How to write a Policy Brief Like a Pro

Last Updated: 19 October 2021

how to write a policy brief - A guide


Has your instructor has assigned you to write a policy brief, and you can't wrap your head around it? It could be that you are writing a policy brief for the first time or feel like it is a challenging assignment.


Are you a professional who wants to write the best policy brief to impress the committee or your boss?


That you are here means you are either of the two. Because writing policy documents and other professional documents is one thing that often confuses, we have come to your rescue.


Many people have attempted to get solutions for effective writing, but it becomes complicated. We have called on toes to bring you a key to writing a policy brief. Have a look.


What is a policy brief?


A policy brief is a paper that contains summative content or information that guides readers in getting the necessary information. They do not have to be specialists in the area, but they will get all kinds of information they desire to have. Many professionals have fallen in love with policy briefs because they contain accurate and timely information, delivering quality.


Decision-making becomes easier when you have policy briefs. The contents of a policy brief are timely. They contain the accuracy needed to plan and make quick and solid decisions. A good policy brief will cover two pagers in length; hence easy to abstract the facts.


What's the purpose of policy briefs?


The primary purpose of a policy brief is to inform readers and professionals about a specific issue. It also addresses the problems and how they cause an effect and finally provides recommendations. Once you have a policy brief, you will maintain the decision-making end with a lot of simplicity.


You will not experience minor challenges such as factual errors and non-clear figures. Once the policy is convincing, you will save time because you will not need to go through many documents to get the information you need.


A good policy brief will give a clear outline of the things that the major documents and reports contain. It is possible to call it a primary source of information that addresses the specific aspects.


Who writes policy briefs?


Policy briefs are written by organization staff or departments. The writer of the policy brief has a specific audience that they want to address. Some are written to help the senior workers of a department or organization to make decisions.


Apart from making decisions, they also get a blueprint for the progress of the business they are conducting. Policy briefs can be written for elected officials serving on a committee or leaders of an organization. In this case, the policy brief presents a detailed, concise, and informative summary of an issue at hand to help the readers to decide, understand the issue, review current solutions, and propose solutions.


Decision-making is not the only area that a policy briefs addresses. Sometimes, the policy brief is intentional. It addresses the other readers who sometimes have no association with the organizations or departments.


Students pursuing courses such as planning, political science, communication, nursing, medicine, public health, environmental science, education, and social work, among others, also write policy briefs as a requirement to fulfill their pedagogical objectives.


Each policy brief gets a writer depending on its purpose and target audience. A policy brief has to give an objective summary of relevant research, suggest feasible policy options, changes, or solutions, or argue for a particular course or course of action.


How to write a policy brief in 10 Simple Steps


Whether you are a professional writing a policy brief for your agency, organization, or company or you are a student doing a policy brief assignment, here are some 10 steps you can take to write your policy brief faster. Following these steps can help you write the policy brief in a day, few days, overnight, or in just a few hours.


1. Read the instructions


The first thing you need to do is to go through the instructions about the policy brief. Each policy brief needs comes with various requirements that help to ensure that the policy meets the purpose. First, you have to know what the person who needs the policy wants to see in the policy.


Going through the instructions is essential as it ensures that you get the facts before you plan for the writing. Instructions are helpful because they tell you the target audience and the depth that the document will address. It also becomes easier to know the scope of the whole task.


2. Pick a problem


Now you have to narrow it down to a specific point that you need to write about.


Wondering how to identify a problem for your policy brief? Well, given that an effective policy brief must articulate the proposed solutions to a well-defined problem that can be addressed at the policy level, you must select a concrete problem.


 When picking the problem, go to the specifics about what you want to write about (go back to the assignment prompt). If an issue is already given, well and good. However, if you are left to choose the problem, choose a problem that fits the context of your course, profession, and discipline.


Remember, your issue must be a challenge that needs a solution.


Before picking the problem, you have to know the simplicity of addressing the issue in your writeup. Your problem must not be that you will answer during the introduction. Instead, it needs to be one that will get an answer at the recommendation stage and bring the need to have more questions.


3. Frame your issue/problem


This is where the actual assignment begins. First, you must create the clarity you need by ensuring that the problem is apparent through framing. Then, you need to define a few things in framing the issue.


a. What is the problem?


Be clear about the exact problem and mention it. Discuss the exact problem, what harm it has caused, or the challenges it has brought about. The problem is the one that brings about the need to have the write-up.


Ensuring that you have done a rational explanation about it is the only way to have accurate measures to solve the problem.


b. What is the scope of the problem?


 The scope of the problem has everything to do with the extremes it addresses. An excellent example that the scope needs to address is the geographical coverage. Explain the areas that the problem covers clearly.


These are the same areas that the policy brief will cover. Apart from addressing the geographical coverage, you will also need to know the knowledge part it will cover. Be specific about the title so that it is specific and not general.


c. Who are the stakeholders?


 The policy brief must have stakeholders who also are part of the target audience. Stakeholders make part of the people, departments, organizations, and others who influence your problem area. They can also be the cause of the problem or the solution holders of the problem.


The area that touches the stakeholders significantly is the recommendations. So you have to maintain clarity about whom the problem is touching.


d. What are some recommendations?


 Having addressed the problem briefly, you must be having a few solutions to it already. It means that you can mention a few recommendations about addressing the issue.


At this stage, you can mention the few recommendations that will address the problem that has brought the need for the policy brief. Of course, the recommendations you give must be accurate and directly related to the problem you want to write about.


4. Create a working thesis statement


A thesis statement is a guide that shows what you will write about and how you will write. In short, it plays a role in organizing your writing. The thesis statement is a short write-up that every paragraph you will write in the policy brief will relate to.


Considering that the policy brief doesn't have much background information, the statement must directly relate to the current problem.  A good thesis statement comes in to bring the resolution to the problem at hand. It also has to give room for the various approaches that will develop the solution.


5. Research for supporting information (Evidence)


The next thing is to find information based on evidence towards the problem you are tackling. Every statement you give on the policy brief must have tangible evidence. Reliable references accompany the various statements, which make it easier for the readers to read further.


It is good to use reliable sources that do not have a conflict of interest. It will also make the policy brief fast reliable.


Be intentional that the sources have a direct link with the thesis statement. Understanding that there is very little that you need to write about, you need to give room for further studies to your policy brief readers.


6. Create an outline for your policy brief


You cannot write effectively if you do not have an outline. Therefore, the policy brief needs to have an outline that will give you room to have your ideas flowing. An outline will have several areas that act as sub-topic, and you will write under.


The outline will have areas such as;



Each section needs a short and clear writeup where you can deduct facts easily.


7. Write your working/first draft


After conducting the research and doing the outline, write the draft. A draft is the first write-up that you will do before making editing and corrections for the final copy. Therefore, the following areas need to have comprehensive coverage as you write the draft.


a. Understand your audience and focus on them


 The audience needs to have proper identification so that you address them. We have seen that experts and other users are the persons who need the policy briefs. It is good to ensure that you have understood the audience's needs so that you provide the information that applies to them.


If you are writing for the organization's management, then you have to address them. Therefore, the instructions must always guide the draft writing. 


b. Consider the purpose of your policy brief


We have seen that policy briefs have specific purposes that they need to address. So you have to ensure that your write-up is thorough and addresses the purpose. One thing that needs a lot of clarity is the use of the policy document.


Suppose the document needs to serve the managers. In that case, it has to be one that will provide information for quick analysis and decision-making.


c. Use headings


The headings you use for the structure of the policy brief are essential. Readers have the opportunity to pick the facts and understand where each piece of information lies.


Picking the facts becomes simpler when there are specific subheadings to guide. Each heading must be concise and address the point directly. Sections and the choice of the headings must always flow.


c. Use appropriate tone and terminology


Policy briefs have specific terminologies to use. You need to ensure that you are writing within the proper terminologies. The tone must also maintain its nature, considering that the policy brief is not an academic document but has an academic structure.


Use simple terminology and one that is direct. A layman's language sounds best in the policy briefs.


8. Take a break


You have to take a break before you complete the policy brief. It makes you fresh and ready to make significant improvements.


When you take a break, you develop an objective mind, which can help you spot mistakes and make changes effectively.


9. Revise, proofread, and Polish


 After the break, revise the work you have written by proofreading and then make the necessary changes. In addition, you have to improve the areas that need special attention, especially the facts and the evidence on your writeup.


This is the stage where you now turn the working draft into a final draft.  


10. Review the submission requirements and submit


Each writeup has its way of submission. You can submit it physically, via email, Canvas, or any other platform for sharing. It has to be the one that the readers prefer to have it on. Confirm the submission requirements from the assignment brief.


Features of a Policy Brief


Each policy brief comes with features that make it stand out and fulfill its purpose. Some of them include,



A proper policy brief must be evidence-based. It has to contain the sources from which the writer has gathered the information and provide for future and more extensive reading. One that contains the theories that have no evidence is not proper.



It is straightforward for a writer to lose focus on the topic that they are writing about. The best one has to create a proper focus on the problem that it intends to tackle. All the points that the writer addresses must link directly to the statement problem.



The explanation of the whole document must be very clear. One that has short sentences with adequate clarity has the best outcomes.



You need to understand that no matter how the policy brief looks like the academic document; it is not. The best one must not contain the academic jargon and the rules that academic documents follow. As you write, admit that the structure looks academic, but the writing must distinguish from the academic works.



The policy brief has a limit that needs not exceed one-two pages. The lesser it is, the better. However, you have to ensure that it has covered all the aspects that need to be brought to light.



We have said that the policy brief is not an academic document. You don't need to use many words to bring about the meaning of the document. Each point must be independent and creating the clarity you need.



Accessibility has to do with two aspects. First, the policy brief must be accessible for reading and use even by the other readers apart from the organization. Second, the impact must extend to other readers too.


Part of accessibility also has to do with the references. It has to make it easy for users to visit the other sources of information that have brought it up.



The promotional part of the policy brief has to do with how it markets the area it is addressing. So, for example, if it is about an organization, it has to play a promotional role. It has to have a marketing tone and a call to action.



The policy brief must have the practical bit of it. It has to be one that you will easily apply. The recommendations must have the clarity that the readers will quickly read and understand the whole policy. The entire policy should have simple and things that have a proper and sober approach.


Format of a Policy Brief


Before writing a policy brief paper, you must read the assignment prompt. If you are a professional, read the expectations in the briefing paper provided when you are being assigned to write a policy brief. Nevertheless, policy briefs have several features in common. They use different headings that divide the brief into sections for easier navigation and a good flow. Unlike the short science papers that use IMRAD format (Introduction, methods, results, and discussion), the structure of a policy brief has several distinctive sections as outlined below:


Title


The title is a brief statement that covers the entire article.


It is a statement representing the whole problem and will explain the issues and the areas affecting it.


A good title is a compressed version of the thesis statement and should communicate the contents of the brief memorably.


Executive summary


The executive summary has the summary of the main points that exist in the policy brief.


It states the problem and how the policy brief intends to address it.


The executive summary is often one or two paragraphs in length.


It can also give a summary of the various sections of the policy brief.


Context, Background, or scope of the problem


The policy brief starts at this point, and you will explain the main problem. It elaborates the importance of the problem and convinces the reader of the necessity of the proposed policy action.


Therefore, this section tells your reader why it has come now and has its issues implemented. It explains the importance of the policy.


Impact of the problem


The impact of the problem has all to do with the extremes or the damage that the problem has brought about.


The presence of the problem of its absence has an impact that you will need to explain here.


Policy Alternatives


Are there any alternatives that can work on the position of the policy? This section explains if there are any alternatives and if they are workable.


It also tells the readers if the policy will serve its purpose.


Policy Recommendations


After addressing the problem and doing some research, there are recommendations you get.


Therefore, this section has to give some thorough explanations about the implementation of the policy brief. The recommendations must be concrete.


Conclusion


The conclusion contains a summary of the things that are found in the policy brief. But, first, you have to ensure that you have covered the problem itself, its effects and how the solutions you have can work.


Appendices


The appendices section contains the extras that are in the policy brief. The ads that you write here must have solid support with facts to the document.


References


The sources are the references that you have consulted during the writing of the policy brief. Each source must have some more information that you did not include. The purpose of the references is to provide more reading space.


Dos and Don'ts when writing a policy paper


There is no single strategy for effective policy writing. The end goal is to have a policy brief that is clear, concise, and focused, which can be achieved through in-depth research. However, here are some dos and don'ts that our senior paper writers have spotted.


Dos



Don'ts



Sample Policy Brief Structure/Outline/Template


Here is a sample policy brief template that details how each section of the policy brief appears.


Title



Executive Summary



Scope of Problem



Policy Options



Policy Recommendations



Appendices



Sources