The Society for the
Psychological
Study of Social Issues

    

How to Write a Policy Brief

The aim of a policy brief is to briefly analyze a social problem and recommend a plausible course of policy action. Ideally it will meet three criteria:

1. Be targeted to an audience
Include reference to possible consequences of the failure to act and how that my affect your audience directly. Identify positive outcomes such as economic and scientific benefits, or improved measures of individual and social efficiency or equality.

It can be very useful to compare your policy proposal in these terms with a competing one and couch it in the language and priorities of the parties who will be receiving the brief.

2. Be comprehensive but short
Your readers are looking for a general background on an issue about which they may know very little. This need for clarity and accuracy must be balanced with your reader’s preference to learn the relevant information as quickly as possible.

Tables, graphs, and statistical figures can be an excellent way to be succinct and memorable but make sure they are directly relevant and from a credible source. The reader must come away knowing the core substance of the issue, its main stakeholders, and guidance on what directions the issue is likely to take in future.

An executive summary can provide an even briefer paragraph of the issue for the very time pressed reader. In many cases, this may be all they have time to read anyway, so make it count! Summarize of the content of the paper, briefly describing the issue and highlighting your final recommendations.

3. Be recyclable
By addressing any previous policy actions taken on the issue, the paper will provide context information that can be useful in future developments. If it contains snappy statements and salient, empirical, evidence then it is likely to be quoted by the audience in later reports and communications. A good brief should include short and long-term effects of the policy proposals. All quotes and figures should be referenced to aide credibility and facilitate recyclability of the information.

 

Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator


Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin