ChoMUN Featured Series: How to Write a Background Guide

by kbonn on April 16, 2014

This guest article was written by Blake Alex and Chirag Sachar, the Chair and Crisis Director of the Russian Empire: 1905 committee at ChoMUN XVII.

Attacking a Background Guide:

Russian Empire: 1905 Crisis Director Chirag Sachar poses with UChicago Head Delegate Nisha Bala at ChoMUN XVI.

Russian Empire: 1905 Crisis Director Chirag Sachar poses with UChicago Head Delegate Nisha Bala at ChoMUN XVI.

1) Attacking a what? A Background Guide is a very important document that is presented to delegates before a conference that catalyzes conference preparation. It holds the information that Chairs and Crisis Directors want delegates to have coming into committee session Thursday evening. This large document is comprehensive enough that it can be used both as the starting point for further research into the committee’s topic and sometimes as the only source of research. A typical background guide will at the basic level describe the historical/economical/political context of the committee and present the major topics that the committee will be addressing during the conference. Delegates make use of their background guide not only while preparing for a conference but they will often times find themselves referring back to it during the conference.

2) Such thing as too much information: History is vast. When writing a background guide one must determine what information is actually necessary and relevant for the committee and what information can unhelpful or distracting. What history that actually goes in a background guide is usually highlighted conflicts and events that make the potential crises of the committee possible. Information beyond that can be distracting to delegates; it can lead them to unnecessary research that doesn’t have much affect on an event that can take place during committee. That being said, the background guide should be well researched.

3) History is awesomebut it’s also boring: Putting a lot of information into a single text is just producing another history book. Those are often boring. The key to a successful committee before conferences starts is getting

Russian Empire: 1905 Chair Blake Alex coordinates committee crises at ChoMUN XV.

Russian Empire: 1905 Chair Blake Alex coordinates committee crises at ChoMUN XV.

delegates pumped to attend conference, and not only because they are attending a competition but because they are looking forward to participating in their committee. This starts initially with the idea of the committee, but the ball really starts moving when the background guides are sent out. There is so much potential within the background guide to make the committee look really exciting and interesting to delegates. The goal is to have a delegate read a background guide and say to themselves, “Wow, this is going to be a fun weekend.” Getting delegates excited for the committee is important because it will influence them to do more research, be more prepared, and overall participate more within the committee. More delegate participation in committee leads to an overall more lively and fun conference experience for both delegates and staff.

4) All about perspective: Ultimately, background guides are for the delegates. When writing and organizing one, it is important to set up the background guide in the most efficient manner such that it will be useful for delegates. This means presenting the information they really need clearly and explicitly, and providing all information that they will need to understand committee, especially the timing of the committee. The background guide should be set up for delegates who are getting ready to produce speeches based on the information within it and creating documents with solutions to the problems that stem from it. The background guide does not have to be a “spark notes” history summary on the committee’s topic for a random person. Another thing to keep in mind is to balance out powers for committee biographies and individual character dossiers. Favoring any position within the background guide will or referencing specific positions for historical purposes will make delegates think the committee already favors certain delegates before the conference begins.

5.) Having fun: The final key thing to remember when writing a background guide is that it this is where Chairs and Crisis Directors get to write a document on a topic they actually enjoy. They have the opportunity to spend hours researching topics they find interesting without feeling guilty of procrastination. Additionally, the writing of the background guide is a time when the Chairs and Crisis Directors can start to involve their staff in the committee. Involving committee staff in the background guide allows them to have a larger sense of ownership within the committee. This is important because it will encourage them to put more effort into helping set up and run the committee.

Crisis Director Chirag Sachar poses with several UChicago delegates and their awards at HNMUN's Sixtieth Session.

Crisis Director Chirag Sachar poses with several UChicago delegates and their awards at HNMUN’s Sixtieth Session.

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