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A briefing note is a short paper (2-3 pages) that quickly and effectively informs a decision-maker about an issue. A useful briefing note distills often complex information into a short, well- structured document. You are to write a briefing note, as though you were a director within the civil service (Federal Ministry of Health). You are to provide your minister with a note detailing a situation that has arisen within the media overnight.
This purpose of this note is to present public sector writing practices for briefing notes. The focus is on both style, context, and content. Although style and technique are important when writing for public sector audiences, it is an appreciation of the context that will distinguish you as a writer of superior briefing notes.When preparing your note, you must consider the following:
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– Why has this note been requested? Why is the Minister dealing with this now?
– Given the purpose, context and scenario, what exactly does the Minister really need toknow? What is the strategy, the game plan here?
– Have I identified the various actors or issues or options; outlined the stated and unstatedagendas; and captured the strategic considerations?
– What is the bottom line? Have I identified or positioned “the goods” right up front in the note?
– Where are the pitfalls for the Minister? What is missing? What else is missing? Who elseshould I be talking to, obtaining intelligence from, consulting with?
– Would I be confident walking into this event/meeting with this note as my script?
– Is the level of detail I am providing appropriate to the subject and situation at this time? Isevery word and paragraph essential? What can I edit out?
-What is a briefing?• Briefings, whether in the form of briefing notes, longerbriefing papers, or oral briefings, are used to keepdecision makers informed about the issues they areresponsible for. In government, briefings are the principalmeans of communication between government managersand their ministers (or other senior officials).• The demands of government these days are such thatsenior officials must constantly learn and retaininformation about an enormous range of topics andissues, which change rapidly. The only way they can dothis is to rely on concise, clear, reliable briefings.
-Who are they written for?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 anyrelated background;• for whatever reason, cannot spend time doing their ownresearch;• need a capsule version of the key points andconsiderations about an issue
-What are the characteristics of a good BN?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; concisemeans every word is used as efficiently as possible• clear: keep it simple and to the point; always keep your readerfirmly 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 questionsabout the information should be pointed out• readable: use plain language and design your BN formaximum readability (use white space, subheadings, lists, font, and other means of making reading easier)
Before you start writing, be sure your are clear about• why you’re writing the BN (your purpose)• 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 your information
How is a BN structured?The most important point to remember about the structure ofbriefing 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)
IMPORTANT!• These three main parts are presented under some orall of the following section headings. Remember, anybriefing note you write will only have the sections thatare relevant to your purpose and audience.Issue/Purpose:• A concise statement of the issue, proposal or problem.This section should explain in one or two lines why the BNmatters to the reader. It sets out in the form of a questionor a statement what the rest of the note is about.• Begin the note with a clear statement identifying thepurpose of the note. Why is the Minister reading this?This is a preferred approach, particularly if you arepresenting options and a recommendation because youwill alert the reader right up front that this is a “decision”note.• Alternatively, think of this as your B.L.U.F. : Bottom LineUp Front.
Background:• The Background section begins with the most recentdevelopments (rather than a chronological ordering of eventsculminating in the issue of the day). The purpose is not somuch to provide a chronology of events but to identify andframe issues and problems.• The details the reader needs in order to understand whatfollows (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 thetopic and other background information. What led up to thisproblem or issue? How has it evolved? Do not repeatinformation that you’re including in the Current Status section.
Current Status:• Describes only the current situation, who is involved, whatis happening now, the current state of the matter, issue,situation, etc.
Considerations:• Key Considerations are an outline of the variables to be takeninto consideration regarding the issue. The various “sides ofthe story” are presented.• A summary of important facts, considerations, developments—everything that needs to be considered now.− While you will have to decide what to include and what to leaveout, this section should be as unbiased as possible.− Your aim is to present all the details required for the reader to beinformed or to make an informed decision.− Keep the reader’s needs uppermost in your mind when selectingand presenting the facts.− Remember to substantiate any statements with evidence and todouble check your facts.
Options & Rationale:• Basically, observations about the key considerations andwhat they mean; a concise description either of theoptions and sometimes their pros and cons or of what willhappen next.• They represent the writer’s opinion or a conclusion thatflows from the preceding sections, without necessarilypresenting a comprehensive or balanced case. KeyConsiderations and Conclusions or Next Steps are oftenused as a “softer” way of presenting choices andrecommendations.
Options & Rationale:• Key and relevant strategic issues: avoid being grandiose andnot every issue relates to the unity of the country.• What options might exist, real options not what has beencalled the Phony Three in which there is only one option andthe others are not viable. If no options exist, say so.• What the risks are that are mitigated or might emerge from theissue and why.• Feasibility of approach.• Relevant costs: if there is a detailed capital proposal, a briefingnote can only summarize attached detailed documentation.• Communications issues: this focuses on the process ofcommunicationsRecommendation:• Your recommendation is a formal, balanced and objectivepresentation of the choices and preferred course of actionthat takes into everything presented.• It should offer the best and most sound advice you canoffer. Make sure the recommendation is clear, direct andsubstantiated by the facts you have put forward.
After you have drafted your BN, use thefollowing 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 andproofread?
After you have drafted your BN, use thefollowing questions as an editing guide:• Why has this note been requested? Why is the Minister dealing with thisnow?• Given the purpose, context and scenario, what exactly does the Ministerreally need to know? What is the strategy, the game plan here?• Have I identified the various actors or issues or options; outlined thestated and unstated agendas; and captured the strategic considerations?• What is the bottom line? Have I identified or positioned “the goods” rightup front in the note?• Where are the pitfalls for the Minister? What is missing? What else ismissing? Who else should I be talking to, obtaining intelligence from,consulting with?• Would I be confident walking into this event/meeting with this note as myscript?• Is the level of detail I am providing appropriate to the subject andsituation at this time? Is every word and paragraph essential? What can Iedit out?
Remember!• Assume your first draft will be too long, verbose andbureaucratic. Avoid all three by rigorously & ruthlesslyediting & revising.

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