How to Write a Policy Report

How to Write a Policy Report

Writing a policy report requires you to grapple with a public issue, perhaps one already on the agenda of government policy makers or one that may arise. Some policy reports analyze an issue, using political and economic analysis to compare possible policy alternatives. Other types of policy reports brief policy makers on an issue and recommend a course of action to address a problem. Policy analysts in government, interest groups and policy research firms prepare policy reports. For students, writing a policy report sharpens critical thinking and research skills.

1 Choose a Topic

Select an issue or policy area of interest. Topics might include education, the environment, national security and defense, urban development or health care. The topic should address a current social problem.

2 Frame the Issue and Understand the Problem

Thoroughly research the issue and narrow down the focus so that it's more manageable. Write about the background of the issue you choose, describing the scope of the problem to justify the need for government policy action. Be sure to address any previous policy actions taken on the matter. Your report should also discuss the possible consequences for failure to act.

3 Select Criteria for Comparison

Specify appropriate criteria against which to compare public policy proposals. The criteria should involve policy goals or positive outcomes that improve the problem in question. Examples of outcomes include economic benefits, reduced costs for taxpayers, improved student achievement, a cleaner environment or improved measures of public health.

4 Identify Potential Solutions

Specify two or more possible policy solutions to the issue at hand. These solutions should consist of specific actions that could be taken by a legislative or executive body, rather than vague social changes that are beyond the scope of government policy makers. Compare the competing proposals, describing how and to what extent each proposal addresses the problem, based on the criteria specified in step 2. Comparison and analysis of policy alternatives will form the main body of your policy report. An effective paper should consider the immediate and long-term effects of policy proposals. Consider not only the policy merits, such as the costs and benefits of each alternative, but political factors as well. Policy-making occurs in an inherently political environment, so be sure to discuss the interest groups and stakeholders that could be affected—positively or negatively—by policy.

5 Make Recommendations

Recommend an action for policy makers to take, using empirical evidence from your analysis and comparison for support. Make sure that all relevant criteria for your suggestions are properly outlined and that you include strategies for implementation of your recommendations. Additionally, address the limitations of your suggestions and identify possible unanticipated outcomes.

6 Summarize the Content of Your Report

Write an abstract or executive summary, depending on the required format of your report. This section should be a concise summary of the report that will follow, briefly describing the issue or problem, and highlighting the recommended policy action.

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.