom, and by what date.

The Standard Memo Framework in Action

To better understand how you can use the framework to create an effective business recommendation, consider the following recommendation memo (we'll take a look at a summary memo in Lesson 4, "The Opening Is the 'Bottom Line'").

To: General Manager

From: Brand Manager

Subject: Acme Shampoo Sampling National Expansion Recommendation


This requests management agreement to execute a broad-based sampling program during the second year of Acme's national expansion. The key element of this program is mailing sample-size product to 20 percent of U.S. households in late June of this year, followed by a 25¢ coupon insert in newspapers to 50 percent of U.S. households in mid-July to secure follow-up consumer purchase and retail support. No incremental budget dollars are needed for this program.


Acme entered the test market two years ago using a sample mailing to 30 percent of market households to gain initial trial of the product, followed by a coupon insert to 60 percent of households. After the initial sample and coupon drops, Acme share remained relatively stable. Acme expanded nationally one year later using the same sample and coupon effort. Year-one national results are in line with year-one test market results.

In year two of the test market, shipments and share increased 26 percent and 22 percent respectively, following a second wave of samples and coupons. Year two of the national expansion begins next month.


The purpose of the recommended national sampling initiative is to broaden Acme trial and purchase. We will accomplish this by mailing samples to an additional 20 percent of national households, bringing the total Acme sampling effort to 30 percent of U.S. households over 18 months.

In line with the test market, sampling will principally be a mailed effort. Beyond the sampling, consistent with our test market plan, we will execute a 25¢ freestanding coupon insert in newspapers three weeks after sampling, in order to encourage consumer purchase while providing a focal point for retail support.


Year-two sampling substantially builds the business. Specifically, since the second wave of sampling in the test market, business results have been strong with shipments and share up 26 percent and 22 percent respectively, vs. year-one base.

Sampling effectiveness research showed significant increases in trial and purchase behind test market year-two sampling. Specifically, past three months' usage and purchase were significantly up among sampled vs. nonsampled households, as shown.


Sampled Households

Nonsampled Households

Past 4 weeks brand usage



Past 3 months brand usage



Past 3 months brand purchase



The Promotion Department sampling payout model confirmed Acme year-two sampling is a financially sound initiative. Specifically, the model projected the year-two sampling to generate a volume increase of 18 percent over year one and payout in 12 months, based on the purchase levels seen in the sampling effectiveness research.

Next Steps

With management approval for the national execution of the year-two sampling effort, we will proceed on the following timing:

Start of sample filling

March 1

Start of sample pouching

April 1

Sample drop

June 30

Coupon drop

July 17

May we have agreement?


Clearly delineating the sections of your document--for example, by printing your headings in a different font and larger type size--can make your memo more inviting to read, and make the information in your document easier for the reader to find.

The preceding memo lays out a fairly complicated plan with detailed explanation of why the plan is right. Writing such a memo could be very difficult and confusing, and reading it could be equally confusing, if there was no clear framework for both the writer and reader to follow. The standard framework, then, gives the writer a road map for laying out the discussion, and the reader a similar road map for following it:

  • The Overview tells exactly what the memo is about, and what the reader is being asked for (i.e., approval of the plan).

  • The Background gives the reader relevant information about events that have already occurred--in this case, the test market results.

  • The Recommendation section tells the reader the specifics of what is being recommended--the details of the sampling plan--amplifying what's been stated in the Overview section.

  • The Rationale section lays out, point by point, why the recommendation is sound. In this case, both test market results and other research are cited to support the recommendation.

  • Finally, the Next Steps section describes what the Acme brand manager will do, and when he'll do it, if the recommendation is approved.


Try to avoid putting too much detail in the Background section. You need to include enough so that your reader can understand the situation; additional detail will bog down the reader before he ever gets to the "meat" of the memo (the recommendation or conclusion). If the background information doesn't apply directly to the recommendation or conclusion being made, leave it out.

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