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Policy Analysis Research Paper Guidelines

The contents of a policy memo can be organized in a variety of ways. Below is a general template adapted from the “Policy Memo Requirements and Guidelines, 2012-2013 edition” published by the Institute for Public Policy Studies at the University of Denver and from suggestions made in the book, A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem-Solving [Eugene Bardach. 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2012] . Both provide useful approaches to writing a policy memo should your professor not provide you with specific guidance. The tone of your writing should be formal but assertive. Note that the most important consideration in terms of writing style is professionalism, not creativity.

I.  Cover Page

Provide a complete and informative cover page that includes the document title, date, the full names and titles of the writer or writers [i.e., Joe Smith, Student, Department of Political Science, University of Southern California]. The title of the policy memo should be formally written and specific to the policy issue [e.g., “Charter Schools, Fair Housing, and Legal Standards: A Call for Equal Treatment”]. For longer memos, consider including a brief executive summary that highlights key findings and recommendations.

II.  Introduction and Problem Definition

A policy memorandum should begin with a short summary introduction that defines the policy problem, provides important contextual background information, and explains what issues the memo covers. This is followed by a short justification for writing the memo, why a decision needs to be made [answering the “So What?” question], and an outline of the recommendations you make or key themes the reader should keep in mind. Summarize your main points in a few sentences, then conclude with a description of how the remainder of the memo is organized.

III. Methods

This is usually where other research about the problem or issue of concern is summarized. Describe how you plan to identify and locate the information on which your policy memo is based. This may include peer-reviewed journals and books as well as possible professionals you interviewed, databases and websites you explored, or legislative histories or relevant case law that you used. Remember this is not intended to be a thorough literature review; only choose sources that persuasively support your position or that helps lay a foundation for understanding why actions need to be taken.

IV.  Issue Analysis

This section is where you explain in detail how you examined the issue and, by so doing, persuade the reader of the appropriateness of your analysis. This is followed by a description of how your analysis contributes to the current policy debate. It is important to demonstrate that the policy issue may be more complex than a basic pro versus con debate. Very few public policy debates can be reduced to this type of rhetorical dichotomy. Be sure your analysis is thorough and takes into account all factors that may influence possible strategies that could advance a recommended set of solutions.

V.  Proposed Solutions

Write a brief review of the specific solutions you evaluated, noting the criteria by which you examined and compared different proposed policy alternatives. Identify the stakeholders impacted by the proposed solutions and describe in what ways the stakeholders benefit from your proposed solution. Focus on identifying solutions that have not been proposed or tested elsewhere. Offer a contrarian viewpoint that challenges the reader to take into account a new perspective on the research problem. Note that you can propose solutions that may be considered radical or unorthodox, but they must be realistic and politically feasible.

VI. Strategic Recommendations

Solutions are just opinions until you provide a path that delineates how to get from where you are to where you want to go. Describe what you believe are the best recommended courses of action ["action items"]. In writing this section, state the broad approach to be taken, with specific practical steps or measures that should be implemented. Be sure to also state by whom and within what time frame these actions should be taken. Conclude by highlighting the consequences of maintaining the status quo [or if supporting the status quo, why change at this time would be detrimental]. Also, clearly explain why your strategic recommendations are best suited for addressing the current policy situation.

VI. Limitations

As in any academic paper, you must describe limitations to your analysis. In particular, ask yourself if each of your recommendations are realistic, feasible, and sustainable, and in particular, that they can be implemented within the current bureaucratic, economic, political, cultural, or other type of contextual climate in which they reside. If not, you should go back and clarify your recommendations or provide further evidence as to why the recommendation is most appropriate for addressing the issue. If the limitation cannot be overcome, it does not necessarily undermine the overall recommendations of your study, but you must clearly acknowledge it. Place the limitation within the context of a critical issue that needs further study in concurrence with possible implementation [i.e., findings indicate service learning promotes civic engagement, but.there is a lack of data on the types of service learning programs that exist among high schools in Los Angeles].

VII. Cost-Benefit Analysis

This section may be optional but some policy memos benefit by having an explicit summary analysis of the costs and benefits of each strategic recommendation. If you include a separate cost-benefit analysis, be concise and brief. Most policy memos do not have a formal conclusion, therefore, the cost-benefit analysis can act as your conclusion by summarizing key differences among policy alternatives.

Bardach, Eugene. A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem-Solving. 4th edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2012; Herman, Luciana. Policy Memos. John F. Kennedy School of Government. Harvard University; How to Write a Public Policy Memo. Student Learning Center. University of California, Berkeley; Policy Memo Guidelines. Cornell Fellows Program. Cornell University; Memo: Audience and Purpose. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Pennock, Andrew. “The Case for Using Policy Writing in Undergraduate Political Science Courses.” PS: Political Science and Politics 44 (January 2011): 141-146; Policy Memo Requirements and Guidelines, 2012-2013 edition. Institute for Public Policy Studies. University of Denver; Thrall, A. Trevor. How to Write a Policy Memo. University of Michigan--Dearborn, 2006; “What Are Policy Briefs?” FAO Corporate Document Repository. United Nations; Writing Effective Memos. Electronic Hallway. Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs. University of Washington; Writing Effective Policy Memos. Water & Sanitation Infrastructure Planning syllabus. Spring 2004. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Policy Analysis Format 
Public Policy Analysis
Dr. Matthew Cahn
Department of Political Science &
Masters of Public Administration
California State University, Northridge

Policy Analysis Paper Format (20-25 pages)

I.          EXECUTIVE SUMMARY   (2-3 pages):

This should be on separate pages between the title page and the beginning of the Policy Analysis itself.  Summarize the content of the entire brief in one page.  The summary should:

1)      state the problem or issue (RQ);
2)      give BRIEF background;
3)      identify major alternatives;
4)      state preferred alternative with justification;


This is the introduction to the Policy Analysis and the Policy Issue.  Identify with clarity and specificity the problem being addressed (the RQ), with a summary of the policy issues at stake and the primary options.  (Why is problem important?)

III.       ASSEMBLE EVIDENCE (4-6 pages)

Provide specific background for the question at hand.  Clients will be concerned with the substance of the debate, but they must also know something about the politics. In particular, they need to know what the goals and objectives are that the policy options are supposed to achieve; they need to know the dimensions and parameters of the problem; and they need to know the state of the problem.


Discuss the alternative policy responses under consideration (at least 3). Examine the "best practices" of other agencies, as well as policy proposals that are emerging.  The discussion of each option should be balanced, and should reflect the evidence/ data indicating degree of potential utility.  Under what conditions are options likely to be most useful?


State the criteria that you will use to score the alternatives explicitly.  Specific criteria depend on context of problem, but typically include such issues as mitigating measurable indicators associated with problem, cost-efficiency, and equity?

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