How to write a policy paper


Writing a policy paper requires you to research any issues of public concern in depth. It can be a problem that has not yet received the attention of policymakers or it can be an issue that is an ongoing political debate. A policy paper determines the problem at hand, describes its background, and offers a harmonious evaluation of options that policymakers could follow to resolve the issue. The paper should offer a recommended course of action for policymakers.

Comparing policy papers with other kinds of papers

One way to understand what policy paper is, is to compare it with other kinds of research papers:

  • Discussion papers. They allocate research quickly to form suggestions and comments for improvement or revision. These suggestions may have been already presented at conferences but they have not yet been published.
  • Background papers. They outline current policies and alternative solutions to a certain social problem or issue.

The difference between policy papers and discussion and background papers is that policy papers usually begin with both discussion and background ones using them as resources, but they are more comprehensive in objective and scope.

Policy papers provide important analysis of a significant social problem that includes the research and develop a defensive plan. This plan is supposed to offer the solution to the problem and generate potential strategies for implementing the plan. Note these three main things during the preparation of a policy paper that will assist you to create a professional project:

  • Try to identify main policy issues
  • Use the most up-to-date and best research to help understand these issues
  • Explore the implications of the research for the design and conduct of policy

Requirements of the assignment

The requirements of the assignment include:

  • Determine the issue of a public concern
  • Gather information
  • Consolidate this information
  • Use it to the problem
  • Create a set of possible solutions to the issue
  • Offer a recommendation to the decision-makers based on everything mentioned above

Collecting information

The first thing you need to do is to choose a general area of interest. Maybe you can conduct research for a company interested in the presence of the internet and they want you to develop an internet policy for them. In this case first you will need to look at various similar businesses and see what experience they have with the internet. Maybe your professor would want you to prepare a paper that will need to persuade the school board that students should have access to the internet. At this point you are getting familiar with what has already been done. Make sure to keep track of where your information comes from as you’ll need to go back to the sites later to include them in your bibliography. Keep in mind that collecting information helps you familiarize yourself with what has already been done. In order to offer your individual findings, you will need to conduct additional research.

Setting the goals

Once you collect background information, start asking questions. Think about what your goals are. The closer you identify the issue, the better your paper will be. If you’re writing a paper for the company, think about the goals of the company. Customer support? Increased sales? Or something else?

If you’re preparing a paper for your college assignment then you need to ask yourself different questions. They may be the following:

  • What information are you looking for?
  • Who will assess the authenticity of this information?
  • What questions does the school board may have and how you are going to answer them?

Introducing the problem

In the beginning of your paper, you need to introduce the issue you want to research and analyze. Whether you are writing about improving achievement in education, universal healthcare, or anything else of a public concern, you should indicate a certain problem and explain why it is important. Provide a set of criteria for resolving the issue. For instance, if you’re writing the paper about universal healthcare, the raise in the number of those covered by insurance is the criterion that helps resolve the problem of uninsured people. If you’re writing about improving achievement in education, hire graduation rates from high schools and enhanced scores on standardized academic tests can be the criterion to sole this issue.

Being creative

When writing a policy paper, try to stay creative about your presentation. Keep in mind the three following things to make your point:

  • Your audience. Since it is a policy paper, it will be probably directed at policymakers, so try and explain the issue you are presenting as well as the solutions you are offering as clearly as possible.
  • The level of manipulation. Your discussion should raise the desire of policymakers to set goals and collect a lot of scientific information, as well as make an emotional appeal.
  • Being advocative. Modern discussions of science advice to policymakers outline unresolved debates. Think about whether you should simply present possible solutions or advocate one solution strongly.

Using the historical context

Place the issue you are analyzing into historical context by explaining how the problem appeared and highlighting previous effect of analysis, if there are any, to address the issue. You can apply a range of sources to present the issue and prior policy responses in detail. For example, you can use the following:

  • Articles from school magazines
  • Books
  • Previous policy analysis
  • Legislative materials
  • Government reports
  • News articles

Sum up the results of previous policy efforts and determine the main stakeholders – those individuals and groups who are likely to be affected or affect new government policies taken in response to the problem.

Identifying policy options

You need to indicate a set of policy options that government may follow to resolve the problem. Make sure that the options include substandard policy measures aimed at the problem you’re analyzing. You are writing a policy analysis highlighting broader economic, social, or political changes. The research on the problem in previous policy actions will assist you to indicate policy proposals and craft approaches to address the certain problem.

Comparing the alternatives

Contrast the policy alternatives highlighted in the prior step using the specified criteria. This will be the main section of your policy paper. Discuss how every alternative would meet the criteria for the problem or solution indicated in your entry. Contrast policy alternatives with quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis depending on the problem you’re discussing and the data you have. Quantitative methods a very effective in weighing anticipated benefits and costs of a policy solution. Also, think about political factors and explain how the stakeholders would be affected by different policy alternatives.

Recommending a policy action

You need to recommend a policy action based on the analysis of the alternatives. Provide reasons backed up by evidence and facts, and explain why the policy solutions you have selected would be the best in addressing the issue in question.

Designing policy options

Reread the information you already have. You will probably notice some patterns and what you have found. Of course, you will also see that you need more information to include in your research. But this time you know what you need to look for. Make sure the sources you’re using are appropriate and reliable. If you want to know how to write a policy paper effectively, you need to consult real policies as well as the scholarly sources you’re basing your analysis on.

The hardest part of your research is to create several policy solutions. You are playing the role of the analyst so you need to offer a range of possible options that the policymakers can consider. Think about what options you can offer and what pros and cons they have. Note that even though the policymakers may not have a lot of knowledge about the specifics of your issue, they may not want to read a lot of description. That is why you need to provide some description and a lot of analysis that concentrates on the following:

  • Comparing and contrasting
  • Pros and cons
  • Similarities and differences

The components of a policy paper

The basic components of a policy paper include:

  • Description of the context and significance of the issue. It is useful to identify the issue and frame it as a specific question you need to provide an answer to.
  • Discussion of various policy options. These are the solutions for addressing the problem.
  • Criteria for judging policy choices. This section is often missed. Many students believe that everybody shares the same ideas of what the criteria for making a certain choice should be. However, this is not so. It is critical for the reader to know the reasons you a recommend one policy over others.
  • Policy recommendation. Policy recommendations should come from the logical use of your criteria to the policy choices. Keep in mind that criteria are not equal and therefore it may be helpful to rank its importance. This will allow the readers to eliminate one policy choice from the list of others without further consideration.

Sections of the policy paper

The first section of the paper states the background and explains the need for a policy proposal. The last sections discuss your plans for solving the issue and how practical your plan is.

  • Entry. It contains a thesis that can be made in the form of a predicted findings of a proposal. Here, you also need to indicate the issue.
  • Schools of thought. Here, you need to map out the logic of cause and effect related to the selected problem. You will need to conduct research to find out how academics differ approaching your problem.
  • History of the issue. This part will probably be a legislative history. Here, you need to provide a brief history of your problem.
  • Players, stakeholders, and a process. Indicate the stakeholders – those who have something to win and loose from your proposal. Also, mention other players who play an important role in implementing a reform or legalizing it. Describe the process through which the solution will be decided.
  • Data and analysis. It is better to present the data in appendix.
  • Closing section. Your deductions should follow from your analysis. Revise your thesis, remember the evidence you have provided, and sum up your logical argument.
  • Findings. Logically combine together all the findings to generate an effective deduction.
  • Recommendations. You may offer further recommendations on the issue based on findings, logical deductions, and credible casual relationships.
  • Your view. State what is on your mind. If your paper suggests that the reform won’t be successful, you can make an argument why it should pass.

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