Decision-Making Within Our Department

Decision-Making Within Our Department

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

1 Briefings

Briefings are integral to communication and decision-making within our department and across government.

They provide advice, information and recommendations to key departmental figures, including the Premier, often with far-reaching effects for programs and people.


Types of briefing

There are many types of briefing, with the most common scenarios relating to:

  • emerging or contentious issues
  • correspondence, usually with draft responses
  • community visitsDecision-Making Within Our Department
  • meetings that the Premier or Secretary will attend
  • events or functions, often with speech notes.
  • memos, usually informal requests for information direct from an Adviser rather than the Premier.

The three main types are:

For approvalTo advise the reader about an issue, discuss the available options and
recommend the preferred course of action
For informationTo advise or update the reader on an issue where no action is needed
(for information only)
Event or MeetingTo advise the reader on support material for a meeting/event

Other briefings have special formats, such as Questions on Notice and House Folder notes. Initiation

A range of people can ask for a briefing. These include the Premier, Ministers, Secretary or senior DPC officers. Your primary reader will likely be the Premier, the Secretary, a Deputy Secretary or an Executive Director, depending on the issue.

Other officers can also initiate briefings if they need approval for a particular action or wish to alert senior management about an issue.

Research and consultation

When preparing your briefings, please make sure you:

  • check previous files to see if the department has already commented on the issue
  • consult within the department for any expertise you need, and make sure these officers agree with the final advice you give
  • consult all relevant stakeholders, such as other departments, and discuss their views as part of your analysis

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

  • review government and departmental policies that might be relevant, and consider potential risks or legal issues
  • identify the resources needed to implement your recommendation and comment on their availability.

As you assess this information, you generally then need to recommend a course of action for the final reader to decide on. It’s good practice to list alternative courses of action, in case the reader does not wish to proceed with your first recommended choice.

Timing and approval

The Premier’s Office and Office of the Secretary set deadlines for briefings. Some issues will be urgent.

As it is essential that these deadlines are met, you should allow enough time to:

  • prepare the briefing, consulting with stakeholders where needed
  • have the briefing approved (allow two days per approver wherever possible)
  • ensure the Premier, Parliamentary Secretary or Secretary can fully consider the briefing and seek more information if they want to.

Please note if you are setting self-initiated deadlines be generous (where possible) in setting these due dates.

Please ensure all appropriate executive members have been included in the approval process before submitting the brief.


Make your advice transparent

The department must maintain an accurate and transparent record of advice given to the Premier and Secretary, especially in briefings.

This advice may become open to public scrutiny so it is vital that you follow the correct approvals process.

When you are writing, try to make it clear who is responsible for different opinions and information.

Use the active voice, wherever possible:

  • DPC proposes
  • It is proposed that

Analyse the issue, bearing in mind government policy

All briefings must present a logical analysis of what is happening and what should happen.

Readers need to be confident that your briefing:

  • analyses the issue, including any risks, accurately and comprehensively
  • recommends the best course of action
  • is supported by clear reasons and evidence
  • is strategic and in line with government policy

This can be difficult, especially when an issue is complex. So when you are writing, carefully assess what information is essential for your reader to be able to make a decision. Identify the

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

heart of the issue and work out the best way to proceed. If possible, limit your briefing to one or two pages.

Format your briefing in the template styles

The template sets the formatting for briefings. Please use the built-in styles and do not adjust the page layout in any way. Do not, for instance, make the font or margins smaller to fit more text on the page.

Instructions of how to prepare correspondence including templates can be found on the Hub or via this link. Please do not edit these approved formatted letter templates.

Do not include any document tracking reference other than the Objective reference number anywhere in a letter, including the footer.

Body text should be Arial, 11 point. Top and bottom margins are 2 cm. Left and right margins are 2.5 cm. Please also make sure you print your briefings on the correct paper stock:

Briefing typePaper stock
PremierA4 pink (Staples product 86826311)
This includes Briefs to the Parliamentary
Secretary approving/signing on behalf of the
SecretaryA4 standard white
OtherA4 standard white
AttachmentsA4 standard white
MemosA4 standard white

Please print your briefings in black and white and attachments in colour.

Write in plain English

Although briefings often deal with complex matters, always use plain English. This means having a clear core message and reasoning. It also means using the simplest language possible to convey that content.

For more information on writing in plain English and for up-to-date advice on punctuation, grammar and language please refer to

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

Checklist for briefings

  • You have used the right template and followed its instructions. Briefings should cover all issues in 1 to 2 pages (NB – This excludes attachments).
  • Make sure you haven’t left vacant fields.
  • Double check delegations before submitting – can a Director or Executive Director approve this? Demonstrate you factored in 2 days per approver where possible.
  • Your briefing has a clear core message and focus.
  • Your briefing is impartial and balanced. You would feel comfortable if your briefing faced public scrutiny.
  • Structure your advice – a common mistake is placing the most important argument last.
  • Clear reasons and evidence support your recommendation.
  • You have identified the different options that apply, and responded to risks.
  • When you refer to a past brief, it’s useful to include it as an attachment.
  • Your advice supports government objectives and departmental policy.
  • You have addressed any stakeholder expectations or strategic and political implications.
  • You have used plain English expression, including short, simple and active sentences.
  • Your text avoids jargon, repetition and obscure abbreviations.
  • The content is accurate and free from errors.
  • When you print in hard copy put a sticker to ‘sign here’
  • You have met your deadline, and allowed your reader enough time to consider the issue.ctober 2016                                                                                                                                                                         p. 6 of 15


Briefing and Correspondence Guide



2 Correspondence


The quality of correspondence reveals the quality of an organisation. Timely advice is also a measure of customer service. Sending prompt, clear and accurate replies communicates that we are an efficient and responsive organisation. People or community and industry groups write to the Premier, Secretary and the department about many issues. Most letters and emails:


  • express views about government policy


  • seek information


  • ask for the Premier’s help.


We also receive correspondence from other government organisations, members of Parliament and Ministers, or following on from Community Cabinet meetings.




The department registers and tracks correspondence in Objective, which is part of our electronic document and records management (EDRM) system.




Our publicly stated time frame for completing responses to all correspondence is 20 working days from the day the department receives a letter or email.


However, it is not always possible to meet this time frame, especially if we need to seek information elsewhere. In these cases, we must extend the time frame and send an interim letter to the correspondent.


For requests for extension: You must seek approval from the Premier’s Office or the Office of the Secretary.



NB: For urgent matters, the Premier’s Office or the Office of the Secretary may specify an earlier time frame.




Branches will draft briefings and responses and then submit them for approval and signature to one of the following:


  • an Executive Director


  • a Deputy Secretary


  • the Secretary


  • Parliamentary Secretary


  • the Premier


Authors, directors, Executive Directors and Deputy Secretaries must ensure that briefings and responses:


  • are accurate and comprehensive


  • address all industrial, financial and policy issues.


For all correspondence that requires approval from the Premier or Secretary, use the briefing template for approval. This template can be found on the hub or via this link.

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

Putting your documents in order

When submitting your correspondence for approval, use the following order:


  1. the briefing (on pink paper for the Premier (including to the Parliamentary Secretary approving/signing on behalf of the Premier) and white paper for all others


  1. the draft response with a ‘For Signature’ tag


  1. if needed, attachments that you have referred to in the briefing


  1. the original correspondence (or initiating request).

Privacy and confidentiality


By law, staff from all NSW Government agencies must follow the information protection principles that deal with all aspects of information handling. This includes collection, storage, security, use and disclosure.


You should not release people’s private details or any internal working documents without referring to departmental policies and procedures and obtaining proper authorisation.


  • See ‘what are the information protection principles?’ on the Information and Privacy Commission website.


Difficult or repeat correspondents


If a correspondent continues to write without raising new issues, prepare a briefing that outlines the history of correspondence. Then seek approval from the relevant Deputy Secretary or the Director, BCU, to send no further replies. Include copies of all letters and responses, and any other information showing that no new issues have been raised and no further action can be taken.


With your briefing, include a draft letter that explains that the department will not respond further unless the correspondent gives new information.




Concentrate on facts and resolutions


When preparing correspondence, you should remember that you are writing for the Premier, Parliamentary Secretary or the Secretary. You are asking that person to accept the background information and analysis in your briefing and to approve your draft response.


In the response, concentrate on factual statements, accurate information and resolution. In the briefing, you will need to explain why you are recommending the resolution.


If you promise that something will happen as a result of the correspondent’s letter, make sure there are processes in place to ensure it will happen. If possible, give a time frame.

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

Consider correspondence carefully


Understand the correspondence before you decide on the best response:


  • What concerns does the correspondent raise?


  • What outcomes do they want?


  • What are the key points they need to understand?


  • How much do they already know about the subject?


  • What communication has there been previously?


  • Does the person have special needs in the way you communicate with them?


Ensure your draft response addresses all the issues raised in the correspondence.


If appropriate and only if approved by a senior manager, contact the writer to clarify issues raised or to resolve the matter. A phone call or meeting may produce a more positive result sooner.


Ensure the response reflects government policy


Write the response so it clearly explains the position of the NSW Government or the department, ensuring it is consistent with those polices. Where needed, concisely outline the actions the department has taken. Ensure the response is sensitive to political developments and community attitudes.


In the briefing, you can refer to any anticipated changes in policy.


If a meeting or action that might affect the contents of a response is scheduled, it is best to provide an interim response rather than give out-of-date information.


Be aware that all correspondence and briefings are subject to the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA) and the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998. A court can also subpoena briefings and responses.


Structure the response for clarity


As the sequence of your writing affects whether people will understand your message when they first read it, follow these tips:


  • Start by outlining the purpose of the letter, usually in one paragraph.


  • State the result or conclusion as early as possible.


  • Follow this with a succinct summary of your reasoning or explanation.


  • Provide any essential background, context or history.


  • Close with contact details.


Parts of the letter: style issues


The guidelines below will help you set out each section in department style.


Address block

Members of the public

For members of the public, use their title, given name and family name. If the full name is not known, use initials. Follow with the full address.

October 2016                                                                                                                                                                         p. 9 of 15

Briefing and Correspondence GuideAvoid punctuation (such as commas and full stops) in the address block. Put double space between the suburb and state, and state and postcode.

  • Mr F Smith

12/250 Fairfield Highway FAIRSTONE NSW 2999


If the correspondent’s gender is unclear, use the abbreviation M/s.M/s F Smith

If more than one person is writing, use ‘and’, not the ampersand (&).Mr J F and Mrs P Jones

Where there are two or more signatories to a letter representing different organisations, reply to each person in a separate letter. Where there is a list of signatories, reply to the first signatory on the list.

Please don’t leave off pre or post nominals.

Members of Parliament and Ministers

For a Member of Parliament, use the post office box number if one is given. Otherwise use the office street address. For a Minister writing on electorate business, use the electorate address.

  • Mr J Jones MP Member for Jonesville PO Box 123 JONESVILLE NSW 2888

For a minister writing on ministerial matters, use the office address.

  • The Hon J P Smith MP

Minister for the Environment (use the full ministerial title) Level 17 

52 Martin Place SYDNEY NSW 2000

NB: When writing to Ministers in their capacity as local MP, also include their ministerial title.

  • For the addresses and phone numbers of state ministers and Members of Parliament, see

The table below shows how to write the address for special cases.


Premier of any state orSpeaker of the LegislativePresident of the Legislative
The Hon B F Jones MPThe Hon B Smith MPThe Hon D Jones MLC
Minister for CitizenshipLegislative AssemblyLegislative Council
Level 17Parliament HouseParliament House
52 Martin PlaceMacquarie StreetMacquarie Street

Federal Members of Parliament and Ministers

Write the addresses of federal government ministers and federal members of Parliament in the same way as state members of Parliament.

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

For a minister who is also a senator, use this format:

  • Senator the Hon R Brown Minister for the Environment PO Box 100 CANBERRA NSW 2600
  • For the addresses and phone numbers of Federal Ministers and Members of Parliament, see

If writing to a Minister, commence with ‘Dear Minister’ rather than ‘Dear John’.



Members of the public


Use Dear plus title and family name.

ü Dear Mr …                     ü Dear Mrs … ü Dear Ms …               ü Dear M/s …


When a female correspondent does not indicate her title, the reply should address her as ‘Dear Ms … ’


However, if the person has a different title, use it instead.


ü Dear Dr … ü Dear Professor … ü Dear Councillor … Do not abbreviate terms like Reverend. The following abbreviations are acceptable.


Instead of …Use …
Associate ProfessorA/Professor
The HonourableThe Hon


When referring to another agency (singular), refer to the agency as an ‘it’ rather than a ‘they’.


Members of Parliament and Ministers


The following table shows examples of salutations.


Prime MinisterDear Prime Minister
Premier of any state or territoryDear Premier
Speaker of the Legislative AssemblyDear Mr …/Dear Ms …
President of the Legislative CouncilDear Mr …/Dear Ms …
Attorney GeneralDear Attorney
TreasurerDear Treasurer
Other ministers from state or federal governmentDear Minister
Federal minister who is a senatorDear Senator
Federal or state Member of Parliament who is a medicalDear Dr …
practitioner or has a PhD
MPs who are not ministersDear Mr …/Dear Ms … (etc.)


October 2016                                                                                                                                                                      p. 11 of 15

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

Some Members of the Opposition have titles such as ‘Shadow Minister for Education’. You do not need to use these titles in the address block unless they are writing in their capacity as the Shadow Minister.

Opening paragraph

Replying to a member of the public

When replying to a letter from a member of the public, begin with thank you.

  • Thank you for your recent letter/email about …

If the correspondent has written a letter of complaint, use a more formal opening paragraph:

  • I am writing about your recent letter/email about …


Where necessary, give the date of the letter or email.

  • I am writing about your letters of 1 January and 25 January 2014 about …

Replying to a letter addressed to a minister

When responding to a letter addressed to a minister and referred to DPC for direct reply, use this opening:

  • I am writing about your recent letter to the Hon J P Smith MP, Minister for the Environment, regarding … Your letter has been referred to me/the Premier/Secretary for reply.

You do not need to say that the Minister has asked the Premier or Secretary to reply, as the correspondent will have been advised by the Minister in an acknowledgement letter.

If the Premier or Secretary does not have firsthand knowledge of the issue that the correspondent has raised, give the source for the advice you are providing.

  • Ms Jones, Director, Office of Special Services, advises that …

In departmental replies, initially use a noun rather than a pronoun to show clearly who is addressing the issues.

  • The department is investigating …

û We are investigating …

But in later paragraphs, you can often use the pronoun ‘we’ to humanise the tone and promote readability.

If the Secretary is responding on behalf of the Premier, use the following opening paragraph:

  • Thank you for your representations to the Premier, the Hon Peter Smith MP, on behalf of … , about … . The Premier has asked that I reply on his/her behalf.

Replying to a Member of Parliament

When responding to a letter from a Member of Parliament written on behalf of a constituent, include the original correspondent’s full name (or initial) and address:

  • Thank you for your representations on behalf of Mr Smith, 6 Oak Street, Harbourville NSW 2222. Mr Smith is concerned that …

When responding to a letter from a Member of Parliament written on behalf of an organisation, use:


  • Thank you for your representations on behalf of Mr J Smith, President (or other position), Concerned Citizens Association, PO Box 5, Harbourville NSW 2222. These concerned …

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

If representations are received from more than one Member of Parliament on a particular matter, prepare a full separate reply addressed to each Member.

Apologies and delays

Where circumstances warrant it, we should apologise for and acknowledge oversights or errors by the department. Phrases you can use include:

  • I apologise
  • I regret

In most cases, a delayed response has been caused by a lengthy enquiry or investigation, which you should refer to in the letter.

  • The Premier/Secretary regrets the delay in replying to you. The department needed to liaise with several [government agencies/areas] to obtain all the information about the matter.

Occasionally, the Premier/Secretary may regret that a response to a letter has taken an unacceptable time. In these cases, keep the wording short.

  • I regret the delay in responding.
  • I am sorry for the delay in replying.


Sometimes correspondents write about sad or distressing situations that require a tactful and sensitive reply, for example the death of a relative or friend.

  • Please accept my condolences for your sad loss.
  • I wish to extend my condolences to you and your family for your sad loss.

Body of the letter

In the body of letter, your language should be concise, active and positive, and your tone suited to your audience.

Follow these tips:

  • Start a paragraph for each new idea (do not indent paragraphs).
  • Get to the main point as soon as possible in the letter.
  • If there are many topics to cover, use headings to help them navigate.
  • Keep sentences to an average length of 15 to 20 words.
  • Check you are using short words, and avoid jargon.
  • Use bullet points for lists, following DPC expression and punctuation style.

For more information on writing in plain English and for up-to-date advice on punctuation, grammar and language please refer to the BCU Plain English Guide.

Closing paragraph

To complete a letter, generally give a contact so that correspondents can follow up.

  • If you would like to discuss this matter further/need further information, please contact Mr Brown, Principal Policy Officer, Office of Special Services, on (02) 9228 … or email …

For letters from Members of Parliament on behalf of a constituent or organisation, always give contact details.


Briefing and Correspondence Guide

  • If Ms Marsh needs further information, please ask her to contact Jennifer Brown, Principal

Policy Officer, Office of Special Services, on (02) 9228 …

If you are providing information to another Premier or Minister for use by another department, always give contact details.

  • If your department/the Department of … would like to discuss this information or need more details, the best contact in the Department of Premier and Cabinet is Dr S Ash, Director,

[Branch], on (02) 9228 … or email …

Add a polite and positive closing sentence where you can.

  • Thank you for your interest and support in this matter.
  • Thank you for taking the time to write to me.

Well wishes

Sometimes correspondents write about their own plans or endeavours. In these cases, you can respond with an acknowledgement or encouragement.

  • I wish you every success in your studies and future endeavours.
  • I wish you and XYZ organisation every success with the program.

Signature block

The signature block at the end of the letter is in the lower left hand corner.

Do not put a comma after Yours sincerely

Special cases

Coordinated replies

When information is needed from several branches for a draft response, the lead branch will generally coordinate the information and prepare the response.

Invitations and meeting requests

The Premier and Secretary receive many invitations and meeting requests from organisations and people. The Premier’s Office handles all invitations for the Premier.


Party-political content

The Premier’s Office is responsible for drafting party-political statements and correspondence.

Interim letters

Generally, the branch responsible prepares an interim letter when a substantive reply cannot be delivered in the nominated time frame.

Campaign letters

Standard letters are prepared when there has been a campaign of letters or emails to the Premier on the same issue. Generally BCU processes responses to all campaign correspondence using the approved standard reply.


Please notify BCU immediately if information for a Campaign standard response changes.

Referral letters

Much of the correspondence received by the Premier is referred to another Minister or agency.

Briefing and Correspondence Guide

We use referral letters when the correspondence is about issues that fall clearly within the responsibility of other ministers and do not affect the government as a whole, or where the government’s policy has been clearly determined.

BCU redirects correspondence that is the responsibility of another state or federal minister or jurisdiction.

Checklist for letters

  • You have considered who will read this letter.
  • You have used the right template and presented your letter well.
  • The letter uses the template styles (11 point Arial, fully justified).
  • The address, titles and salutation are correct, with no punctuation. Names are the most commonly misspelt items.
  • Don’t leave off pre or post nominals.
  • The outcome or conclusion is stated at the beginning of the letter.
  • The letter addresses the correspondent’s question or concerns.
  • The body of the letter is accurate, concise and user friendly.
  • If appropriate, you have included a contact name at the end.
  • After ‘Yours sincerely’, there are five paragraph spaces before the signatory’s name.
  • You would be satisfied if you received this letter.

If you need help to prepare correspondence or briefings or to use this guide, please call BCU on ext. 3550, or email We hope you find this guide helpful and we welcome

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