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clear communication: write clear and effective briefing notes

A similar topic is discussed in French in the article COMMUNICATION CLAIRE : NOTES DE BREFFAGE CLAIRES ET EFFICACES.)

What is a briefing note?

It is a concise document used to communicate key information to senior officials for the following purposes:

  • To inform or follow up on an issue, an initiative or a project.
  • To request a decision.
  • To plan for an event, a speech, etc.
  • To avoid a potentially embarrassing situation or to inform someone about it.
Do’s and don’ts when writing clear and effective briefing notes
Do’s Don’ts
Audience
  • Know your reader’s perspective and concerns.
  • Anticipate and answer your reader´s questions.
  • Don’t assume that your reader has the same technical knowledge as you do.
Style
  • Keep it short: 2 pages maximum.
  • Be clear and concise: write sentences averaging
    15–20 words up to a maximum of 30 words; write paragraphs of no more than 5–6 sentences, or
    7–9 lines.
  • Use the active voice and action verbs.
  • Don’t use too many acronyms or abbreviations.
  • Stay away from jargon and technical terms (define them if you have to use them).
  • Avoid strings of nouns.
  • Avoid using too many adverbs and adjectives.
Organization and Structure
  • Get to the point quickly: present the most important information first (giving general information before specific).
  • Put the right information in the right section.
  • Present your rationale clearly and logically.
  • Present information in small and manageable chunks: use bullets and tables when needed.
  • Use appendices for details, but don’t overdo it.
  • Don’t include more than one idea for each paragraph.
  • Don’t introduce new elements or repeat information in the conclusion and recommendations.
Content
  • Be clear on the issue of the briefing note.
  • Summarize what you want the reader to grasp quickly.
  • Provide pertinent and complete information based on objective analysis and consultations.
  • Make clear recommendations linked to facts.
  • State possible consequences when applicable.
  • Don’t use ambiguous statements or vague timelines.
  • Don’t hide or diminish the seriousness of a problem or situation.
  • Avoid presenting unsubstantiated arguments.
  • Refrain from giving your personal opinions: stick to concrete facts.
  • Don’t overwhelm your reader with details.
Process
  • Make a plan and focus on the core issue: aim for quality arguments, not quantity of information.
  • Check all the facts.
  • Be discerning when copying and pasting.
  • Discuss the proposed changes with the editors.
  • Learn from previous briefing notes.
  • Don’t write before you are clear on the objective of the request.
  • Don’t start writing the summary before you finish writing the content of the briefing note.
  • Limit the number of changes made for reasons of style and personal preference.