Policy Paper Guidelines
June 9, 2022
What is its Purpose?
To convince a policy maker’s staff to advocate changing course on a specific policy issue.
- Shape perceptions around issue
- Bring the issue to policymakers’ attention
- Frame the issue for them—their perception of the problem and the solutions
- Provide text for their memos
- Busy staffers prefer not to have to rework complex writing
- You want them to lift your words directly as much as possible
What is a Policy Paper?
For students who choose to write a policy paper, it is important to select an issue that meets the following criteria.
The issue addressed should be a legitimate contemporary policy issue within which the current policy is clearly discernible.
There should be clear alternatives to the current policy.
There must be sufficient data present to provide the target audience (i.e. the decision-maker) with information to make a decision on the policy proposal.
Clear and concise statements – No extra points for lengthy prose or sophisticated vocabulary
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF –begin paragraphs with conclusions) – This is the key difference between academic and policy writing.
Only essential information:
- Don’t get bogged down in too many details
- Distill to essential elements
- Cover all the bases – Make it as thorough sounding as possible so legislators feel they don’t have to go to other sources.
Give specific policy recommendations
- Show how it will impact them – How will it impact their constituents? – How can you tie it to national security?
- Don’t argue for an ideology – Argue for a specific course of action act-based argumentation – Don’t come across as an ideologue
- Acknowledge potential downsides and ways to mitigate risks — Lends credibility to your research
Examples of Policy Issues
The following are some examples of general policy issues that can be explored in a policy paper. Students are in no way limited to or restricted by the following examples. For Econ 3820A you must do one of the following topics:
- Health Care
- International Competitiveness
- Carbon Tax
- Global Debt
These examples are offered simply to help students in thinking about ideas for their papers.
- Two-Tier Fee System Health Care, Single Payment covering all health expenditures, User Fees, Alternative Payment/Compensation. Preventive Health Care, Two- Tier Insurance Coverage
- Tax Reform – capping deductions, Limit the growth of government, Balance budget Amendment; Consumption based taxes replace income taxes
- Capping of Equalization Payments. Exclusion of Natural Resources in the Formal, Average Standard of the Five Provinces Automatically Adjusted 3-5 years, Cap the growth of the of Equalization – link it to growth in RGDP, Introduce more regional development Incentives.
- Institutionalize Financial Risks; Restrict Government Bailouts, Tighten Financial Regulations, Bank of International (BASEL III) Settlements recommendation, Government owned Banks -Interest free loans.
- Implement more indirect taxes –Carbon taxes replace sector specific taxes, Greater use of market forces/instruments to reduce GHG.
What is Not a Policy Paper?
An historical analysis is never an appropriate topic for a policy paper. A policy paper must focus on a current policy issue.
Comparative or case studies normally fit better as research papers than policy papers.
An analysis of how something works should be a research paper.
Format for the Policy Paper
- The length of the policy paper should between 4 to 8 pages.
- Margins should be set at one inch or one and a quarter inch.
- The font size should be set at 11 or 12.
- The paper should be single-spaced.
- Pages may be printed either single or double sided.
At the beginning of the paper in telegraphic style, explain who the target audience is (i.e., the decision-maker for your policy proposal) and the main points that the decision-maker should know. It may be best to write this section last because it will serve as a summary of the entire paper.
At a minimum, the summary should include the following:
- A statement of current policy
- Reasons for initiation changes
- Policy options to be considered
- Pros and cons of each option
- Recommended course of action
- Reasoning for selecting that course of action
Body of Paper
The main portion of the paper should be dedicated to establishing the background and discussing the reasoning behind your policy recommendation. Students should include all of the basics from the executive summary, but fully elaborate on each point that the paper is making. The following is an outline describing what the main body of the paper should include.
Overview / Background
What is the statement of purpose? Why is the decision-maker being asked to consider a policy change at this time?
Review the Current Policy – What are we currently doing, why are we doing it this way, what is the public’s perception of the policy? Assess how well it is or is not working.
Statement on the Necessity for Change – What circumstances (e.g., changes in government, leadership, stability, etc.) have changed that make a new approach advisable or necessary?
Discuss the alternatives to the current policy option by enumerating and explaining each policy option in turn.
Pros and cons of each policy option should be discussed next. Identify the political, economic, and security implications for each option.
Each policy option should be compared and contrasted to the other options as well as to the current policy. This is the most important part of the paper.
Clearly identify which option will be recommended and which options will be discounted.
Clearly lay out the argument for why that option is better than each of the others.
Write a detailed recommendation for specific steps on how and when to implement the recommended policy option.
The following items should be included as appendices to a policy paper.
- Annexes, if there are any.
- Endnotes, if end notes are used rather than footnotes.
- Tables, charts, etc. can also be placed within the body of the paper, if appropriate.
- Paper proposal parts 1-3
Policy Paper Content and Analysis
Policy papers must present several policy alternatives, and they must be serious alternatives. As a general rule, the number should be three. One serious alternative will often be to maintain the status quo.
Even if the status quo seems somewhat lacking (inadequate), students should take it seriously because in the real world it will often be the most likely outcome. The alternatives presented must not be strawmen that are so ridiculous they only serve to make the recommended policy look good.
Of course, it is fine to go deeper into the preferred alternative than into the other options, but the other options must be given a fair presentation and analysis.
Policy papers should be based on clear cost-benefit analysis. This analysis may be either quantitative or qualitative. In either case, the student should be certain to think through all possible outcomes clearly and thoroughly.
The cost-benefit analysis should seriously consider the feasibility of implementation, not only in terms of economic or strategic implications, but also in terms of political feasibility. Moreover, the analysis of likely effects must not be completely one-sided.
There are always going to be some benefits and some costs to any policy proposal – there is no proposal so good that it does not have some costs associated with it.
Students should present clear criteria for evaluating the problem at hand and the policy alternatives to be considered. This will involve prioritizing among a variety of possible values.
Trade-offs are the heart of the policy process – if solutions were easy or obvious, the problem would not be around for the student to analyze. Determining clear criteria from the start will greatly aid the development of a cost-benefit analysis.
What are the likely results of the various alternatives? Be specific and reasonably detailed. What level of certainty can one have about them? And what middle-run indicators would demonstrate success?
In summary: Structure of a Policy Paper
Executive Summary/Purpose Statement
- Most Ministerial Staff and Senior Level government staff will only read this part
- What is the current policy?
- Why is it being conducted this way? ◦
- Why is the policy not working? Why is it necessary to find an alternative? ◦
- Discuss a few alternatives and their implications ◦
- Provide your recommendation and how it can be implemented
- Summarize analysis and recommendation
- Relevant figures, maps, graphics