The difficult bit about being on a Board is supposed to be weighing the decisions to take, often high-stakes, often in the face of incomplete or contradictory information, having read the relevant Board papers.

But in practice, figuring out what the Board papers are trying to tell you, is frequently half the problem.

And the quickest way to compound the problem; to inadvertently mislead the reader, is to use vague terms in Board papers, instead of precise terminology. 

The difficulty arises because the writer’s interpretation of the terms used may differ from the reader’s, leading to misunderstanding. 

To take one recent example outside of the Boardroom, the former International Development Secretary, who was recalled to the UK and resigned, was reported to have said she attended only a “few” (unauthorised) meetings in Israel, whilst on vacation. It was reported there were 14 meetings in 13 days. Whether that’s a “few” is open to interpretation; just stating the numbers leaves no room for doubt.

Here are some examples of commonplace vagueness, where precision could be used instead:

  • A number of
  • About
  • Broadly
  • A few
  • Many
  • A variety
  • Significant
  • Insignificant

So in your Board Paper Guidelines, it may be worth insisting on the use of precision of terminology, as just one, small step in the drive to improve the drafting of Board Papers.

As always, time is short and there’s much to do, so good luck and get cracking.