Policy Paper Components
As with research papers, there is not just one way to write a policy paper.The University of Texas has a nice website with a detailed model, “Suggestions for Writing Policy Analysis”.
The basic elements of a policy paper include:
Description of the context and importance of the problem.
It is helpful to careful define the problem and frame it as a specific question to be answered.
Discussion of a range of policy options.
These are the choices for addressing the policy problem.
Criteria for judging policy choices.
This is the step that often is missed in policy analysis. Writers often fail to be explicit and may even assume that everyone shares the same ideas of what the criteria for making a choice should be. This is a mistake. Indeed, it is an important service to the reader (and to the decision-maker) to know the reasons for recommending one policy (or set of policies) over others. There often is major debate about criteria that should be used.
In his book, A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis, Eurgene Bardach helpfully notes that such criteria are best thought of as applied to “the projected outcomes” of a policy choice. He makes the useful distinction between evaluative criteria, such as efficiency and fairness, and practical criteria, such as legality and political acceptability.
The policy recommendation.
Ideally, the policy recommendation should flow from the logical application of your criteria to your policy choices. This is illustrated in the hypothetical example (see table) below.
In this example, the researcher was able to make clear outcomes about how the policy choices met some criteria (Policy Choice A fails to meet the first criteria of legality). However, it there is some uncertainty about others. For instance, it is unclear how Policy Choice B would affect the criteria of inclusiveness, or how to judge the cost effectiveness of Policy Choice C. In the real world, we may need to incorporate such uncertainty into our policy judgments. But it is important for the policy analyst to be clear to readers and decision-makers where that uncertainty exists.
Another thing to note is that not all criteria are equal. It may be useful to rank the importance of criteria. Many of us would likely consider legality a necessary criterion. This would allow us to immediately remove Policy Choice A from our list of choices without any further consideration.
Policy Paper Components