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Writing Policy Briefs:
A Guide to Translating Science and Engaging Stakeholders

Short policy briefs are useful tools for conveying the implications of scientific evidence for policy and practice. Writing effective policy briefs (and issue or research briefs) requires a specific set of communication skills.

This distance education module is intended to help public health students and practicing professionals to:

- Understand the basic elements of a policy brief
- Identify the information needs of different audiences
- Synthesize data to convey policy implications
- Craft concise language
- Organize information effectively

Module Components 
The module offers an introductory lecture, examples of the skills in action, and hands-on activities. Structured exercises will guide you through the process of writing your own policy brief.

A.Video Lecture: The Art and Craft of Policy Briefs
Start with this 20-minute lecture for a brief introduction to policy briefs, beginning with an explanation of what a policy brief is (and isn’t). This lecture addresses organizing a policy brief, understanding the audience, and communicating effectively with text and graphics.
Play lecture

B.Transforming a Not-So-Good Policy Brief Into a Better Policy Brief
An example of a poorly-written policy brief, along with a rewritten version for comparison. Each version is followed by a set of comments highlighting some of the problems with the original draft and their solutions in the edited draft.

A Not-So-Good Policy Brief (PDF 115KB)

A Better Policy Brief (PDF 129KB)

C.Exercise: Translating a Research Article into a Policy Brief
Using the article “Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Children’s Receipt of Health Care in the First 3 Years of Life," answer a set of questions and then use a template to identify the main elements of a policy brief.

D.Exercise: Beginning Your Policy Brief
A set of questions to begin thinking about the purpose, audience, and background for a policy brief.

E.Exercise: Outlining Policy Brief Content
A set of questions to draft the framework and basic content of a policy brief.

F.Policy Brief Checklist
A checklist for critiquing your own or another author’s policy brief.

Links to a few excellent resources on writing and presenting data.

Download this information as a PDF

Resources on Writing

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)
See especially:

  1. Revision in Business Writing
  2. Revising for Conciseness and Clarity
  3. Audience Analysis
  4. Eliminating Wordiness

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation

In particular, the essays by Tony Proscio about jargon and effective communication:

  1. In Other Words: A Plea for Plain Speaking in Foundations
  2. Bad Words for Good: How Foundations Garble Their Message and Lose Their Audience
  3. When Words Fail: How the Public Interest Becomes Neither Public Nor Interesting

Resources on Communication with Data:

Anything by Stephen Few of Perceptual Edge

See especially:

  1. The library section of the website
  2. Designing Effective Tables and Graphs
  3. Examples of poorly-designed graphs with comments on the problems and suggested solutions

The Gallery of Data Visualization: The Best and Worst of Statistical Graphics

Making Data Meaningful by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Using Graphics to Report Evaluation Results, by Ed Minter and Mary Michaud, Program Development & Evaluation, University of Wisconsin-Extension, 2003.

*Links active as of December 2012



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