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Policy Brief Basics: What defines a good policy brief?

What defines a good policy brief?

What defines a good policy brief?

The following are characteristics of a good policy brief:

It targets the appropriate audience – the most common audience for a policy brief is a decision-maker - an informed non-specialist.

It is professional, not academic –The common audience for a policy brief is typically “informed non-specialists.” They are not academic. Therefore, they are not interested in analysis of the research methodologies used to produce the evidence, but they are very interested to know the writer’s perspective on the problem and potential solutions based on the new evidence. They are not interested in jargon. They expect clear, understandable language. Look at this example:


Note that the policy brief replaces industry vocabulary like "agronomic" and "vegetative" with explanations that are more understandable to the intelligent non-expert..

It is evidence-based – The audience of a policy brief expects a rational argument based on evidence to support the brief's claims regarding the problem and its possible solutions. Consider these examples:

It is focused – it provides an adequately comprehensive but targeted argument within a limited space. The focus of the brief needs to be limited to a particular problem or area of a problem All aspects of the policy brief (from the message to the layout) need to be strategically focused on achieving the intended goal of convincing the target audience. For example, the argument provided must build on what they know about the problem, provide insight about what they don’t know about the problem and be presented in language that reflects their values, i.e. using ideas, evidence and language that will convince them.

It is honest and balanced- The policy brief may advocate, based on evidence, that a certain course of action is preferred, but it includes the weaknesses of that course of action.

Things to consider when writing a policy brief:

What is the problem? Understanding what the problem is, in the clearest terms possible, will give your reader a reference point. Later, when you’re discussing complex information, your reader can refer back to the initial problem. This will help to ‘anchor’ them throughout the course of your argument. Every piece of information in the brief should be clearly and easily connected to the problem.

What is the scope of the problem? Knowing the extent of the problem helps to frame the policy issue for your reader. Is the problem statewide, national, or international? How many people does this issue affect? Does it affect them daily? Annually? This is a great place for any statistical information you may have gathered through your research.

Who are the stakeholders? Who does this issue affect? Adult women? College-educated men? Children from bilingual homes? The primary group being affected is important, and knowing who this group is allows the reader to assign a face to the policy issue.

Policy issues can include a complex network of stakeholders. Double check whether you have inadvertently excluded any of them from your analysis. For example, a policy about children’s nutrition obviously involves the children, but it might also include food producers, distributors, parents, and nutritionists (and other experts). Some stakeholders might be reluctant to accept your policy change or even acknowledge the existence of the problem, which is why your brief must be convincing in its use of evidence and clear in its communication.

What specific steps need to be taken to solve the problem? The recommendations should be specific steps that can be implemented by the decision-maker.

  • State the recommendations clearly – Starting each recommendation with an action verb is an effective method.
  • Keep recommendations short - Do not overwhelm the reader with a long list of recommendations. Five or six are enough. If you have more recommendations than this, drop some of them, combine them, or consider writing separate policy briefs on different aspects of the problem. If you must include a large number of recommendations, try dividing the list into recommendations for different policy makers (ex. Governments and international partners).

Structure There are many ways to structure a policy brief. Given the above considerations, this is a common structure:


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