What is a policy paper?
Policy papers are different from the standard research papers in several respects:
- They are usually addressed at a non-academic audience, such as a particular official, agency, or organization
- They often focus on prescriptive questions. They may begin by diagnosing a particular issue or situation, and typically argue for a solution that will address that issue or situation
- Often, policy papers are focused on being persuasive. The intention is to convince the target audience that your position is the correct one.
- Evidence in support of a position is crucial. This is also important for research papers, but it tends to be absolutely critical in policy papers.
- Policy papers are written efficiently. The audience often does not have much time and does not want to read a book on the subject. Indeed, often policy papers are accompanied by policy briefs which summarize the papers in a page or less.
Policy Paper Components
As with research papers, there is not just one way to write a policy paper.The University of Texas has a nice website with a detailed model, “Suggestions for Writing Policy Analysis”.
The basic elements of a policy paper include:
- Description of the context and importance of the problem
- Discussion of a range of policy options
- The policy recommendation
Some Questions to Consider When Researching and Writing a Policy Paper
- Who is your target audience?
- What is your target audience’s current policy position?
- What is the policy question that you plan to address (you should be able to state this as a 1 – 2 sentence question)?
- What actors are relevant to the policy process you are addressing?
- What are the possible policy options? Are these all realistic?
- What is the criteria that you will use to choose the best policy option(s)?
- What evidence backs your claims?
Policy Paper Examples
- Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Policy Briefs”
- UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy. “Working Paper Series.”
- Brookings. “Policy Brief Series.”
- Many articles in the journal Foreign Affairs are policy papers.
- Oxfam International. “Policy & Research.”
- Eóin Young and Lisa Quinn. “Writing Effective Policy Papers: A guide for policy advisers in Central and Eastern Europe.” Open Society Institute.
- “The Policy Analysis Process”, Professor Michelle A. Saint-Germain (CSULB)
- International Policy Fellowships. “The Policy Brief”.
- Overseas Development Institute. “Writing Policy Papers.”
- FAO. “Writing Policy Papers and Policy Briefs.”
- “Public Policy Writing”, Catherine Smith (East Carolina University)
- This website is part of a course on communicating public policy. Students may find the following sections useful, as they begin to write their own policy papers:
- Unruly Asides: Collection of links on writing policy briefs