WRITING POLICY BRIEFS
WHAT IS A POLICY BRIEF, AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
A policy brief is a short stand-alone document, focused on a single topic, presenting and unpacking the
findings and recommendations of a research project for an audience without specialist knowledge, and
those who simply do not have the time to read long research documents. The main audience of a policy
brief are those involved in the decision-making process (i.e decision makers) who may know little or
nothing about the topic but probably need to have a general knowledge and background information in
order to express an opinion or make a decision. In simple terms, a policy brief is a clear message tailored
for a policy audience.
Policy briefs are an essential tool for bridging the research to policy divide. They are usually between two
to four pages in length; between 1000 and 2000 words. Make sure you are clear about your audience,
what they need to know and what action you want them to take based on your policy brief; “writing that
does not consider the audience is unlikely to succeed in its objectives”(Datta & Pellini, 2011).
IS WRITING AN EFFECTIVE POLICY BRIEF REALLY THAT DIFFICULT?
Learning to write effective policy briefs takes time and patience. Research may lose its ‘purity’ and findings
can be easily misrepresented through a poorly-written policy brief. Policy-makers, constrained by time and
overwhelmed by various sources of information, are likely to make a snap decision when choosing
information to inform their decisions. This means that your brief must stand out from the rest, in both its
presentation and the clarity of content. You are trying to sell your research, so be clear, and be heard!
INGREDIENTS OF AN EFFECTIVE POLICY BRIEF
Think about your audience: Know who your readers are, how knowledgeable they are about your
subject, how open they are to your core message, and what their interests and concerns are. Make
sure you tailor your key messages accordingly.
Think about the context: You need to be aware of the political context in which your target audience
operates. Remember that policy makers are not a homogenous group; needs and priorities differ by
sector and ministry, the level of position (national vs. subnational), role in policy-making process (level of power); and
phase of the policy/decision-making process. In order to be
applicable, your policy brief needs to be designed and tailored to
the context in which your audience operates.
Evidence - Develop a persuasive argument: Think about “what
value does this have for the reader?” Develop a persuasive line of
argument stating clearly the purpose of your brief and providing an
overview of your evidence. Articulate your message in a way that
demonstrates the quality of your research, legitimacy of your
findings and transparency of the evidence underpinning your
POLICY BRIEF STRUCTURE
Executive statement: [220 words max]
Introduction: [330 words max]
Methodology: [110-220 words max]
Results and conclusions: [660 words max]
References and other useful resources: [220 words max]
A top tip for your executive statement
‘The objective of this policy brief is to ______ (action verb – like convince, inform) ______ (target
audience(s) – e.g. Ministry of Agriculture) that ______ (what should happen – e.g. they should invest in
road infrastructure). (ODI Rapid)
TIPS FOR WRITING A POLICY BRIEF
1. Be Focused. All aspects of the policy brief (from the message to the layout) need to be clearly
focused on your target audience, (so ask yourself ‘How can my policy brief have the most possible
impact on this audience?’). Your argument must build on what they already know about a problem, and
then provide insight on what they don’t know, and introduce your evidence on how the problem can be
2. Keep the audience in mind while writing. Use a professional as opposed to an academic tone.
3. Ground your argument in strong and reliable evidence.
4. Be Brief. The focus of the brief needs to be limited to a particular problem or area of a problem. Don’t
try to cover all elements of your research in one policy brief.
5. Get to the point. Be succinct and to the point, using short sentences and paragraphs.
6. Think about your language. This not only refers to using clear and simple language (i.e. not the
jargon and concepts of an academic discipline) but also to providing a well-explained and easy-tofollow argument targeting a wide but knowledgeable audience.
7. Make the text accessible. Make it easy for your reader to read all the way through by subdividing the
text using clear descriptive titles as guides (i.e. the above-mentioned structure).
8. Be creative. The policy brief should catch the eye of the potential audience in order to create a
favourable impression (e.g. professional, innovative etc.). Think creatively about how you present the
information, e.g. use of colours, logos, photographs, slogans, illustrative quotes, boxes, etc.
9. Be practical and feasible. The policy brief is an action-oriented tool targeting policy practitioners. As
such, the brief must provide arguments based on what is actually happening in practice with a
particular policy, and propose recommendations which seem realistic to the target audience.
10. Make your policy brief travel. Don’t expect your brief to be read. Put some energy behind it, engage
with information intermediaries (whose job it is to access research information and tailor it for different
audiences), or go directly to policy makers and make them aware of your policy brief. You could also
explore using social media such as Twitter, Social Bookmarking to bring attention to your policy brief.