Briefing notes are one of the most crucial and important strategic communications that is mostly used in public organisations. It is a written communication that is aimed to inform leaders and senior public servants with few key things in mind –

  • To sought decision on a specific policy, project or program.
  • To update on the key deliverable and milestones of a specific policy, project or program.
  • To prepare for a meeting or public engagement.
  • To propose response on a specific operation issue.

Senior public servants specially – Ministers, Secretaries or anyone of equal hierarchy would be very busy and practically, they do not have time to read through a long and extended document that is cluttered with lots of information. So, it is really important that a message could be conveyed to them easily and without taking much of their time. That’s why briefing note is very useful to convey professional advice or information free from personal opinion or big chunk of information.

There are few important aspects to keep in mind while preparing a briefing note:

  • Briefing note is not a strategic communication intended by a write rather it originates from the central office eg. the office of the Secretary, Chief Executive Officer, Minister or any other top tier executive. 
  • Briefing note will change to a large extent from its original form as it will go through multiple layers of editing by many individuals within the organisation.  
  • Briefing note should be free from personal bias.  
  • Briefing note should follow an established format used by specific organisations.



Template of a briefing note:

Briefing notes will have very specific topics presented in a very short and succinct manner. Although the titles might vary depending on the organisation, but in essence following are the main aspects of a briefing note template

  • Intended reader – Who is the intended reader of the briefing eg. Minister, Secretary.  
  • Title/subject of the briefing note – A clear and concise title of the briefing note.
  • Purpose – A brief and clear preamble that summarises the purpose of the briefing note.
  • Background/overview – A brief background and overview of the purpose for which the briefing is intended. This should give the reader context about the briefing note.
  • Implications: What is key implication or outcome of the briefing note for which it is intended eg. organisational, financial, strategic, risk factors.
  • Recommendation – What are the proposed recommendations if any? Add two/three recommendations so that the decision maker can weigh between the options.
  • Key milestones/next steps – Highlight the key indicative milestones and steps from the current state.
  • Author details – Mention the author and his/her role/position at the end of the briefing note.
  • Consultations – Mentions who were consulted before finalising the briefing note
  • Communication strategy – Highlight the communication strategy of the briefing note eg. how to decision/recommendation will be shared with other stakeholders in the system.



Key strategies to write a good briefing note:

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts for writing a high-quality briefing note –

Dos:

  • Write short sentences rather than long sentences.
  • Use active tense.
  • Present the key points before the details.
  • Write in simple and plain English as if the author is talking with the reader.
  • Briefing note should not exceed 1-2 pages. If there are additional information, then use them as Attachments or separate Tabs.

Don’ts:

  • Avoid unnecessary Adjectives and Adverbs.
  • Avoid the use of long and complicated sentences.
  • Avoid passive tense.
  • Avoid complex words.
  • Avoid jargons and acronyms.



Here is a final checklist for writing a briefing:

Aspects to reviewCharacteristics
Communication objectivesThe note’s intent is clearly indicated.
PurposeThe opening statement is clear and indicates the purpose of the note.
Tone and vocabularyThe tone is appropriate for the briefing note, its recipients and the person signing it.
VarietyVarious sentence types and structures are used.
ConcisenessThe sentences and paragraphs are short.
ContentThe essential information is conveyed neutrally
ReadabilityThe message conveyed in the note is easy to read, understand and retain.
BrevityThe text’s length follows the rules that apply to this type of document; there is no repetition.
ClarityNo misunderstanding is possible; the message conveyed in the note is understandable on the first reading.
FlowThe transition from one section to the next is logical
LayoutThe layout facilitates message comprehension and is attractive to the reader.
FormattingThe note follows the prescribed model and adheres to the conventions that apply to this type of document.
LanguageThe grammar, punctuation, spelling, typography, and syntax have been checked and carefully reviewed.



Further reading:

https://uwaterloo.ca/defence-security-foresight-group/sites/ca.defence-security-foresight-group/files/uploads/files/dsfg_policy_brief_writing_guide_v2.pdf