Writing a policy essay, policy paper review, or even a policy analysis paper is a daunting task. Even if you have read a lot about the subject, it is never quite as easy as it seems to make your point clearly, and to come up with all the details that are needed to backup your arguments.
In this article, we will discuss:
- How to write a policy essay (academic)
- How to write a policy paper (professional)
- How to write a policy analysis paper.
While defining each type of policy paper writing with sufficient examples. Note that how long a good policy paper will be is determined by your professor.
What is a policy essay?
A policy essay or policy paper is a written product which argues the merits of implementing or abolishing a particular policy. A well-written policy essay paper should be organized using an appropriate outline, have good grammar and spelling, and use correct references.
A thesis statement is a brief declarative sentence that summarizes the overall argument made in a policy essay (i.e., why you are writing about this topic). The thesis statement should state your view on whether the policy should be implemented or abolished, and why. You do not need to cover all aspects of the topic in your paper; rather, choose two or three perspectives/arguments and analyze them thoroughly within your paper by providing solid evidence from sources.
How to write a policy essay
Each paragraph in your policy essay should have a topic sentence and two or more supporting sentences. The topic sentence states what the paragraph is about, while the supporting sentences (with evidence from your sources) develop the discussion of that main idea. It is not enough to merely state an opinion without backing it up with facts; you must support your statements with evidence from reliable sources listed in APA format at the end of your paper.
A useful rule-of-thumb for writing a policy report is this: if the reader cannot tell what point you are trying to make within 30 seconds or so, then you have not written clearly enough! Be sure to include both sides of an argument because most readers will expect that you present both arguments fairly even though you must also take a stand on the issue.
In the next section, we will review a policy discussion paper template for a college or graduate level policy paper outline.
Before using this outline when writing your policy paper, you must ensure that these guidelines match perfectly with your university’s guidelines of writing an academic policy essay.
Sample policy essay outline format – template:
Here is a sample showing an example of a policy analysis paper outline to help you learn how to write a policy paper outline fast.
Introduction: the purpose of your paper is about ______ (thesis statement). This argument either promotes or opposes ______ (viewpoint with evidence from sources showing why you support/oppose it). The first step in understanding this perspective is to _______ (a brief summary of the background information about this viewpoint). My position on this issue is _________ (your position), because I believe ______ (reasons/evidence and quotations from sources) *optional* while also recognizing that _______ (counter-arguments and counter-evidence from sources) are worth considering. For further discussion, see my next paragraph.
Paragraph 1: ______ (summary of the previous point). I also support this position because _______ (evidence/quotation from a source)
Paragraph 2: ______ (Summary of previous point).. Further, _________ (evidence/quotation from a source) and ______ (additional evidence/quotation from another source).
Paragraph 3: The opposing viewpoint. *optional* For an opposing view, see sources such as ____________.
Conclusion paragraph: Summarize the main ideas of your paper. In my mind, the biggest advantage to this policy is _________. The biggest disadvantage is ______. Overall, I think that policy _____ (should/should not) be implemented because ______ (reasons why).
Bibliography: This should be listed in APA format which is detailed in our handout on that topic. Please label your bibliography alphabetically by author and list it at the end of your paper with other reference materials.
Policy Analysis – Writing a Policy Analysis Paper
Policy analysis is the process of evaluating options for public policy. More specifically, it is the process of consistently applying critical thinking and problem-solving techniques to determine how best to achieve clearly established goals and objectives using available resources.
Policy analysis can be applied at all levels of government— international , national , regional , state/provincial , and local. Likewise, these policies may involve a broad range of interdisciplinary issues or concerns such as crime prevention, education, health care, social security reform, environment protection, natural disasters management and emergency planning.
Policy analysis requires making judgments upon incomplete data by considering multiple alternatives – both conventional and unconventional – that are consistent with ethical standards in order to make recommendations based on cost effectiveness. Furthermore, it employs scientific methods (such as logic or a forecasting model) to derive an optimal policy solution that is most likely to achieve the stated objectives.
Policy analysts engage in systematic and objective analysis of relevant facts, data and policies under consideration prior to making recommendations. They look at alternatives for addressing public problems and assess their merits and consequences. Policy analysis can be applied as well in the private sector as it can bring values-driven decision-making about entrepreneurial business issues, corporate governance, social responsibility of business practices, political lobbying and interest groups activities.
Additionally, due its nature – combining traditional analytical techniques with creativity – policy analysis often leads to innovative solutions in complex situations . Policy Analysis is fundamental for public management performance because it provides the basis upon which decisions are made by providing rationales for the proposed actions.
Policy analysis can be applied to any issue deemed relevant by the government for which there are means of measuring effectiveness and efficiency.
More specifically, policy problems generally fall into one of three categories: (a) social; (b) economic or financial; and (c) political.
Policy analysis process – How to analyse a policy
The policy analysis process itself consists in three parts:
- Problem identification;
- Analysis and examination of alternative solutions;
- Policy recommendation that takes into account both positive benefits (quantifiable effects on objectives) and negative impacts (unintended consequences).
The final product is an informed decision-making tool to facilitate government decision-making processes as they relate to a specific public problem or set of interrelated issues.
How to conduct policy analysis:
The minimum steps to follow to conduct policy analysis process include:
- Policy problem identification;
- Problem definition;
- Data collection and research;
- Analysis of alternatives; and,
Policy analysts typically organize their findings in five parts:
- background information (including relevant current policies),
- situation analysis (problem description),
- alternatives assessment (analysis of options available),
Each section should – but does not always – produce a short executive summary that can be written as a stand alone document.
By providing each section with its own executive summary, the analyst has less material to summarize at the end and is more likely to be objective when weighing tradeoffs between different alternatives.
The key to building an effective analytic team is to hire individuals who are comfortable working collaboratively in a team environment rather than as individual contributors. Teams should be designed with balance in mind, bringing together diverse skill sets including: data analysis/collection; research and evaluation; problem definition and understanding of the issues; writing and communication skills; policy recommendation development; conceptualization and design of creative solutions; advanced analytics methods (if applicable); research databases (if available).
Policy analysis has been criticized for its inability to address the most important non-quantifiable aspects of public problems such as social cohesion or interpersonal relationships. Moreover, it suffers from an instrumentalist bias that does not take into account long term implications on social institutions, values, norms, attitudes, beliefs or individual human actions that cannot be reduced to quantifiable data.
Despite such shortcomings policy analysis is widely used today by governments because it provides rationality and objectivity that are highly valued in the decision-making processes of complex issues for which there is no single — or at least not easily identifiable — answer.
Policy analysis can also be subdivided into two types:
- research -based policy analysis,
- problem-focused applied policy analysis .
In both cases, a preliminary assessment of the public problem or set of interrelated issues should be conducted to determine feasibility and applicability of policy analysis as means to solve them.
What is a policy analysis paper?
A policy analysis paper is a type of academic paper in which the author critically analyzes specific policy or government regulation.
For example, it can be analyzing how an existing healthcare law will affect medical practice and patients; evaluating whether the drug control policy is effective at reducing drug use and abuse; studying the effectiveness of high school curricula in producing graduates who are not only academically capable, but also informed and engaged citizens.
A policy analysis paper will always analyze a specific objective of government (i.e., domestic or international), in the form of policy or regulation, seeking to answer the question if it is effective or not so that guiding decision-makers can appropriately make decisions on whether to continue with it as it is or to improve it through adopting new policy or regulation.
This paper will always be written in first person point of view, i.e., the author(s) should make clear that they are not generalizing but rather making a recommendation based on their analysis of the data they have collected from scholarly sources.
The main idea is to propose solutions to a problem and the most important thing to remember here is that policy analysis papers require thorough research. The research process can be summarized into the following steps:
- Conducting a thorough search for scholarly sources which contain required information. This can be done by using standard academic databases such as SCOPUS, ACM, JSTOR, etc. or online open access journals that are related to the field of study.
- Making an in-depth analysis and critical evaluation of the data and information, making sure the paper is well-grounded and providing valid sources of evidence. This means that just having a lot of data is not enough; rather, one should be able to analyze it and make sense out of it.
- Formulating a proposal that will effectively guide decision makers in making right decisions due to availability of factual support for such proposals (remember: policy analysis papers are written by experts who act as consultants). The most important thing in this step is to avoid being subjective and give objective solutions based on the analysis of scholarly sources.
- Writing an introduction which will summarize all previous steps in a clear manner so that reader can easily understand what the paper is about. Furthermore, this section should clearly state objectives, scope, assumptions and limitations so that the reader can have a clear picture of what to expect (the value of this section is particularly significant for readers who are not experts in the field).
- Writing main body which will contain argumentations, evidence, analysis; here is where all required data collected from scholarly sources should be used. Depending on format requirements and length requirements set by instructors or journal editors (MLA 8-12 pages), author(s) may decide to incorporate their recommendation into this section or leave it as an attachment. Generally speaking, though, recommendations should be served separately in order to improve readability and focus on main body without interruptions when writing a paper.
- Last but not least, writing a conclusion which will present the solution in a clear manner, restating all previous arguments and making it possible for readers to understand the importance of proposed solution.
What is a policy paper?
A policy paper is a document issued by an organization that details its opinions on a certain issue or topic. These organizations include governments, corporations, and non-government organizations (NGO). Policy papers are also sometimes referred to as white papers, position papers or op-eds.
What are policy papers used for?
Policy papers can be used by organizations to broadcast their stance on a certain issue. This is useful if the organization wishes to promote its cause or encourage people to take action. For example, an environmental group might write a paper on climate change and why it is occurring rapidly. This would help raise awareness of the issue, and encourage people to take action in ways that promote a sustainable environment.
Policy papers can also be used for corporate PR purposes. If an organization has made a mistake, it may need to write a paper explaining why this was wrong and what steps it is taking to prevent similar mistakes from occurring. It might also make sense for an organization to explain why they are implementing certain policies, or announcing their stance on specific issues such as health care or education reform.
This type of writing is commonly used by governments; especially those whose citizens have access to media channels capable of distributing information around the world quickly via print publications, television broadcasts and websites. Governments use policy papers when they want their people to know new information regarding issues such as crime, education, the economy, the environment or health.
The policy paper can also be a useful tool in convincing societies of an organization’s opinions or plans for individual countries or certain groups of people within a country. For example: A religious practice may want to broadcast its views on abortion and contraception; an environmental organization may wish to promote sustainable living practices through increased awareness about global warming. This form of writing is used by organizations that wish their cause to gain public acceptance and support.
How to write a policy paper
There are a few elements necessary in writing an effective policy issue paper.
First, it is important to make the title of the policy paper as attractive as possible. This will attract people’s attention and encourage them to read the document. The title should be eye-catching while also being clear about what is contained within the document. In addition, a policy paper title may also contain a call to action at the end (e.g., “Take Action!”).
The aim of this part of the policy paper should be to quickly get across information that can be considered both informative and persuasive. It must get past readers’ barriers and convince them that they need to continue reading this document in order to gain valuable knowledge that they did not have before; in order to be aware of what is going on in the world, within their country or group and how this information will affect them.
The body/essay section must give readers all the facts they need about a specific issue in as simple and clear a way as possible. The organization may use graphs or figures to illustrate its points (as well as text), but it should not include any unnecessary information that does not add anything helpful to understanding the issue at hand. The essay must also capture the reader’s interest by being engaging; for example, through human element stories about real people affected by the issue under discussion. In addition, if there are already existing policies in place that govern issues such as privacy rights, health care laws, etc., then these should be included and referenced in the essay.
The aim of this section is to convince readers that the organization’s stance on an issue makes sense and should receive support. If relevant, it will also provide reasons why others may not agree with its position (such as through citing opposing arguments or statistics) yet still explain why it does not believe these are adequate enough for people to make a different decision.
Policy papers usually end with a call-to-action for supporters or readers to do something specific. It could be participating in some type of activity related to the organization’s cause; following government laws that promote its opinions about health care reform or animal rights; signing up as members for organizations that promote environmental sustainability, etc. The action must have a clear benefit to either the organization itself, its supporters or society as a whole.
The policy issue paper must also offer some information about who created it and how readers can reach them; if necessary, it should provide contact information for specific individuals within the organization that are people with authority on this subject matter (as opposed to those who wrote the document). The reason why is because policy papers often seek public approval of their views and want to encourage discussion among audiences.
Once written, executive summaries are used by organizations in order to present key points from a longer text such as a white paper, business plan or study report. These pieces are designed so that they can be quickly read and understood; therefore, there are usually no more than three main concepts that the reader needs to grasp in order for a summary to be effective.
The first objective of an executive summary is to achieve attention and interest from potential readers (e.g., individuals or organizations who have not had previous prior engagements with this subject matter). Therefore, it must grab their attention immediately through a visual impact, such as by placing key words above the document’s title on its cover page. The introductory paragraph should explain what the main idea of the longer report is about and what people will learn if they read it in full; in addition, it has to make them want to continue reading by providing any additional value that may help persuade them further into the document. In addition, every executive summary also includes bullet points at the beginning that give a brief overview of what to expect in the full document, as well as a table of contents which provides readers with an easy way to review the full document again at a later point.
The second objective for executive summaries is to achieve understanding from people who are busy or do not have experience reading texts on similar subject matters and must therefore be able to understand it quickly. Executive summaries usually use language that is clear and direct; for example by avoiding jargon or abbreviations, using active voice constructions (not passive ones such as “was written”, “was found”…) and using simple sentence structures. The text also effectively uses numbers instead of words (such as stating that there are X reasons why something is true…). It should never include personal opinions or premises that may be found throughout the rest of the document; these are only to be presented as facts and it should never offer comparisons with other organizations.
The third objective of executive summaries is to convince readers that they should support the idea (the main message) of a report in full by offering some benefits that taking an action will bring. Therefore, this section must explain each point in detail, use evidence from studies and cite experts’ statements. Even if this part includes references, it does not have to include details about where else one can find more information on a subject matter; links can simply redirect people elsewhere for those who wish to read further on their own accord. The reason why is because executives are usually used by or shared among several clients; therefore, they have to avoid repeating material that is available somewhere else.
The table of contents and index are useful tools for communicating information to readers in policy proposals or executive summaries. The former is intended as a way of presenting each provision or point in the document in an organized manner [to let someone know]; it therefore allows people new to the topic at hand (and with no previous experience or knowledge) to go directly the part where they need more information on any given issue without having to search through their entire text first. By including an index, authors show that they are willing to add value by helping readers learn about something faster than would otherwise be possible because it helps them find what they want easily and promptly. Each section of the index is usually a keyword, concept or topic that addresses an issue or concept in the document.
How to critique a policy paper
To critique a policy paper, try to answer these questions:
- What are the goals of this policy?
- How is that goal achieved, and is it an effective way to achieve it?
- Is there any unintended consequences that could happen because of this policy?
To solve each question, one needs to read carefully and critically. You cannot just glance over a paper or only read the part you find interesting. You should read the entire paper, because most policy papers will put forward a set of policies in total. Don’t just critique the part you find interesting, remember that other parts may be less interesting but they are also important.
On your critique and comments on the paper, you can point out where something is wrong or does not make sense and why it is wrong or does not make sense. If parts of your critiques don’t add up with some explanation to back them up, then those parts cannot be dismissed as “wrong”. You need to think about what that person who made that policy tried to achieve and if there are any better ways to do so; this could either be by using existing methods or proposing new ones. Sometimes the points for your alternatives are more important than the critique, as long as they add up with some explanation.
Science in a policy paper is important. It is not enough to say that something “won’t work” without giving any evidence or backing up your claims. There might be other reasons for why things won’t work besides the ones you give, and it may even have worked somewhere else under different conditions before. The person who made the policy may also have thought about how to overcome these obstacles before; but they did not include them in their discussion because they were not relevant to their goals.
If you cannot find anything wrong with a piece of information then just ask yourself: is this new? Is there any evidence that proves it? Has anyone an alternative that is better than this? If yes, then it has value.
If you are able to find something wrong with a piece of information, just ask yourself: does it affect the policy in a bad way or not?
For example, if your criticism doesn’t change the actual direction of the policy, like what kind of instrument used for measurement (quantitative/qualitative data), then this part of your critique may be irrelevant. You can still give a suggestion of using some different kind of instrument, but if the policy just needs data to be collected and it doesn’t affect its direction or goal in any way then you don’t need to give your opinion on that.
The expected difficulty level for doing this is medium-hard, since the writer had written out what they want to say beforehand (it’s not completely original) and we cannot know where our train of thoughts will lead us as we write them down; so it is harder than writing an essay where one writes down whatever comes into their mind without much planning.
The more important issue here is on how to learn and understand things properly before critiquing them. If one truly understands only half of a page’s contents, then this is half-understanding.
The more you understand about a subject, the higher your chance of being able to use it correctly and find its flaws. It’s better to practice writing down what you don’t understand as well as what you already know!
However, you do not need to write down everything in detail; just some brief words are fine for things that everyone knows or has heard before.
When these things become commonplace to us, we tend to take them for granted and forget how much effort was put into studying them!
Hopefully after practicing this skill over time one will be able to critique policy papers with ease.
Here are various great resources to help you write outstanding policy analysis essay or policy review essay paper:
- Policy Brief Series.
- Checklists for communicating the policy process
- Writing Policy Papers – ODI
- Stanford University – White Papers Guidelines
- Evergreen.edu – MPA Policy Paper Outline
- Policy Analysis Paper: Mainstreaming of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services With A Focus On Pollination
- Econ public policy paper guidelines
- Suggestions for Writing Policy Analysis
Policy Paper Writing Help
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