Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In Organizations: The Structure of Papers for Policy. Bottom Line Up Front=BLUF

If you are writing a memorandum or a study or a white paper or... within an organization, the purpose of which is to inform your boss about what to do, what you must do is make it easy for the boss to get the message.

1. Bottom Line Up Front: In the first page the main points are made. The reader is assumed to know much of the background, so what you want to do is to convey the new information, the new plan, the criticism or evaluation, ...

2. The first main section should be an elaboration of #1. And it had better be written clearly, concisely, and with the needed indications of authority (references to authoritative literature (no websites, in general), summaries of studies undertaken). This is your only chance make your case and to work out the consequences of what you are talking about.

If there are any problems in the writing of #2 or #1, you are toast.

3. Additional materials:
a. background and motivation
b. systematic review of the literature
c. history of how we got here
d. details of case studies, fieldwork, experiments, pilot projects,... (you mention all of this in #2 in a paragraph)
e. alternatives rejected (although you will want to give this very briefly in #1)

Note that this format is the reverse of what you are taught in most writing courses and for most papers and even journal articles.  Your reader is a sophisticated busy person, so much of what would be in #3 is already known, and what they care about is #2. Just be sure that #1 does not allow them to stop reading since it is so poorly written.