Caturday Quickies: What’s the deal with Briefing Notes?

The first time I heard the term ‘briefing note’ was when I was serving on a working group to set up a new unit to handle special enquiries for my business line.  Part of my roll on the working group was to source no-cost training for the unit as we did not have a budget.

Of course, I wasn’t informed of this particular lack of resource until after I’d found and started making arrangements for some fairly cost-intensive training on the subject.

The only free resources I could find were a couple of templates on our intranet.  No examples.

The next time I encountered a briefing note was during an exam for the assessment process that resulted in my current acting assignment as a Business Expertise Consultant (BEC).

I was asked to write one for the exam, and using only those two skimpy templates, I managed to write a briefing note sufficient to pass, and apparently with high marks.

Though the position of BEC includes the responsibility of writing briefing notes, I haven’t been clear on whether the reports, learning plans, proposals, etc. that I’ve been writing for my manager fall into that category.

I had had a course on briefing note writing on my personal learning agreement (PLA) for years, and this past week, I finally got the opportunity to attend.

So what is a briefing note?

A briefing note is a document used, as the name implies, to brief high level executives on various topics for various reasons.

I know that sounds vague, so I’ll give you a few examples to clarify:

  1. A news article appears that discusses a product or service that your business is implementing, but no formal press release has been made.  Executives responsible for that portfolio may need to be briefed on the nature of the coverage to see it there may be any impact, positive or negative, on the product’s or service’s release.
  2. An ongoing project needs to be altered due to unforeseen or uncontrollable issues (read scope creep).  The executive officer will need to be made aware of these changes, though they may have no direct oversight of the project in question.  If it’s under their umbrella, they need to know in the event their superiors, or external partners, ask.
  3. A court case involving your business is ongoing, or an appeal has been launched.  You will have to keep chief executives informed of the progress without weighing them down with a lot of superfluous legal information.

Does that help?

What I learned

  • What I’ve been writing does not fall into the category of briefing notes, though many of these documents serve the same or similar purposes.  What I learned in the one-day course can still be applied to the documents I need to produce.
  • If my unit has to write briefing notes of any description, there should be a set of unit-specific templates and examples on our shared drive (there are not).  I think I may have to see if we can gather some of these together (!).
  • Audience analysis is the single most important factor in writing a briefing note, or any other correspondence to upper management.  You need to know what they need to know.  If you don’t, make sure that someone who is privy to this information reviews your document before you submit it.  For me, this would be my manager.
  • Always think in terms of the absolute minimum that the executive needs to make decisions and otherwise conduct the business.
  • The directors, executive directors, and senior executive directors who might see my communications are a little lower on the totem pole than the chief executives to whom a briefing is generally directed.
  • The difference between an annex and an appendix: an annex is referred to in the body of a briefing note; an appendix is additional information that has not been referenced in the main document.
  • Summaries are optional unless the briefing note exceeds one page, or the summary is required in your unit or business line (which would be reflected in your template set).

Other than that, it’s a matter of using proper business writing principles, plain language,


pen.jpg (Photo credit: new1mproved)

and impeccable grammar.

I have another tool in my writing arsenal now, something I’ll be able to keep in my back pocket until I need to use it.

Do you have to write briefing notes for your employer?  Will any of the information I shared be of use to you?  I won’t claim to be an expert now, but if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.  The research will help me to retain what I’ve learned 🙂