What is a briefing?
Briefings, whether in the form of
briefing notes, longer briefing papers, or oral briefings, are used
to keep decision makers informed about the issues they are
responsible for. In government, briefings are the principal means of
communication between government managers and their ministers (or
other senior officials).
The demands of government these
days are such that senior officials must constantly learn and retain
information about an enormous range of topics and issues, which
change rapidly. The only way they can do this is to rely on concise,
clear, reliable briefings.
What is a briefing note and when
is it used?
Written briefings are usually done
in the form of briefing notes. A briefing note is a short paper that
quickly and effectively informs a decision-maker about an issue. A
useful briefing note distills often complex information into a short,
Briefing notes usually deal with
"issues"subjects of debate. But briefing notes are
also prepared for any topic someone needs to be informed about. It
might be a policy matter, a situation, a report, action by another
governmentin fact, anything that government deals with.
Briefing notes are typically
written for those senior-level decision-makers who
- have to keep track of
many, often unrelated, issues
- may not be familiar with
the issues and may not have any related background
- for whatever reason,
cannot spend time doing their own research
- need a capsule version of
the key points and considerations about an issue
What are the characteristics of a
A well-prepared briefing note
quickly and efficiently fills a person in on an issue. The most
valuable BN is clear, concise and easy to read. To succeed, a
briefing note should be:
- short: one to two
pages, and always as short as possible
- concise: a short
document isn't necessarily concise; concise means every word is used
as efficiently as possible
- clear: keep it
simple and to the point; always keep your reader firmly in mind and
include only what matters to that reader
- reliable: the
information in a briefing note must be accurate, sound and
dependable; any missing information or questions about the
information should be pointed out
- readable: use
plain language and design your BN for maximum readability (use white
space, subheadings, lists, font, and other means of making reading
How is a BN structured?
Briefing notes often follow a
standard format, but THERE ARE MANY VARIATIONS on that format.
We will look at a variety of sample briefing notes and briefing note
templates in class. The most important point to remember about the
structure of briefing notes is that they have three main parts:
- the purpose
(usually stated as the issue, topic or purpose)
- a summary of the
facts (what this section contains and the headings used will be
determined by the purpose of the briefing note)
- the conclusion
(this may be a conclusion, a recommendation or other advice, or both)
These three main parts are
presented under some or all of the following section headings.
Remember, any briefing note you write will only have the sections
that are relevant to your purpose and audience.
Issue (also Topic,
Purpose): A concise statement of the issue, proposal or problem. This
section should explain in one or two lines why the BN matters to the
reader. It sets out in the form of a question or a statement what the
rest of the note is about.
Background: The details the
reader needs in order to understand what follows (how a situation
arose, previous decisions/problems, actions leading up to the current
situation). Typically this section gives a brief summary of the
history of the topic and other background information. What led up to
this problem or issue? How has it evolved? Do not repeat information
that you're including in the Current Status section.
Current Status: Describes
only the current situation, who is involved, what is happening now,
the current state of the matter, issue, situation, etc.
Key Considerations: A
summary of important facts, considerations,
developmentseverything that needs to be considered now. While
you will have to decide what to include and what to leave out, this
section should be as unbiased as possible. Your aim is to present all
the details required for the reader to be informed or to make an
informed decision. Keep the reader's needs uppermost in your mind
when selecting and presenting the facts. Remember to substantiate any
statements with evidence and to double check your facts. Additional
details may be attached as appendices.
Options (also Next Steps,
Comments): Basically, observations about the key considerations and
what they mean; a concise description either of the options and
sometimes their pros and cons or of what will happen next.
Recommendations: Conclusions summarize what you want your reader
to infer from the BN. Many readers jump immediately to this section,
so be sure it covers the points you most want your reader to be clear
about. Do not introduce anything new in the Conclusion. If you are
including a recommendations section, it should offer the best and
most sound advice you can offer. Make sure the recommendation is
clear, direct and substantiated by the facts you have put forward.
Before you start writing, be sure
your are clear about
- why you're writing the BN
- who you're writing the BN
for (your reader)
- what that person most
needs to know
- the points you will cover
- how you will structure
After you have drafted your BN,
use the following questions as an editing guide:
- Is the purpose of the
briefing note clear?
- Is the language simple,
economical and clear?
- Is everything there that
needs to be there?
- Is anything there that
isn't essential to the purpose?
- Is the BN easy to read,
understand and remember?
- Do the sections lead
logically from one to another?
- Is the BN designed so
that it is inviting to the reader?
- Is there a good balance
between white spaces and text?
- Has the briefing note
been carefully edited and proofread?