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#WednesdayWrite: Is BRIEF Correspondence Best?

#WednesdayWrite: Is BRIEF Correspondence Best? published on 12 Comments on #WednesdayWrite: Is BRIEF Correspondence Best?

This week, the daily posts focus on correspondence in general. You will find posts that apply to letters, memos, and email messages—all of which you write in the workplace. Since none of the course projects focuses on correspondence, these posts will cover this important topic.

SSN774 Virginia rollout by Marion Doss on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licenseThe Lifehacker article “Remember ‘BRIEF’ for Efficient Office Communication” outlines a mnemonic for writing correspondence and presentations that include just the right amount of information for the audience and purpose. The idea is explained fully in the book Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less by Joseph McCormack, the founder and CEO of Sheffield Marketing Partners. (The full text of the ebook is available through the Tech library.)

Neolithic, a commenter on the Lifehacker post, argues that another mnemonic, SBAR, is more effective. The SBAR system was developed by U.S. Navy personnel working on nuclear submarines. As explained in Stewart and Hand’s “SBAR, Communication, and Patient Safety: An Integrated Literature Review,” “Employed primarily in high-risk situations of the Navy’s nuclear submarine industry, the SBAR communication tool enabled all users, regardless of the level of command, to communicate via a common structure.”

For your #WednesdayWrite, compare the two mnemonics and explain which would make the better choice for someone in your field. As you examine the two options, think not only about the logistics of how they work but also the details on how they were created (one in marketing and the other by the military).

If you read any of the linked background information, incorporate what you find as well. Further, you can also suggest an alternative system for writing effective correspondence if you have one.


Photo credit: SSN774 Virginia rollout by Marion Doss on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license



After familiarizing myself with BRIEF and SBAR, I think the better communication choice for someone in my field is BRIEF. BRIEF provides a structure very similar to the email structure we analyzed earlier in the semester. It highlights the key points and seems like it would be useful for communicating with someone outside of your immediate project team.

I don’t think SBAR is as applicable to someone in my field because its context seems primarily focused on high-risk/high-intensity situations. As mentioned in the articles, it was created by the military for nuclear submarine teams and then later adapted for use in the healthcare industry when transitioning patients between personnel. While the ‘situation’ and ‘background’ sections somewhat parallel the ‘reason’ and ‘background’ sections of BRIEF, the ‘assessment’ and ‘recommendation’ sections are where the two methods appear to differ in my opinion. I think someone in my field will be more likely to want to communicate general information or questions to someone, as opposed to an assessment and recommendation.

I think between the two different mnemonics, in the food science industry the choice of communications would be BRIEF. I believe this is the case because it is quick, to the point, but still provides a lot of information. The food industry constantly has a lot going on and has many moving parts, so it’s important that the information is detailed, but also to the point because chances are the information will change within the hour. Having enough to say without going overboard is a great way of letting coworkers know what is going on without divulging too much unnecessary information.

I agree that BRIEF would be the best mnemonics for the food science industry to utilize. In many of my classes, we use a memo document that I think encompasses the 5 parts of the mnemonics. In the mem, basic components are a background, brief methods, brief results, conclusions, and recommendations. The background and brief methods of the memo covers the Background and Reason of BRIEF. It discusses why the memo is being written and why it is important to the reader. The brief results section covers the Informative of BRIEF. It discusses the results of the testing. The conclusion mirrors the End portion of BRIEF, wrapping up the results and making connections. In the recommendations section, it addresses the Follow-up portion of BRIEF by addressing any future questions or concerns.

For Civil Engineering I believe that between the BRIEF and the SBAR mnemonic, the BRIEF mnemonic is more commonly used. I feel like the different steps of the BRIEF acronym are how many engineers communicate with clients or coworkers. I do not believe that the SBAR mnemonic is used much in Civil Engineering because as it mentioned in the article, this is commonly used in the medical field with patients. I feel like the BRIEF mnemonic allows one to communicate quickly and effectively with whoever they need to contact.

I think Computer Science uses both. In more daily communication such as email, BRIEF is more applicable, whereas SBAR is more applicable in a documentation setting. BRIEF would at least address necessary pleasantries, but those aren’t necessary in the language of documentation. A user cares about how to use something and any other critical points missing—SBAR accomplishes that, while BRIEF would have bloat. Bloated emails are generally better so that someone knows why you’re bothering them and why they should bother to read.

After reading and learning more about each mnemonic device I would actually argue that in the Civil Engineering industry, both could be used. I think a lot of it depends on what the piece of writing is and probably most importantly who the audience is . I think BRIEF would be used most often when communicating with clientele and general correspondence/public relations. I think with more straight-to-the-chase technical documents or things like firm wide notices, the SBAR mnemonic device would serve well. The SBAR is more logistically focused and not concerned with pleasantries as much, (for lack of a better word). I think they both can be valuable tools, in Civil engineering especially, I think it just depends on context and content.

I believe in computer engineering, both SBAR and BRIEF would be effective. It really depends on what the l content of your writing is. However, since we are discussing which is better, I would argue SBAR is more effective in computer engineering research & design. SBAR seemed to facilitate exchanging very detailed information from one set of understanding to another. By this I mean, in R&D many different disciplines work together. Computer engineers with mechanical, electrical with aerospace, etc. etc. Each of which have different understandings on information, and I believe SBAR would facilitate in not losing important data in that transition.

In the construction industry, I believe it would be better to follow a mnemonic structure similar to that of BRIEF. When it comes to emails and other forms of communication associated with this industry, it is best to be concise and efficient with your communication. Time is of utmost importance in this industry and professionals do not like to waste their time reading through lengthy emails just to figure out what was being said wasn’t very important. This is why it is imperative to follow a BRIEF mnemonic in order to keep your communication short, sweet, and to the point. When I read through the BRIEF article and through the descriptions for the acronym, I felt as if it perfectly structured how an email in the construction industry should be laid out.

As a future physician, the SBAR style of communication is much more relevant to me. I actually really enjoyed reading this article and I learned a lot! From my clinical experience, I agree with the difference style of communication depending on the health profession. I think this is great when you are dealing with language barriers as well. If foreign speakers can learn a more concentrated amount of words to effectively communicate information about patients, it might help ease the language barriers. This system was created by the military for efficiency and uniformity. I think the biggest thing is the uniformity because it makes it easier to understand more specifically the history of the patients, and what he or she needs. It says that in SBAR, the background of the patient is less emphasized, which makes sense in emergency situations where current treatment is vital. I don’t think this efficiency is as key in some healthcare professions when urgency is not an issue. In these cases, I would prefer to slow down and give a little more information. However, I understand in the military, fast communication is essential. SOAP notes are another method of communicating in the healthcare world. Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan. This is similar to SBAR however it might be more suited in healthcare facilities without urgency. It is also a standardized way of organizing patient history, diagnosis, and treatment plans.

I think we probably have both the BRIEF and SBAR in computer science field. BRIEF is something we do every day like emails, notes. SBAR is more applicable in a documentation setting and it seemed to facilitate exchanging very detailed information from one set of understanding to another. The article Remember “BRIEF” for Efficient Office Communication used a very interesting way to introduce the BRIFE by B (Background), R (Reason), I (Information), E (End), F (Follow-up). The idea is to get your message across quickly. Which those 5 key points are make sense to me.

During the course of my experience in Chemical Engineering, I have found that brevity is not a strong suit of most people during meetings, but a mix of BRIEF and SBAR is used. It really just depends on the engineer who’s talking–those in operations tend to be more brief while the PhD scientists tend to be longwinded. SBAR feels very similar to the STAR format for interviews (I think 3/4 letters stand for the same thing). During performance reviews and other analysis of work done, I think the SBAR method is the best to use.

I personally think BRIEF is the better form of communication for my field. Even though certain information may be lengthy because that is their typical structure, it is necessary to include just the right amount of information for the audience. Once other things not needed are added, it makes the information hard and boring to follow through.

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