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How to write recommendations in board papers

By Mary Morel | April 2016

How to write board paper recommendations

There are two aspects to writing board paper recommendations: what you say and how you say it, i.e. styles.

Content of board paper recommendations

Most organisations have two types of papers – decision and noting (information). Some have discussion papers as well, and they are similar to a noting paper.

Decision recommendations in board papers
In a decision paper, your recommendation must outline clearly and concisely what approval you are seeking and how much it will cost. Specific, stand-alone recommendations can then easily be turned into resolutions in the minutes with minimal word changes.

That the Board approve $X for Y project.

Most recommendations are single sentences, but there is no reason why your recommendation shouldn’t be longer if necessary. Better to have two or three sentences than an unwieldy sentence crammed with information.

When there is more than one recommendation, they are either written as separate statements or as bulleted or numbered points. The rationale for separate statements is that stand-alone recommendations can be used in different contexts.

If the recommendations are appearing only in the board paper, bulleting or numbering is simpler. Bulleted lists look cleaner than numbered lists, but the rationale for numbering is that points can be referred back to more easily.

Occasionally, you may have a suite of recommendations (e.g. energy tariffs), so you may decide to reference them rather than put them all in the recommendation. If you do reference them you must be specific (e.g. title and page number) and not make a generic statement such as ‘approve the recommendations outlined in this paper’.

You can have noting recommendations in a decision paper to draw directors’ attention to some information, but in my opinion they are unnecessary. If directors are making a decision, they must read everything thoroughly and the key points should be highlighted in the summary. (All board papers should have a summary.)

Noting recommendations in board papers
Some organisations have a separate template for noting (information) and others have a one-size-fits-all template. If your organisation has a separate noting template, there is no need for a recommendation because it is obvious that the paper is for noting.

With a one-size-fits-all template, keep your recommendation short or you will repeat information that is in the summary.

That the Board/Committee note this paper.

Styles for recommendations

When thinking about styles, you need to consider your introductory stem statement and the verbs to use.

Stem statement
Start your recommendation with the stem statement:

 That the Board/Committee…

An alternative stem statement is: It is recommended that the Board/Committee…

Verbs
The main verbs used in recommendations are:

  • Approve
  • Endorse (often used by board committees who don’t have the authority to approve a decision)
  • Note

Occasionally, you may use:

  • Ratify
  • Authorise
  • Delegate

Some organisations use the phrase ‘resolve to approve’, but ‘resolve’ is unnecessary.

Plural or singular verbs
You need to decide whether to use singular or plural verbs. If you use plural verbs, you’re using the mandative subjunctive (God save the Queen), and if you choose singular verbs, you’re treating the board as a singular entity. Both are correct, but consistency matters.

I have written a blog about this topic.

Seek help from the company secretariat team
If you work in an organisation that has a company secretariat team, consult with them if you’re having difficulty writing a recommendation. They are usually experts in writing recommendations.

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