Preparing the Policy Brief

The following structure, which is based largely on Young & Quinn’s (n.d.) outline (see Appendix A), should serve as the guide for preparing your brief.  Your review and analysis should be approximately 8-10 pages in length with at least five peer-reviewed references.



  • Title of the Brief

The title should be descriptive, punchy and relevant.


  • Introduction: Context and Importance of the Problem

The introduction identifies the policy issue and includes a review of the relevant literature describing its importance.  The primary purpose is to convince the target audience that a current and urgent problem exists and action is required.  As such, this section should include


  • a discussion on the history and goals of the policy and who it impacts;
  • a clear statement of the problem, debate, or controversy surrounding the policy;
  • a short overview of the root causes of the problem;
  • a clear statement of the policy implications of the problem which clearly establishes the current importance and policy relevance of the issue.


If available, be sure to provide empirical data, too, to demonstrate the existence of the problem.


Additional Areas to consider in this section:  Where did the problem originate? What has transpired over the past 5+ years?  Who or what is affected by the problem (students, institutions, programs/ departments, governing board, state governance structure, etc.)? Is there an impact specific to institutional control (public or private non-profit or for-profit)? What have been the attempts, if any, to address the problem? Who have been the key players? Are there higher education organizations, lobbying/interest groups, institutions, or government agencies involved? What is the current status of the problem? Why is it important for policy makers to address and respond to the problem?


  • Critique of Policy Option(s)

The aim of this section is to detail shortcomings of the current approach or options being implemented and, therefore, illustrate both the need for change and focus of where change needs to occur. In short, you will need to establish and defend what your position is on the policy based on the evidence, data and literature that you have reviewed.  A critique of policy options or alternatives usually includes the following:


  • an argument illustrating why and how the current or proposed approach is failing;
  • a short overview of the policy option(s) or alternatives;
  • a clear and forthright statement that indicates what your position is on the policy.


As part of your critique of the policy shortcomings and current options, be sure to list and compare the options or alternatives and represent and discuss, in an objective manner, all prevailing opinions, perspectives and viewpoints on each.


Additional areas to consider in this section: What is the rationale or main argument for each alternative? What are the benefits and costs of each option?  Are there qualitative and/or quantitative data that support the analysis of benefits and costs?  Are there political considerations and, if so, what are the potential effects or implications?


  • Policy Recommendations

The aim of the policy recommendations section is to provide the audience with a detailed and convincing proposal of how the failings of the current policy approach need to be changed. As such this is achieved by including


  • a breakdown of the specific practical steps or measures that need to be implemented;
  • an analysis of the ethical considerations associated with the new policy that you are


  • a review of anticipated arguments against your policy position and a description of how

you will respond to or explain each;

  • a closing paragraph that summarizes and synthesizes the main points of the brief and re-emphasizes the importance of action.


Additional areas to consider in this section: Are the recommendations relevant to and based on the criteria utilized in choosing the best possible option for addressing the policy issue?  Is there a sound justification for each recommendation? How will the recommendations be implemented and evaluated?


  • Appendices

While policy briefs are typically succinct and narrowly focused, authors do have the freedom to include an appendix if they believe it will provide further support for their argument. Thus, the decision to do so will be at your discretion…but please note that appendices should be included only when absolutely necessary.


  • References

List all references utilized in APA format.



Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2011).  Food security communications toolkit. See “Preparing Policy Briefs” (pp.141-169).  Retrieved at


Hendrickson, R., Lane, J., Harris, J., and Dorman, R. (2013). Academic leadership and governance of higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.


Young, E. & Quinn, L. (n.d). The policy brief. Document used in conjunction with Local Government Initiative training materials. Retrieved at

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