Writing a Briefing Paper
Sound educational decision-making requires well-informed, well-advised decision makers. Yet, no decision maker has the time or resources to thoroughly research every issue confronting them. Briefing papers are one means of providing these decision makers with the information they need in a manner that fits their busy schedules.
A briefing paper is a concise summary of research findings, written for an informed, although not necessarily an expert, audience. Briefing papers are targeted toward a specific audience and for a specific purpose. Briefing papers update readers on an issue's current status and get readers up-to-speed on the background of an issue. Typically, briefing papers are presented as a four-page summary. Each paper reaches a clear conclusion based on evidence and concise argument. This tends to result in a pace of writing that could best be described as “swift”. Yet, coherency and substance are the hallmarks of a briefing paper. Carefully worded subheadings that point the reader to more detailed information and bulleted points that highlight quick overviews of essential information are two writing conventions that facilitate the swift style of the briefing paper.
The challenge in writing a briefing paper is to be thorough but also succinct, and this requires a writer to judge what information to include and what to leave out. A writer must explain an issue in enough detail so that a reader gains a full understanding in a few pages (usually three to five pages).
Descriptive subheadings are useful for organizing a briefing paper because they force a writer to focus, and they enable readers to extract information quickly. To be useful to a reader, however, subheadings must be immediately understandable; they cannot leave a reader guessing as to their meaning.
Unlike op-eds or other journalistic pieces, a briefing paper need not entice the reader with juicy information, provocative statements, or descriptive language. Instead, briefing papers should simply lay out information and analyses in the clearest and most concise manner possible. Similarly, direct quotes from individuals are not used in a briefing paper unless the specific wording of the quote is important. Usually it is sufficient to state that X individual or organization "took the position that" the policy should or should not be supported.
Sections of a Briefing Paper
Briefing papers should have the following sections: