Policy Documents

As a student in the Bush School, you will likely be asked to prepare documents that address policy issues. These documents most often result in policy briefs and policy memos. Both summarize policy issues, analyze options, and often recommend a solution in order to facilitate a policy decision. While the general principles of creating policy briefs also apply to preparing policy memos, some differences are important to consider.

Image source: ©iStock.com/quingwa

First things first: Prepare

Avoid the temptation to begin your draft before doing your homework. Spend time learning about the issue and context your policy document should address. The following questions1 will help determine what you need to know (or learn) before you begin your draft.

    1. What is the issue or policy debate?

    2. Who is the audience?

      • Who will read my document?

      • To whom am I targeting my policy document?

      • What are their interests?

      • Why does this issue matter to them?

      • What action, if any, do I want my readers to take?

    3. Who are the stakeholders?

      • What positions (or points of view) are represented by the stakeholders?

    4. What do I want my audience to know as the result of my document?

      • What questions does my document need to answer?

      • How much information do I need to supply to help my audience understand the issue and action I am recommending?

      • What types of evidence will best support my points?

      • What are the "takeaways"?

Users of policy briefs and memos have certain traits:

  • They are busy.

  • They want to be well informed.

  • They want all of their key questions answered.

  • They do not have time to thoroughly research every issue that comes before them.

  • They depend on the document to give clear, concise, and complete information and advice.

As you write policy memos and briefs, picture in your mind a legislator on her way to a meeting who is reading your document as she walks to the meeting. As you prepare your brief, consider what does she need to know? How will you present the information precisely and succinctly?

Draft and Revise

Determine which type of policy document best suits your purpose and audience (or which type you have been assigned) and prepare either a policy brief or a policy memo.

How do Policy Briefs and Policy Memos Compare?

1 Prewriting questions have been adapted from the following source:

How to Write a Policy Brief provided at http://www.wikihow.com/Main-Page, which is available for adaptation under their Creative Commons license and Attribution Requirements.