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Policy Brief Paper/Website Assignment

A policy brief presents a concise summary of information that can help readers understand, and likely make decisions about, policies. Policies can be implemented at a variety of levels including, for instance, those of the federal, state, or municipal government; the school, school district, or conference; the organization, the corporation, or the community. Policy briefs may give objective summaries of relevant research, suggest possible policy options, or go even further and argue for particular courses of action.

For this assignment, you will:

(1.) Identify a problem stemming from the issue addressed in one of the class texts

Make sure to explain the following: what is the problem (be very specific)?

How did this problem develop over time/what is its history (briefly)?

Why is the problem problematic?

Specifically, what different groups are affected by the problem?

How are they affected differently?

Who is this problem primarily problematic for?

(2.) Persuade the reader that the problem must be addressed,

(3.) Describe three potential policies that could mitigate the problem

(4.) Argue for the adoption of the policy you believe to be best.

Length: 4-5 pages (double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12-pt., 1” margins)

Required sections:

Title: A good title quickly communicates the contents of the brief in a memorable way.

Executive Summary: This section is one to two paragraphs long; it includes an overview of the problem and the proposed policy action.

Context of Problem: This section communicates the importance of the problem and aims to convince the reader of the necessity of policy action.

Policy Alternatives: This section discusses the current policy approach and explains two or three proposed interventions. It should be fair and accurate in assessing the advantages of each potential solution. 

Policy Recommendations: This section identifies the weaknesses of the unchosen strategies. It also identifies and rebuts the disadvantages of the policy that is recommended. Finally, it provides a detailed explanation of the concrete steps to be taken to address the policy issue.

Consulted or Recommended Sources: These should be reliable sources that you have used throughout your brief to guide your policy discussion and recommendations. You should use at least three scholarly sources other than the readings assigned in class. You should cite the original findings, claims, or interpretations of the author of texts assigned in class. You may also find it useful to cite some of the background research cited in class texts.

Policy Briefs

What are policy briefs?

Imagine that you’re an elected official serving on a committee that sets the standards cars must meet to pass a state inspection. You know that this is a complex issue, and you’d like to learn more about existing policies, the effects of emissions on the environment and on public health, the economic consequences of different possible approaches, and more–you want to make an informed decision. But you don’t have time to research all of these issues! You need a policy brief. A policy brief presents a concise summary of information that can help readers understand, and likely make decisions about, government policies. Policy briefs may give objective summaries of relevant research, suggest possible policy options, or go even further and argue for particular courses of action.

How do policy briefs differ from other kinds of writing assignments?

You may encounter policy brief assignments in many different academic disciplines, from public health and environmental science to education and social work. If you’re reading this handout because you’re having your first encounter with such an assignment, don’t worry–many of your existing skills and strategies, like using evidence, being concise, and organizing your information effectively, will help you succeed at this form of writing. However, policy briefs are distinctive in several ways.

Audience

In some of your college writing, you’ve addressed your peers, your professors, or other members of your academic field. Policy briefs are usually created for a more general reader or policy maker who has a stake in the issue that you’re discussing.

Tone and terminology

Many academic disciplines discourage using unnecessary jargon, but clear language is especially important in policy briefs. If you find yourself using jargon, try to replace it with more direct language that a non-specialist reader would be more likely to understand. When specialized

Terminology is necessary, explain it quickly and clearly to ensure that your reader doesn’t get confused.

Purpose

Policy briefs are distinctive in their focus on communicating the practical implications of research to a specific audience. Your policy brief will synthesize the scientific findings and deploy them for a very specific purpose: to help readers decide what they should do. It will relate the findings to current policy debates, with an emphasis on applying the research outcomes rather than assessing the research procedures. A research paper might also suggest practical actions, but a policy brief is likely to emphasize them more strongly and develop them more fully.

Format

To support these changes in audience, tone, and purpose, policy briefs have a distinctive format. They tend to use lots of headings and have relatively short sections. This structure differs from many short papers in the humanities that may have a title but no further headings, and from reports in the sciences that may follow the “IMRAD” structure of introduction, methods, results, and discussion. Your brief might include graphs, charts, or other visual aids that make it easier to digest the most important information within sections. Policy briefs often include some of these sections: Title: A good title quickly communicates the contents of the brief in a memorable way. Executive Summary: This section is often one to two paragraphs long; it includes an overview of the problem and the proposed policy action. Context or Scope of Problem: This section communicates the importance of the problem and aims to convince the reader of the necessity of policy action. Policy Alternatives: This section discusses the current policy approach and explains proposed options. It should be fair and accurate while convincing the reader why the policy action proposed in the brief is the most desirable. Policy Recommendations: This section contains the most detailed explanation of the concrete steps to be taken to address the policy issue. Consulted or Recommended Sources: These should be reliable sources that you have used throughout your brief to guide your policy discussion and recommendations.

How do I identify a problem for my policy brief?

An effective policy brief must propose a solution to a well-defined problem that can be addressed at the level of policy. This may sound easy, but it can take a lot of work to think of a problem in a way that is open to policy action. For example, “bad spending habits in young adults” might be a problem that you feel strongly about, but you can’t simply implement a policy to “make better financial decisions.” In order to make it the subject of a policy brief, you’ll need to look for research on the topic and narrow it down. Is the problem a lack of financial education, predatory lending practices, dishonest advertising, or something else? Narrowing to one of these (and perhaps further) would allow you to write a brief that can propose concrete policy action. For another example, let’s say that you wanted to address children’s health. This is a big issue, and too broad to serve as the focus of a policy brief, but it could serve as a starting point for research. As you begin to research studies on children’s health, you might decide to zoom in on the more specific issue of childhood obesity. You’ll need to consult the research further to decide what factors contribute to it in order to propose policy changes. Is it lack of exercise, nutritional deficiencies, a combination of these, or something else? Choosing one or another of these issues, your brief would zoom in even further to specific proposals that might include exercise initiatives, nutritional guidelines, or school lunch programs.The key is that you define the problem and its contributing factors as specifically as possible so that some sort of concrete policy action (at the local, state, or national level) is feasible.

Framing the issue

Once you’ve identified the problem for yourself, you need to decide how you will present it to your reader. Your own process of identifying the problem likely had some stops, starts, and dead-ends, but your goal in framing the issue for your reader is to provide the most direct path to understanding the problem and the proposed policy change. It can be helpful to think of some of the most pressing questions your audience will have and attempt to preemptively answer those questions. Here are some questions you might want to consider:

What is the problem?

Understanding what the problem is, in the clearest terms possible, will give your reader a reference point. Later, when you’re discussing complex information, your reader can refer back to the initial problem. This will help to ‘anchor’ them throughout the course of your argument. Every piece of information in the brief should be clearly and easily connected to the problem.

How do I identify a problem for my policy brief?

An effective policy brief must propose a solution to a well-defined problem that can be addressed at the level of policy. This may sound easy, but it can take a lot of work to think of a problem in a way that is open to policy action. For example, “bad spending habits in young adults” might be a problem that you feel strongly about, but you can’t simply implement a policy to “make better financial decisions.” In order to make it the subject of a policy brief, you’ll need to look for research on the topic and narrow it down. Is the problem a lack of financial education, predatory lending practices, dishonest advertising, or something else? Narrowing to one of these (and perhaps further) would allow you to write a brief that can propose concrete policy action. For another example, let’s say that you wanted to address children’s health. This is a big issue, and too broad to serve as the focus of a policy brief, but it could serve as a starting point for research. As you begin to research studies on children’s health, you might decide to zoom in on the more specific issue of childhood obesity. You’ll need to consult the research further to decide what factors contribute to it in order to propose policy changes. Is it lack of exercise, nutritional deficiencies, a combination of these, or something else? Choosing one or another of these issues, your brief would zoom in even further to specific proposals that might include exercise initiatives, nutritional guidelines, or school lunch programs. The key is that you define the problem and its contributing factors as specifically as possible so that some sort of concrete policy action (at the local, state, or national level) is feasible.

Framing the issue

Once you’ve identified the problem for yourself, you need to decide how you will present it to your reader. Your own process of identifying the problem likely had some stops, starts, and dead-ends, but your goal in framing the issue for your reader is to provide the most direct path to understanding the problem and the proposed policy change. It can be helpful to think of some of the most pressing questions your audience will have and attempt to preemptively answer those questions. Here are some questions you might want to consider:

What is the problem?

Understanding what the problem is, in the clearest terms possible, will give your reader a reference point. Later, when you’re discussing complex information, your reader can refer back to the initial problem. This will help to ‘anchor’ them throughout the course of your argument. Every piece of information in the brief should be clearly and easily connected to the problem.

What is the scope of the problem?

Knowing the extent of the problem helps to frame the policy issue for your reader. Is the problem statewide, national, or international? How many people does this issue affect? Daily? Annually? This is a great place for any statistical information you may have gathered through your research.

Who are the stakeholders?

Who does this issue affect? Adult women? College-educated men? Children from bilingual homes? The primary group being affected is important, and knowing who this group is allows the reader to assign a face to the policy issue.

Policy issues can include a complex network of stakeholders. Double check whether you have inadvertently excluded any of them from your analysis. For example, a policy about children’s nutrition obviously involves the children, but it might also include food producers, distributors, parents, and nutritionists (and other experts). Some stakeholders might be reluctant to accept your policy change or even acknowledge the existence of the problem, which is why you’re brief must be convincing in its use of evidence and clear in its communication. Source for this handout: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

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