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How to Write a Policy Brief

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

What is a policy brief?

A policy or issue brief is meant to convey the crucial components of an issue, providing historical context, an overview of relevant policy, potential solutions, general opinions within the community, and the recommended path forward as argued by the writer. All of this is usually conveyed within three pages –often even less.


How to structure a policy brief:

The structure of a policy brief can vary depending on the writer's or organization's preference. While flexible, most policy briefs contain some of these basic elements in some format: introduction, background, policy options and policy recommendations.


An introduction will introduce the policy issue or gap at hand and may give a brief summary of the policy recommendation. The background will provide insight on the issue topic and discuss either the lack of policy and/or the issues with current policy, establishing context for the rest of the brief. The brief will offer an amount of policy options and pick one or more as preference. A policy implementation section can be written as well.


Feel free to refer to "The American Responsibilities to the International Climate Regime," for an example of what we're expecting. The skeletal outline of the article linked above, based on the Analytical Briefing Guide by Pherson et al., follows the this structure:

  1. Executive Summary

    1. Bottom Line Up Front: What is the conclusion/recommendation?

    2. What's In It for Me?: Why is this brief important or relevant to the reader?

    3. Roadmap: What key judgements, or topics, will you cover in the brief. Usually limit this to three key judgements unless absolutely necessary to go beyond.

  2. Key Judgement 1

  3. Key Judgement 2

  4. Key Judgement 3

  5. Conclusion: Use this to summarize your judgements and segue into your recommendations.

  6. Policy Recommendations: Consider the powers and equities of specific government agencies and bureaus and provide actionable policy changes to address your topic at hand.


Requirements

When writing the brief, make sure that you adhere to the following rules:

  • Brevity: You should limit your brief to three pages. Your goal is to convey fundamental context, identify issues, and propose solutions to a government official, so ensure that you are using language efficient and concise language.

  • Credibility: Make sure that you are showing where your information comes from. Using Chicago style endnotes, it is important to include citations.

  • Executive Summary: In beginning of your brief, there should be a short paragraph that provides your bottom line up front (the policy proposal), a summary of why the issue is salient, and an overview of what the brief will cover. This section should never be longer than four sentences.


Other Resources

Many other institutions offer different advice on how to write a policy brief depending on various requirements and goals. Feel free to incorporate your style into your writing! Some stepping stones are below to begin your search:

Of course, you can always direct questions to our email!

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