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How to Write a Better Policy Memo
by Brian Scott

Writing a policy memo for the first time is usually a difficult undertaking even for the most skilled writers. Let's look at some useful tips to help you write a balanced, persuasive memo to support your objectives.

1. Understand its purpose

A policy memo offers analysis of and recommended solutions to a specific situation or problem. It is written for a particular group of people; its intent is to act as a decision-making tool for this group. It should provide a persuasive disagreement that justifies the arguments that the policy introduces. You must write your policy memo in a clear and concise style; it must demonstrate its desire to find a solution for the problems that it discusses.

2. Who is your audience and what are their needs?

In most cases if you are writing a policy document, you much know you target group of people that your policy addresses. Make sure you keep this group at the heart of the document—this is a document that aims to uncover real solutions to real life issues that affect real people. This is their document, so make sure that you write it in such a way that they will understand it. If they are technically savvy, you might not have to go into detail explaining technical terminology or issues. However, if you are writing about a technical issue for a non-specialized audience, then you will need to explain technical terms in detail and ensure that they have a clear understanding of the subjects and issues that you raise in your policy memo.

4. Begin with a strong introduction

Begin with a strong introduction. Unlike an academic essay, which begins with a broad overview of the topic to be discussed and works its way through the arguments to its conclusion, a policy memo should place its recommendations and conclusions right at the beginning. This is so that your readers—the people for whom you are tasked with finding a solution—are provided with that information right from the outset.

5. Develop your arguments clearly

Most of the middle content of your memo aims to support the conclusions and recommendations that you state at the beginning of the document. Start by summarizing historical or technical issues or data that can simplify the arguments in your policy. Clearly make your case through analysis and informed arguments, and demonstrate how these lead to a logical conclusion as set out in your introduction.

6. Adopt a clean writing style

Keep your writing clear. Ask yourself if you are writing clearly and concisely your statements and arguments. Use simple, readable language that does not over-complicate the subject matter. Always ask yourself if you can use simpler, shorter words to emphasize your point. Try to avoid jargon without exceptions. Avoid beginning your sentences with phrases, "there are" and "it is." Use active voice instead of passive voice. This will make your document more forceful and easier to read.

7. Use a standardized format

A policy memo is typed on 8.5 x 11" or A4 paper with one-inch margins to top, bottom, left and right. Text should be single spaced, with a double space between paragraphs. Layout options—such as numbering and bullet points—are optional but are recommended for making your document easy to read and clear in its format. Make sure that you address your memo to your audience.

8. Recommended length

A policy memo has no "recommended" word length or page length. You can write your memo as long as is necessary to make your arguments, analysis and recommendations clearly and succinctly. If your policy influences your readers to agree with your point of view, then your policy memo is at the perfect length to achieve its purpose.

9. Planning checklist

When preparing to write your policy, look at the following questions:

• What and whom are you trying to influence with your policy?
• What stage of the process are you aiming to influence?
• Is your document succinct yet comprehensive?
• Have you considered all the policy options?
• Do you have enough evidence to support your recommendations?

10. Proofread carefully

Don’t distract your readers from your well-researched, beautifully-crafted policy with spelling and grammatical errors. Proofread it several times and ask a colleague to do the same to achieve your objectives.

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