Writing a Policy Brief

POST often gets asked for advice or tips on how to write a policy brief. A helpful start on the world of politics is 20 things scientists need to know about policy-making written by POST’s director Chris Tyler. Here are some general pointers:

Audience

As with all communications it’s important to know your audience:

  • Parliamentarians and policymakers are busy people. Be clear and concise.
  • Explain why the topic is relevant to them – why should they care?
  • Remember that research is just one type of information that gets considered when making policy decisions. Focus on the impacts to people as well as the science. Who is affected? What regions are affected? What are the cost implications?
  • MPs are elected to represent a particular constituency – can you connect the topic to local or regional areas that they are likely to be interested in?

Structure

  • Have a clear structure and make it easy to scan by using heading and sub-headings to break up large blocks of text
  • Start with an overview that outlines the key points of the briefing
  • Use figures, charts or diagrams where suitable to help your brief be more eye-catching and appealing.

Content

  • Make sure that the brief is clear, right from the start, about how the issue you are writing about relates to policy.
  • Think about what your brief is trying to achieve and shape the content accordingly. Are you trying to change practice? What are the actionable messages/recommendations?
  • What are the timescales and why now?
  • Present the evidence for your argument and be explicit about methodological limitations and/or the strength of the evidence you are presenting
  • Include handy facts and figures they can make use of.
  • Avoid emotive language and let the science speak for itself
  • Don’t assume prior knowledge. Minimise jargon and acronyms
  • Highlight consensus and ongoing debate. Be clear about how you are building on existing knowledge.
  • Be clear about where there is uncertainty and what the nature of that uncertainty is. Is there no research in that area or is the system intrinsically uncertain?
  • Be upfront about the sources of uncertainty. Pro tip Check out How to tell policymakers about scientific uncertainty from POST’s Chandrika Nath.
  • Include your sources of information so that readers can see where the information is coming from, and to offer them further opportunities to explore the evidence. Use open access sources as much as possible.

And finally provide your contact details and make sure your brief is dated and you provide contacts for people might want to get in touch.

For more in-depth guidance read How do I brief policymakers on science-related issues? by POST’s Chandrika Nath.