To: A Public Policy Official
From: John Doe
Date: September 9, 2013
Subject: The subject line should not exceed two lines.
NOTE: A memorandum to a Public Policy Official is one page. You are preparing a Briefing Memorandum outlining talking points for an upcoming interview between the Public Policy Official and a Washington Post reporter about an important and fast-evolving public policy issue.
The issue statement sets out what happened, is happening, or will happen to trigger the briefing memo. It should not exceed two or three lines. An issue statement elaborates on the subject line and outlines the specific trigger for the event, or decision. A “trigger” is more descriptive than “issue” for this paragraph. In defining the issue, determine how much is already known about the subject.
- Start with an Issue Statement, NOT a Purpose Statement.
- Example: Purpose Statement – You have already stated the purpose of the memo in your subject line. Issue Statement- This conveys a sense of urgency –the reason you are writing the briefing memo.
BODY OF THE MEMO
The body of a briefing memo contains:
- Background Section
- Considerations Section
One approach to writing the body is to write the opening and closing paragraphs. Then ask yourself, “What will it take for readers to see that the closing paragraph is a sensible response to the opening paragraph?” The answer forms the body of your briefing memo.
Background provides explanatory material to bring the Public Policy Official up to speed on what is happening or what has happened. This is where you provide information that will help the official understand the issue and its context.
Considerations provide information and arguments to justify your conclusion and/or recommendation. The considerations section provides findings, analyses, pros and cons, options, and arguments that lead the reader to the recommendation or an advisable response to the issue statement at the beginning of the memo.
Memos should close with either a recommendation or a conclusion. Recommendations should be brief. Do not present or repeat your rationale in the recommendations section. State specifically what the official is being asked to do or decide, as opposed to stating a desirable outcome. Ask yourself: “If I read this recommendation, would I know what I am being asked to do?”
A memo for information should end with a conclusion. It should:
- Clarify the issue or event; (Help the official see the forest through the trees).
- Interpret the significance of the information.
- Analyze the information in the memo, not just describe the situation.
- Answer what happens next, or where you are in confronting the problem or process presented.
- Never include “We will keep you informed,” “We are monitoring the situation,” or “We will brief you on any significant developments.” These are understood and expected.
This is the format I use for my interns on Capitol Hill, and it is essentially the format I used when I represented the Canadian Embassy as a foreign agent. The Briefing Memo was the basis for every briefing/talking point memo I ever did for United States Career Ambassador, Elbridge Durbrow.