How to write a policy paper - policy paper defined



Reading time

7 minutes

How to write a policy paper - policy paper defined

Policy papers are different from the general research papers. The specific difference is that a policy paper addresses a different type of audience altogether. While the research paper is always addressed to an academic audience, the policy paper is not. In most cases, it is for a non-academic audience. They are written for officials, firms, organizations and agencies.

Policy papers are used to diagnose particular issues and offer solutions to such issues. So they focus more on questions that are prescriptive. Policy papers are also very persuasive. The writer will always argue to convince the audience to accept the solution or idea he or she is proposing. This is why it is very important that you must provide evidence in support of the position you are taking. We can say that knowing how to write a research paper does not in any way mean that you know how to write a policy paper. This article is focused on teaching you how to write a policy paper.

The components of a policy paper

There are different ways to write a policy paper. The only denominator amongst all policy papers is the content. Every policy paper must come with some major components. When you are learning how to write a policy paper, understanding these components is very crucial. The three basic components include an explanation of the context and importance/value of the problem, discussion of the policy options available, and the policy recommendations.

There are some major questions that will help you to remain on the right track when you do the research. You have to ask yourself what your target audience is. You should also ask and understand the current policy position of the audience, and through this, map out the policy questions you will be addressing with the policy paper. Ask yourself the relevant players in the policy you plan to address. Ascertain what the policy options are and how realistic they are too. Also, consider the criteria you will be using to pick the best policy and the evidence that will back the entire proposition. Failure to consider any of these will entail a very huge lapse, showcasing that you don’t know how to write a proper policy paper.

Policy paper writing format

Just like every other paper written anywhere in the world, there must be a standard format. Though a policy paper is not written for an academic audience, it does not remove the fact that it is an academic paper and must comply with the dictates of academic paper writing. To learn how to write a policy paper, you have to acknowledge that you are writing something similar to a decision memorandum. This has a different tense from the research papers that are only theory relevant. You have to write in the present or future tense, and the bottom line of the paper has to be very practical. Make sure you do a thorough research on the topic and express this with rich endnotes.

Every good policy paper should start with a short and straight to the point introduction or background. A problem statement may come as a separate part of the paper or at the end of the introduction. This must identify the problem you are seeking a solution for. This is followed by the objectives of the country, alliance, firm or organ that is seeking the solution. Make sure the goal intended to be achieved with the policy paper are lined up. The options sector explains the policy options available for consideration. Try to make it up to 3 options if possible. The analysis of the options follows. This is where you explain how each option works towards the achievement of the listed objective or goal and what it will cost to implement the option. Consider the good and bad sides in line with the after effects of each of them. The recommendations come after the analysis of the options. If your policy paper lacks any of these, then you don’t know how to write a proper policy paper. If you do not know how to write a policy paper, it is presumed that you can’t propose any viable and workable policy. It is in the recommendation section that you should pick the best option and explain the reason you think it is the best. The recommendation should be workable and stand alone too. After this, go ahead and give the limitations to the policy in the next section, and cap it up with the cost benefits of applying the policy.

How to make your policy paper more effective

You can pick out any problem and formulate a policy paper on it. You can posit that any of the policy options is the best, but whenever you do not apply the recommendations below, your policy paper will not be effective, and you have not learnt how to write a proper policy paper. The main function of a public policy is to offer a broad framework of values and ideas upon which an organ takes decisions and pursue actions or inactions on a specific issue. Every public policy must include an authoritative action. It must be used to react to real world problems. It must work towards a goal, and it must suggest particular actions to be taken and the decision on whether to take such actions or not.

Characteristics of a policy paper

These must be inherent in your policy paper if you really know how to write an ideal policy paper. Each policy paper must be of public interest, meaning that it must set out to address a common interest of the greater number of the populace, and not that of a few. A good policy paper must be effective, stating how the policy will achieve its goals. It must be efficient by mapping out how to make judicious use of resources in implementing the policy and achieving the desired goals. It must also be in line with other objectives and strategies of the organ in the bigger picture. Bear in mind that the policy must also be fair, ensuring equity and fairness to all in the large society. A good policy must be reflective of other societal values like privacy, security, freedom and patriotism. In the course of mastering how to write a policy paper, you should realize that each paper is supposed to throw in persuasive and comprehensive arguments in the bid to justify all the policy recommendations it is presenting. This is aimed at getting the audience to use the recommendations as a tool for decision making and as a prompt for action.

Organizing your policy paper

Policy papers are professional and practical in nature and can vary in length. Each must come with lots of recommendations after detailed analyses. The main focus of a properly written policy paper is on the research problem. If your own derails from this, it shows you don’t know how to write a policy paper. The structure must be clear and concise. It must be written under the assumption that the reader is not hugely knowledgeable about the topic and has limited time to conduct a research on it. However, you should realize that unlike the common research paper, this may not set out to create or discover a new knowledge or add something new to the field. But it is majorly centered on providing a specific group of audience with the rationale upon which they should choose a particular policy and take a particular action.

Your paper must be focused on the objective of convincing your readers about how accurate your analyses and how valid your recommendations are. It must be written in a professional manner to avoid undermining its credibility because it is to be used for decision making. Always polish your policy paper and make it very easy to read and understand. If you know how to write a policy paper, you will not include jargons in your paper. Make it a passionate piece. A good policy paper must also be based on evidence. This is not a debate paper that is only meant for arguments, so your recommendations must be based on verifiable evidence about the existence of the problem and the cost of adopting the policy being proposed.

Every policy memo must be accessible, in the sense that it must be written with short and clear sentences and an explicit and straightforward structure. Your memo must be written in an easy to read and understand presentation style. Garnish your paper with charts, figures, lists and table of contents and make good headings and subheadings when necessary. The recommendations must also be feasible. They must be based on real happenings and not for intended or future scenarios. Your paper must have a transparent method of assessing the success or otherwise of the recommendations. This is how to write an appropriate policy paper.

Proofreading your policy paper

You have to make your policy paper error free. Look out for some common problems that present you as one who does not know how to draft a policy paper and weed them out.

  • Have you acknowledged the unintended consequences that the implementation may cause?
  • Make sure your paper is written in anticipation of some questions from the readers by fishing out ambiguous statements, open-ended questions and declarative assertions.
  • Reduce the level of subjective reasoning in the work and ensure that your figures, tables, graphs and charts are properly labeled.
Originally published Jul 01, 2017, updated Dec 29, 2020

Confusing homework?

Get expert help in any course or subject

Get Help