Policy Brief Assignment

Policy Brief Assignment

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Students are to write a 4 – 6 page policy brief that identifies a single policy problem that impacts Black communities in America. Policy briefs are not like other academic papers. They are visual documents that are designed to be eye catching. Ideally, you should have done enough research on a particular problem in previous assignments. The focus, here, is exploring new ways to present the information that you have gathered. Ultimately, the brief should focus on a policy recommendation, not on some type of thesis statement. Similar to your policy memo, they should be organized as follows:


  1. Identify the policy problem
  2. Provide a brief history of issue
  3. Overview of existing policy(ies) or policy discussions
  4. Pros and cons of existing policy(ies) or policy discussions
  5. Proposed new policy
  6. Arguments about why this policy should be adopted and what weaknesses in existing policy it addresses.


Writing criteria for policy briefs: Good policy memos should present strong ideas clearly and logically. If you always assume that your reader only has time to skim your memo, you will not go too far astray. There are seven criteria to consider: (1) content, (2) presentation, (3) overall clarity and brevity, (4) grammar, and (5) tone.


Content (40 Points): Content, of course, is the most important determinant of a good policy memo. Th most important factor of this assignment is making sure you answer all of the questions above? In other words, do you do what I ask you to do.

Besides that, how do you go about answering the questions above. Weak or illogical ideas, no matter how well presented, do no one any good. Here are some things to keep in mind. First, present opinions AS opinions not facts. Opinions presented should also be substantiated. Second, avoid logical fallacies such as appeals to authority, slippery slope arguments, hasty generalizations, faulty causation (post hoc ergo proptor hoc), etc. Third, when citing facts, be correct. Fourth, use logic and facts to support each of your main points and/or to refute opposing points. Fifth, important ideas are better than trivial ideas. Sixth, present your ideas in some sort of useful order. Start with the most important ideas unless there is a compelling reason not to. Seventh, draw on course content. Make as many relevant points that support your thesis as you can, given the constraints of the assignment.


Presentation (20 Points):  Does your brief have visual appeal? Is it evident that you were thoughtful in laying out your materials? Is your document easily consumable?


Overall Clarity and Conciseness (20 Points): Clarity should be the goal of all writing. It is the second most important criterion of a good policy brief, next to content. Your ideas should be presented so that readers can understand your points easily and without having to read any sentence twice. If you use effective headings and structure, your clarity will increase immensely. But you also have to have good grammar, style, content, and presentation. Conciseness is also important. Use as many words as you must, but write your brief in the fewest words possible. Focus on the most important points, and be aware of your reader’s time constraints. But do NOT cut out vital information just for the sake of brevity. Again, keep in mind what the reader needs to know.


Grammar and Punctuation (10 Points): Proofread more than once. Poor grammar and punctuation do more than obscure ideas. They blind the reader (and the grader).


Tone (10 Points):  The tone of the brief refers to your voice. Writing can have various tones (anger, humor), but be careful here.  You want to be persuasive, not combative.



Policy briefs do not need to be footnoted or have a bibliography, but if you use supporting information in a brief, reference the source in the text. For example, you might refer to some research to support an assertion and introduce it this way: “a 2000 study by the Pew Center showed that . . .”




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