Public Sector Writing for Ministers & Deputy Ministers
The purpose of this site is to share best practices, ’How To’ Manuals, examples, resources and tips on what to do, and not do, when writing for public sector executives. Although the content is framed as writing for Ministers and Deputy Ministers, the principles and protocols apply in all federal, provincial, municipal, or regional public sector organizations.
This isn’t about can you write, you probably can, although perhaps not as well as you might think (we can be our own best fans and worst critics). It is more about familiarizing you with public sector writing practices. I used to be a newspaper editor. It was obvious to me I knew how to write. Then I joined the Canadian public service and learned how to write.
One of the most valuable lessons my robust ego learned was to de-personalise the review and revision process. My learning curve (it was steep) began with the B.C. government and continued with the federal government. Be forewarned, no matter where you are in any hierarchy, someone above you will be revising your products, particularly if the audience is a Minister or CEO. Some revisions will be substantive; your executive heads will have information you do not. Some will reflect individual stylistic preferences; others you’ll recognize as public sector writing protocol.
You’ll repeatedly hear you need to be more succinct and brief, that Ministers don’t read. You’ll worry about omitting critical information as you summarize 100 page Memoranda to Cabinet (MCs) into one or two page briefing notes. You’ll write Question Period (QP) speaking points that include background information, all on one page. And you’ll be reminded the Minister, as a member of Cabinet and 4 or 5 sub-committees, will have dozens of MC notes to review weekly, in addition to the daily load of departmental briefing books and notes, constituency and caucus briefs, ministerial correspondence, speeches, press clippings, media reports, etc.
You may get a Minister who is a reader and find the revision process is even more rigorous. When David Emerson was the Canadian federal Minister of Industry and Foreign Affairs, his officials expressed pleasure at having a Minister “who would read and was a quick study”. They also discovered he had very high standards and expectations, having been a former B.C. Minister of Finance who knew plain language principles and acceptable protocols for serving Ministers.
When writing products, you may consider asking yourself: Would this product meet my expectations, if I were a Minister who’d been a Deputy Minister?
Contact Theresa McKeown & Associates by email at PSwriter@publicsectorwriting.com or by telephone toll free at 1-800-613-9121. We conduct public sector writing training, offer performance & professional development coaching, deliver sessional writing instruction at the University of Victoria, and review briefing, cabinet, parliamentary affairs and correspondence services for government departments.