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Writing policy briefs: some tips

Writing policy briefs: some tips

Policy briefs are an essential part of many university degrees and they are also used in e.g. government and business settings. Therefore, writing policy briefs may be a core skill useful for both your studies and future career. This post will highlight some general tips on how to write policy briefs. 

Before you begin: 

  • Read through all the guidance that was provided by your lecturers or course organisers for this assignment. Were you only given a question or is there a more detailed description of what you have to do? Is there a list of recommended reading? 
  • Read the marking criteria and make sure you understand everything – that way you’ll know what the markers are looking for and what to pay more attention to. 
  • Think about the purpose and intended audience of the brief. Usually, the purpose of a policy brief is to present information in an accessible way to policymakers or other executives who are not specialists on that topic [1]. This is a common characteristic of all briefs, but each one will also have a more specific purpose and audience – this may be either explicitly stated in the question, or you may have to infer it from the context.  

While writing: 

  • Be focused on the topic. Always keep the question in mind when writing and, as this is an assignment, make sure that your work answers it, as this is what the markers will be looking for. 
  • Pay attention to language. It will typically be less technical and academic, and will rather have to be accessible and understandable to people who are not specialists on this topic. In most cases, you should avoid complex academic jargon and explain all complicated terms. Keep in mind that whether the language you choose is appropriate or not is strongly connected to the purpose and audience of your policy brief, so think about these when you’re writing. 
  • Include a title. It should be short and informative, so that the reader knows what the brief is about. 
  • Include clear recommendations. Specific guidance on this will differ between disciplines, but almost all briefs will need to include some sort of recommendations. Make sure that the recommendations flow logically from your previous argumentation and that they are supported by evidence [2]. 
  • Include visuals, where relevant. Is there any data that you could present in the form of a graph, table or infographic? These can display complex data clearly and make it more comprehensible for a non-specialist audience 

After you finish your first draft: 

  • Look at the structure and layout. Is the brief divided into clear sections, separated by headings and subheadings? This is a very simple way of making the paper look neat and simple to follow. Is the brief made up of long paragraphs and large chunks of text, or are the paragraphs short, and did you use lists or bullet points [3]?  
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your reader. Keeping the intended audience and purpose in mind, does your brief answer the set question? If you were new to the topic, would everything be clear? 
  • Double check all formal requirements. As this is an assignment, your brief will probably require a bibliography, as well as references throughout the text. Double check the required style, as this may differ from essays you have written before.  


Reference list  

[1] IDRC. How to write a policy brief. Available at: (Last accessed: 23.06.2022).  

[2] Musandu, N. (2013) How to write actionable policy recommendations. Available at: (Last accessed: 23.06.2022). 

[3] McEwan, S. (2019) How to write effective policy briefings. Available at: (Last accessed: 23.06.2022).  





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