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Briefing / policy papers

What can briefing / policy papers assess?

Whilst these are designed for different purposes they have enough commonality to treat as one is this short resource as they all enable students to engage with contemporary, real-world issues. They require students to:

  • select and use empirical evidence
  • apply conceptual and theoretical knowledge
  • carry out research
  • identify options
  • evaluate choices
  • report succinctly
  • writing for a specific audience.

Students can work on these both individually and in groups so encompassing both cognitive, skill and employability learning outcomes. The report can be written or given as an oral presentation.


Herman (2013) suggests that a well-written policy paper should:

  • define the problem or issue
  • analyse - not merely present - the data
  • summarise findings or state recommendations.
  • if recommendations are given, develop a theory of change, and analyse the options and trade-offs and assess feasibility
  • address - and when appropriate rebut - counterarguments, caveats, alternative interpretations, and reservations to findings or recommendations
  • suggest next steps and the implications of the findings or recommendations
  • distil the conclusions succinctly in a concluding section and remind the decision-maker of the big picture, the overall goal, the necessity of the investigation, or of the urgency for action.

Typically, briefing papers are expected to be short and the audience is less likely to be a subject specialists. Both types of papers could have audiences who are non-academics: policymakers, analysts, practitioners and others who formulate, influence or implement policy. It is important, as part of the assessment brief to identity the expected audience and length of the paper, in addition to discussion of the assessment criteria that should be clear about the focus of the measurement: process, product or both. Given that the product should be sufficiently detailed to allow the recipient to decide an action, peer assessment could be used to give feedback on this.

Diversity & inclusion

The range of possible topics [home and international] and appropriate choice of time frames for completion of the task [particular needs] will help make the task more inclusive.

Academic integrity

The contemporary nature of these assignments should help to reduce year-to-year plagiarism. Requiring evidence over time - perhaps using the Herman list to structure stages - would further reduce opportunity for academic misconduct. (Click here for further guidance on plagiarism.)

Student and staff experience

The contemporary and authentic nature of this task will, doubtless, interest students leading to positive engagement.


Ensuring that students are clear about the expectations - we have called this section essay variants and students need to be clear that this is not just an essay and understand fully the required format and expectations.


We might need to check that students do not spend too long on this sort of task to the detriment of other work.

Multiple titles can add to the setting, specifying and marking load for staff. If it is possible to get external ‘experts’ to assist in the grading will reduce this and add to the interest for the students.