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How to Do a Policy Analysis Paper

by Shane Hall, Demand Media

    A policy analysis paper requires students to research in depth an issue of public concern. It can be an issue of ongoing political debate or an issue that has not yet gained the attention of policy makers. A policy analysis defines the problem or issue at hand, describes its background and provides a balanced assessment of options that policy makers could pursue to resolve the problem. The paper should conclude with a recommended course of action for policy makers.

    Step 1

    Introduce the problem you wish to research and analyze. Whether the issue is universal health care, improved educational achievement or campaign-finance reform, you should identify a specific issue and articulate why it is important. Establish a set of criteria for resolving the problem in question. For example, an increase in the number of people covered by health insurance represents a criterion for resolving the issue of the uninsured. Improved scores on standardized academic assessments and higher graduation rates from high schools would be criteria for improved achievement in education.

    Step 2

    Place the issue in historical context by describing how the problem arose and outlining previous efforts, if any, to address the problem. To detail the issue and any prior policy responses, you can use a range of sources, including books, articles from scholarly journals, previous policy analyses, government reports, legislative materials and news articles. Summarize the results of prior policy efforts and identify the major stakeholders. These are the individuals and groups likely to affect or be affected by new government policies taken in response to the issue under discussion.

    Step 3

    Identify a set of policy options government might take to resolve the issue. Be sure the options involve substantive policy measures aimed at the issue in question. This is a policy analysis, not a manifesto outlining broader social, economic or political changes. Your research on the issue and past policy actions will help you identify policy proposals and create new approaches for addressing the identified problem.

    Step 4

    Compare the policy alternatives outlined in the previous step, applying the specified criteria. This forms the main body of your policy analysis research paper. Discuss how each alternative would meet the criteria for issue resolution identified in your introduction. Depending on the specific issue and the available data, compare policy alternatives with qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis. Quantitative methods are especially effective in weighing the anticipated costs and benefits of a policy proposal. Consider political factors as well; describe how the stakeholders would be affected by the various policy alternatives.

    Step 5

    Recommend a policy action, based on your analysis of a set of alternatives. Articulate reasons, supported by facts and evidence, why the policy proposal you have chosen would be the best avenue from addressing the issue in question.

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    Tips

    • Consider a wide range of policy options before settling on a number of policy options to discuss and analyze.
    • Brainstorming, research of other policy analyses and writing scenarios will help you locate and formulate policy options for resolving a particular issue.

    References

    About the Author

    Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.

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