The Verb Recognize a verb when you see one. Verbs are a necessary component of all sentences. Verbs have two important functions:
So how can you make the process simpler for yourself? If you have a company secretarial role, you will be very familiar with the board paper process, but you may need to guide those new to writing board papers.
Even if you are experienced at writing papers, you may have experienced having to rewrite your paper several times to satisfy your colleagues. Or even worse, you may have finished a paper and found a key stakeholder disagreed with its basic premises.
Too often people do not allow enough time for planning, which results in the revision and editing process taking a disproportionate amount of time. Please note, in this article I am talking about decision, discussion and noting papers, not the regular reports the board receives, such as the CEO and CFO reports.
As you are writing your brief, you may find it useful to discuss your ideas with a colleague. Talking about a topic often helps clarify your thoughts.
When you are writing a brief, here are some of the questions to ask yourself. Why is this paper going to the board?
Is the paper of strategic significance? Are there significant risks the board should be aware of?
Has the board requested the information? Having a clear purpose and desired outcome sounds obvious, but I am surprised how often I hear from directors: Whatever analytical or problem-solving tools you are using, you need to be able to state your key messages verbally or in writing in one or two sentences.
What do directors know about your topic? A common mistake many writers make is assuming that the board has the same level of understanding about a topic as management, and they even fail to spell out their acronyms or explain their assumptions.
Or they make the opposite mistake of thinking that the board knows nothing, but needs to know everything. They then give an overwhelming amount of background detail and technical information that smother the high-level key messages. The danger of this approach is that the conversation in the boardroom may be diverted from things that matter into inconsequential minutiae.
What questions could directors want answered about this topic? Many board-paper writers will never meet the board, but they should all be aware of their role and understand the difference between writing for the board and writing for the executive team. If you have never written for the board before, I suggest you take a look at their bios, which are usually on the website, to see their skill sets.
If your key messages are supported by relevant evidence, you should satisfy that person too.
They can always ask for more information or be briefed outside the boardroom. I mull ideas in my head and wait for them to crystallise before I can start writing with confidence. Other people find that writing a stream-of-consciousness first draft helps them sort out their thoughts, and some people jot down headings on paper.
If you are a person who writes a stream-of-consciousness first draft, you must be prepared to rewrite to restructure your material and delete waffle.
Too often, board papers end up in the board pack that could do a rigorous rewrite.
Avoid the temptation of using an old paper — the template may have become degraded over time. Your paper needs to be written in your voice. For many of us, writing is the easiest part of the process, and as with planning, there is no right way to approach writing.
Some of us write a draft in a single sitting; others write in snatches of time. Some rewrite and edit at the end; others rewrite and edit as they are writing. Some of us are fast writers; some are slow.
People often tell me in workshops that they want to write faster, but I am not sure that writing fast is necessarily better than writing slowly.
Even though you are working within the confines of a template, your paper must be well-structured and coherent in its own right. A decision paper has a traditional narrative structure, but unlike a story, readers know the outcome upfront in the recommendation and summary.
You then take a step backwards and briefly explain the background and context. The next step is to lead directors through your logical argument that supports the recommendation.PRACTICE. It’s time to take what you’ve learned about filter words and first-person perspective and apply them to your writing.
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Without knowing more about the target audience - is this a book or an email or a cover letter - and assuming there is a purpose to using third person that's about all the advice he can provide.
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