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How to Write a Briefing Note

Updated on September 28, 2007

Keeping Your Boss In the Loop

If you need to keep people informed of the status of projects or other activities of your team, briefing notes, sometimes known as briefing papers, are an efficient, practical tool. Originally used in government to keep senior ministers informed on issues for which they are responsible, briefing notes have now found a place in business too.

A briefing note needs to inform the reader about its subject quickly and effectively, and since action steps may depend on its content, it must be reliable.

Here is an overview of how to write a briefing note. 

The Statement of Purpose

Why are you writing this?

The statement of purpose is a concise, simple statement of the reason for the briefing and why it is important to the reader. This could be the part that decides whether your message is read or put aside "for later" (and we all know what that means!), so you need to make it do its job.

Think about it first from your own point of view: why are you writing this? What is it you need to get across to the reader? Draft it a couple of times and then edit it down to its essentials. Then ask yourself whether it will appeal to your reader's interests. If not, you need to add a sentence that will illustrate why they should be interested in reading the brief.

The Background

What led up to this point?

What were the circumstances or facts that led up to the situation you are briefing them on now? Don't get bogged down in detail here, because you want to get to the current status as quickly as possible. Besides, chances are that the reader already knows the background, so keep it brief --- bullet points are useful at this stage.

The Current Status

Stay on topic here!

Again, this should be brief, and only refer to what is happening NOW, and who is involved. This may be all the reader really needs to know. If you find yourself talking about something that happened before, it's in the wrong place --- that belongs in the Background section.

Key Considerations

What matters now?

If they need to have more detail, it should come in the Key Considerations segment. Remember, it's called a "briefing note" for a reason --- it should be brief. Keep your comments here concise, but also complete. Don't miss out essential facts or details in the interests of brevity. It is possible to combine both characteristics, but it may take some practice.

If your purpose is simply to present information, you should remain unbiased in your message. However, if your purpose is to persuade, then by all means use this section to do it. If you have evidence to substantiate your statements, it is best to put it in an appendix in order to keep the main document concise.

Options or Next Steps

Where do we go from here?

Finally, where appropriate, you have a section on Options or Next Steps. The important thing to note is that you should not introduce any new thoughts or ideas here --- they should all have been discussed in the body of the document. So any options or new steps should be clearly substantiated by the rest of the document.

Briefing notes are an extremely useful communication tool for keeping everyone up-to-date on important subjects, so it pays to learn to use them competently.

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