Writing a Powerful Policy Brief: 10 Tips
If you want to influence policy, you need to catch the attention of policy makers. They usually do not have the time, attention span, or expertise to comb through your research or other complex information, however important and insightful it is.
A short, well-written policy brief does not guarantee that your take on an issue will prevail, far from it. A succinct and powerful synthesis is only part of a larger strategy, but it is essential.
Here's how to write a good policy brief.
1. Think about your target audience--What do they already know? How receptive are they to your point of view? What can they do about the issue?
2. Decide on 3 to 5 main messages--Based on your audience analysis, develop your purpose for the piece, something that you can state clearly.
3. Present the problem, the context, and your proposed solution--All this in active, readable text, about 1,000 words in total.
4. Combine human interest and data--You need an emotional hook, but bolstered by evidence.
5. Clearly state the call to action--What should your readers do after they read your brief? Make sure it is something they are capable of doing.
6. Lead big--The title is appealing, but not cryptic. Lead with your main points to take advantage of the 30 or so seconds you have to grab the reader.
7. Include graphics that will strengthen the message and not confuse--Relevant (high-quality, of course) photos, clear graphs, lots of white space, please!
8. Have the back-up if needed--You may be asked for further data or sources. You'd better have them, or the credibility of the endeavor may be called into question.
9. Make it easy to contact you--Don't hide the name of your organization, website, phone, email, physical address.
10. Vet, but don't "over-vet" the draft--Of course, you don't want it go out the door before it's ready, but too much review can water down the message.
And a bonus #11: the hardest decision is not what to include but what not to include.
Check out the Resources below for some good, basic training for yourself or others in your office.
In addition to my own experience, I drew from two excellent overviews designed to train researchers and other subject matter experts.
April 2013 marked the 5th anniversary of this newsletter.
Check out the archive of the issues I've sent out since then.
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