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Resources for Writing Policy

In this module, you have the option of writing a policy briefing on a topic related to the module themes. So what should a policy briefing look like? What are policy briefings intended to do? We will be reading and discussing a policy briefing IN CLASS, as an example. On this page, I will offer you some guidance on how to research and write a policy briefing, and give you links to existing policy briefings and reports so you can see how they work in practice.

Tips for writing policy briefs:

1. Think about your audience. Are you writing for legislators? For a corporation or institution (e.g. a university, a museum, or a thinktank)? For international agencies? And think about who YOU are in relation to them. Are you writing as a neutral expert? As an informed activist? As someone expert-by-experience or directly affected by the policy in question? Each of these stances is valid, but the kinds of evidence and argument you use will be slightly different for each. For our module, please address your briefing to legislators and/ government.

2. Be sure that you establish a clear context, and draw on historical evidence, as well as other kinds of evidence, to support your argument.

3. Be sure that your language is clear, direct and to the point. Whoever you are writing for needs to understand your argument and be convinced by the evidence you use to support it -- usually, in a hurry! Since you are writing for parliamentarians, ministers and/or civil servants, you need to assume general rather than specialist knowledge of the issue and technologies in question.

4. Make sure that the evidence you supply is clear, sufficient to inform a decision, and reliable. Sources should be authoritative and persuasive, even under critical inspection. That does not necessarily mean they are neutral, or produced only by experts or professionals: policymakers and politicians have frequently noted the importance of human stories and good storytelling for exposing new perspectives and prompting empathy between lawmakers and those who are affected by a given law, technology, or situation.

5. You are writing a 'briefing'. That really does mean it should be brief: while you may use up to 3000 words (not counting footnotes or bibliography), shorter briefings can be even more influential, because more people read them. For the purposes of this class, however, keep in mind that your briefing should be no shorter than 1500-2000 words, as it must include evidence to the level required.

6. Your briefing has to make it easy for busy people to find key points and key facts or questions quickly. You should consider using some or all of the following in order to make your policy advice stand out and get used:

a. An executive summary: in two or three clear sentences, tell the reader what the policy problem is; what research you will present; and what your conclusions are for policy right at the beginning.

b. Information boxes: help the reader spot key facts, statistics, stakeholders, or other crucial information by setting it out in a separate, very visible space, perhaps as bullet points, but definitely as clearly and concisely as possible.

c. Infographics, tables, and charts: this is another way to catch the reader's eye and make sure they see data that you think is especially important or conclusive.

d. images: if your topic lends itself to striking or emotive images, or if they will help you to make a complicated point, you can use them -- but do it sparingly or they will lose their impact.

Read more about how to write a policy briefing in this guidance offered by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Model Policy Briefings:

All of these briefings address the same issue, the use of medical technologies to assess the age of asylum seekers. Compare to our readings and discussions in week 4.

  • From a neutral state entity (the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology) to Parliamentarians:

POST note on Biological Methods of Asylum Age Assessment (you can read the summary and download the full pdf from this page).

  • From NGOs to the government and legislators:

Memo on Technological Age-Assessment from the Refugee and Migrant Child's Consortium.

Asylum Abuse by Adults Claiming to be Children from Migration Watch UK

  • From a professional organisation to parliamentarians, government and/or practitioners:

Evidence to Parliament from the British Dental Association

British Medical Association Briefing on the Borders and Nationality Bill

Refugee and unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people - guidance for paediatricians (Focus here on the section related to 'Age Assessment', but look at how this is situated in context -- and also note who the intended audience of this policy briefing is!)

  • From historians drawing on history to inform current policy decisions and debates (Note that these examples are NOT specifically addressing biomedical age assessments, but are addressing module themes):

How technology has been used to deny benefits to the disabled

Surveillance, privacy and history

Identity Cards in Britain


I will assess policy briefings according to these criteria:

  • Is the subject of the briefing closely related to the themes and topics of our module? (Check with me if you have doubts.)
  • Does it draw on or reflect the value of historical perspectives on policy problems? (see also the History and Policy website for examples.)
  • Does the briefing clearly identify the organisation/stakeholder which created the briefing and why? (That is are you writing as an individual with special knowledge or expertise of some kind? A spokesperson for a community, NGO, or profession? Which one?)
  • Does the briefing clearly identify its intended audience (e.g. UK legislators or government?Another government?) and speak directly to the occasion that has prompted its creation? (That is, are you addressing e.g. a real or imagined piece of legislation; a crisis or emergency; a new social formation or situation? etc.)
  • Is the language of the document appropriate to the audience?
  • Does the briefing make a clear argument?
  • Is the evidence mobilised to support that argument sufficient in volume and high in quality?
  • Is the briefing persuasive (not to me, per se -- I am not going to assess the position you have taken! -- but to your audience)?