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Policy Brief Basics: What are the common elements of a policy brief?

What are the common elements of a policy brief?

What are the common parts of a policy brief?

Every policy memo or brief includes a BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) explanation of the issue. It states the problem in terms specific to the goal of the target audience/decision-maker and directly addresses the decision-maker’s needs in the opening lines.

The structure of the policy brief or memo varies. The most common elements of the policy brief or memo are as follows:

Title – The aim of the title is to catch the attention of the reader and compel him/her to read further.

Executive summary - The aim of the executive summary is a "boiled down" presentation of your memo or brief's main arguments which serves to convince the reader that the issue is worth in-depth investigation. It may be the only section of the memo/brief that the decision-maker reads, so you should make it count. It should contain:

  • The specific issue or problem addressed in the brief;
  • The most striking current policy failures;
  • Your recommendation.

You should write the executive summary last. It should be able to stand on its own to present the most important aspects of your argument.

Background / Context and importance of the problem - The aim in this section is to present the most striking facts or elements of the problem in order to convince your audience that they need to rethink the issue and ultimately change the current policy approach. As such, it usually includes:

  • A clear statement of the problem or issue;
  • A short overview of the root causes of the problem;
  • A clear statement, including evidence, of the significance of the problem.

Policy option alternatives - The aim of this element is to state and give details about: 1) the shortcomings of the current approach or options being implemented; and/or 2) outline possible alternative approaches to the problem; and therefore, illustrate both the need for change and focus of where change needs to occur. This section should be fair and accurate, while convincing the reader why the policy action proposed in the brief is the most desirable.

Policy recommendations - A breakdown of the specific practical steps or measures that need to be implemented.

Appendices (if necessary)

Sources consulted or recommended

Depending on your specific topic and assignment, you might combine sections or break them down into several more specific ones.


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Karoline Manny
Karoline Manny
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Danville, KY 40422