Government Affairs professionals are often experts not just in how public policy is made, but also in the issues impacting their organization. With this dual expertise, Government Affairs teams find themselves explaining the legislative process to their internal teams and explaining organizational domain knowledge to legislators. Whether communicating internally or externally, a policy brief can be a valuable tool to concisely relay information and influence decision-making. 

Read on to learn how to write a policy brief and download a free customizable policy brief template.

What is a Policy Brief?

Policy briefs are concise, written documents that provide policymakers with a clear understanding of an issue and suggest policy options based on research, analysis, and evidence. A reader should finish your policy brief with a clear understanding of the problem and an informed perspective regarding potential courses of action. 

An effective policy brief will describe a challenge for policymakers to address, critically summarize the research into this particular challenge, outline policy options available, and, often, make a policy recommendation. And it will do it all in under 1,000 words, hence the term brief! 

Planning a Policy Brief

Before starting to write a policy brief, it is important to understand the purpose and intention of what you are creating. Policy briefs are generally reactive, making the intention of the brief quite clear: an upcoming referendum that will require your organization to take a public stance on a controversial issue may create the need for a brief outlining your options. Even when your purpose is clear, it can be helpful to summarize it in a sentence or two at the top of your draft so that it remains top-of-mind while you write your brief. 

With the purpose of your brief established, it is also important to understand the audience that will be reading it. Most policy briefs should be directed to a few decision-makers that are responsible for addressing the issue at hand. 

Understanding these factors will inform the decisions you will make about the brief’s length, level of detail, and format. For example, a brief aimed at summarizing the Governor’s budget for your detail-oriented CFO may be longer and text-only, while a brief outlining the impact of universal free school lunches for a busy education committee chairperson may rely on graphs and figures that quickly get their attention.

Policy briefs are concise, written documents that provide policymakers with a clear understanding of an issue and suggest policy options based on research, analysis, and evidence.

Crafting a Policy Brief

The content of a brief will, of course, vary based on your topic. Regardless of their topic, the most engaging policy briefs make use of persuasive language, graphs or figures summarizing supporting statistics, and section headings that allow your reader to quickly find the information they need. 

A convincing policy brief will include the following components:

  • Title – A compelling title that clearly states the topic to be covered will make your complete brief more memorable to its audience. 
  • Executive Summary – In one or two paragraphs, or in a short bulleted list, clearly communicate the issue at hand, its importance, and your recommendations. 
  • Background Information & Research – Outline the scope and impact of the problem. Where possible, cite credible sources and highlight the importance of the issue as it applies to your audience. If there is specific knowledge required to fully understand the significance or importance of the issue, provide straightforward context and information without using jargon or terminology that the audience may not be familiar with. 
  • Policy Options – With the impact of the problem established, outline any current efforts that seek to address the problem and any additional proposals that have been offered or are being considered. Citing credible sources and providing analysis of the impact of the policy is a great way to provide valuable  additional information for the reader.
  • Policy Recommendation – At this point, it’s time to deliver a broad policy recommendation to your audience. The previous components of your brief should support your recommendation, so your audience will be well-prepared to receive your conclusion. Again, it’s important to cite statistics, analyses, and sources that support your position. 
  • Sources & Further Reading – For readers who want to explore more, a section linking to the helpful sources you found in your research can be incredibly valuable, further establishing you as a thought leader on that issue.

Ready to get started? Download our fully-customizable policy brief template!

Reviewing Your Policy Brief

As with any piece of professional writing, it’s important to review your policy brief to ensure  it meets the purpose you set out to achieve, is appropriate for its intended audience, and that your  writing is clear and concise. Here are a few practices we recommend employing to  ensuring your brief is ready to be shared:

  • Try summarizing your brief in a 20-second “elevator pitch”. If you are unable to quickly explain the main points of the brief, it’s likely that the brief is not focused enough. 
  • Ask a friend or colleague that is not familiar with the topic for feedback. If your brief does a good job of explaining the issue at hand, even a layperson with no context should be able to understand the general messages that you are delivering. 
  • Spend the time to review and clean up your formatting. While it can be tempting to rush through formatting once your brief is written, it’s important to remember that how your brief lookswill make an important first impression. Ensure that your brief is on your organization’s letterhead, all text is presented in consistent and appropriate font, and that any images or charts are positioned correctly.

Using a Policy Brief

A policy brief is a dynamic document that can be used for a number of purposes. Beyond simply emailing your document to your audience (which is still valuable!), here are some other ways that policy briefs can be used in your work:

  • As a handout/outline for a presentation – A policy brief can serve as a useful outline for a presentation. It can also be helpful  to leave for your audience to review after a presentation. 
  • In aligning leaders’ talking points – In conversations with the public or the media, it’s important that your organization’s leaders deliver consistent messaging. A policy brief can serve as the basis for a decision your organization made, making the brief an important starting point for developing talking points.  
  • As a source of truth in your organization – A well-written policy brief will not only aid policymakers in their decisionmaking process, it can also be a reliable document for your colleagues to understand your organization’s position when related issues are considered in the future.