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FYS157 Canada, the U.S., and Kentucky: What is a policy brief?

What is a policy brief / memo?

What is a policy memo or policy brief? A policy brief is a document that outlines the rationale for choosing a particular policy alternative or course of action in a current policy debate. The intended audience for the brief is informed, non-experts, i.e. people who work regularly on the issue addressed in the document, but who do not do research or read expert texts. Examples of such people are decision makers, politicians, NGO workers, and journalists. Policy briefs are commonly produced in response to a request from a decision-maker. Alternatively, they may be produced by an organization that intends to advocate for the position detailed in the brief. The purpose of the policy brief is to convince the target audience of the urgency of the current problem and the need to adopt the preferred alternative or course of action. It serves as an impetus for action.

What types of policy briefs are there? Depending on the role of the writer or organization producing the document, they may produce one of two types of brief:

USMCA Policy brief

Your assignment

As chief trade advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell [R – KY] it is your job to prepare him for the upcoming Senate vote on the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA). To this end, you will draft a short policy brief that provides Senator McConnell with relevant background information on continental trade (i.e.: NAFTA), covers the main points of USMCA, and explains how the agreement might affect his constituents in Kentucky. The brief should also present policy alternatives available to the Majority Leader and recommend a course of action (e.g.: advise his Senate colleagues to vote in favor of/against USMCA).

So you are writing an advocacy brief. Your job is to persuade Senator McConnell to support / not support the USMCA.

What are some of the key aspects of persuasive writing?

1. Identify your audience - in this case, a Kentucky senator.

2. Identify what is most likely to appeal to / persuade your audience. Traditionally, we say that persuasion relies on appeals to authority, emotion or logic. For a policy brief, logic, facts and evidence are the basis of persuasion.

Things to consider when writing your policy brief

  • What is the current problem? What are the problems with NAFTA? What problems are Kentucky / US industries currently experiencing while trading with Mexico and Canada?
  • What is the significance / scope of that problem?
  • Who are the stakeholders? How much trade does Kentucky / the US do with Mexico and Canada? In what industries? What about the general citizenry of Kentucky? How are they impacted?

Some sources of information about Kentucky trade with Mexico and Canada:
Congressional Research State Exports document
Office of the US Trade Representative Kentucky Trade

  • What does the USMCA change and how does that impact Kentucky / US trade? How significant is that impact?


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Karoline Manny
Karoline Manny
600 West Walnut Street
Danville, KY 40422