In the area of public affairs, policy briefs serve as powerful tools to communicate complex issues to Congress and state legislatures. They condense complex issues into digestible formats, enabling policymakers to grasp key information swiftly and effectively to help them make effective decisions. 

However, learning how to write a compelling policy brief requires finesse and precision. In this guide, we delve into the intricacies of writing a policy brief, providing a step-by-step approach, along with practical tips to ensure your briefs leave a lasting impact.


What is a Policy Brief? 

A policy brief is a concise document designed to inform and persuade policymakers about a particular issue or problem. Typically ranging from two to six pages, a policy brief presents a succinct analysis of a policy challenge, supported by evidence and recommendations for action. 

Its purpose is to distill complex information into accessible language, providing policymakers with the essential information they need to make informed decisions. Policy briefs often include background information, problem statements, analysis of potential solutions and actionable recommendations. 

Policy briefs serve as valuable tools for advocacy, influencing policy agendas and driving positive change in various domains, including government, academia and advocacy organizations.



Who Uses Policy Briefs? 

Policy briefs are utilized by a diverse group of stakeholders across various sectors and disciplines. Primarily, policymakers at different levels of government, including members of Congress, state legislators, government officials and administrative staff, rely on policy briefs to gain insights into complex issues and inform their decision-making processes. 

Additionally, policy analysts, researchers and academics often produce and use policy briefs to disseminate their findings and recommendations to a broader audience. 

Advocacy groups, non-governmental organizations and think tanks also use policy briefs as tools for influencing public opinion, shaping policy agendas and advocating for specific policy changes. 


Writing a Policy Brief 

Writing a policy brief demands precision and clarity to effectively inform decision-makers. Before diving into how to write a policy brief, there are a few steps to organize the material to better ensure the material stays on target.


Preparing a Policy Brief

Crafting a policy brief begins with these crucial steps to prepare the document:

  1. Define the Issue: Begin by clearly defining the policy problem or issue that your brief will address. Be specific and focused to ensure clarity and coherence throughout the document.
  2. Identify the Audience: Determine who the target audience for your policy brief is. This could be policymakers, government officials, stakeholders or the general public. Tailor the content and tone of the brief to suit the needs and preferences of your intended audience.
  3. Conduct Research: Thoroughly research the issue at hand, gathering relevant data, statistics and evidence from credible sources. Consider consulting experts or conducting interviews to gain deeper insights into the topic.
  4. Identify the Desired Outcomes: Clearly articulate the intended impact or action that the brief seeks to achieve.


Structuring a Policy Brief

In addition to providing succinct and cogent arguments, a policy brief must be organized in a clear and logical manner. 

Typically, a policy brief consists of several sections:

  1. Title: Choose a concise and attention-grabbing title that accurately reflects the content of the brief.
  2. Executive Summary: Provide a brief overview of the key findings, recommendations, and implications of the policy brief.
  3. Background Information: Present contextual information about the issue, including its significance and relevance.
  4. Problem Statement: Clearly articulate the policy problem or challenge that needs to be addressed.
  5. Analysis: Provide a thorough analysis of the issue, including its causes, effects and potential solutions.
  6. Recommendations: Offer actionable recommendations for addressing the policy problem based on the analysis conducted.
  7. Conclusion: Summarize the key points and emphasize the importance of the recommendations.
  8. Sources and Appendices: A detailed list of sources used to support the policy brief’s arguments.


Policy Brief Style and Tone

Effective communication is at the heart of every successful policy brief. To ensure your message resonates with your audience, it's important to pay careful attention to both writing style and formatting.

In terms of writing style and tone, a policy brief must provide:

  • Clarity and Conciseness: Use clear and straightforward language to convey complex ideas without unnecessary jargon or technicalities.
  • Objectivity: Present information in an unbiased manner, supported by credible evidence and data.
  • Engagement: Maintain a conversational tone and incorporate compelling examples or anecdotes to captivate the reader's attention.


In presenting a policy brief, the document should provide:

  • Consistency: Ensure consistency in formatting, font style and spacing throughout the brief for a professional appearance.
  • Accessibility: Optimize readability by using bullet points, subheadings and short paragraphs to break up dense text.


Visual Elements in a Policy Brief

Incorporating visual elements such as charts, graphs or infographics can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your policy brief. These visual aids provide a clear and concise way to present complex data or trends, making it easier for readers to grasp the information at a glance. 

Charts and graphs allow you to present quantitative data in a visually appealing format, making it easier to identify patterns and trends. Bar charts, line graphs and pie charts are all effective tools for showcasing numerical data in a way that is both informative and easy to understand. 

Infographics also offer a more creative and engaging way to present information, combining text, images and graphics to tell a compelling story.



Revising a Policy Brief

As you near the completion of your policy brief, it's essential to recognize that the journey doesn't end with the final draft. Review and revision play a critical role in ensuring the quality and effectiveness of your document. The steps for a final polish include:

  • Review and Revision:
    • Peer Review: Solicit feedback from colleagues or experts in the field to identify areas for improvement and ensure accuracy.
    • Proofreading: Thoroughly review the brief for grammatical errors, typos or inconsistencies before finalizing.
    • Revising as Needed: Be open to making revisions based on feedback or new developments to enhance the clarity and effectiveness of the brief.
  • Dissemination and Follow-Up:
    • Targeted Distribution: Identify appropriate channels for disseminating the policy brief to reach the intended audience effectively.
    • Engagement: Encourage dialogue and feedback from policymakers or stakeholders to foster a deeper understanding of the issues addressed.
    • Follow-Up Actions: Monitor the implementation of recommendations and advocate for further action or policy changes as needed.


Policy Brief Examples

There are many examples of policy briefs from government and advocacy organizations that can provide a roadmap for how to write a policy brief, including:


Policy Brief Template

The following provides a policy brief template based on a hypothetical example involving veterans' health care:

Title: "Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans: Policy Recommendations for the Department of Veterans Affairs"


Executive Summary

This policy brief was produced by a research institute specializing in veterans' affairs and mental health. It provides a concise overview of the key findings and recommendations aimed at improving access to mental health services for veterans within the Department of Veterans Affairs. The executive summary highlights the pressing need for expanded mental health services and outlines the policy recommendations proposed in the brief.


Background Information

The background section provides context on the mental health challenges facing veterans, including high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide. It also discusses the existing mental health services offered by the VA and identifies gaps and barriers to access faced by veterans seeking care.


Problem Statement

The problem statement articulates the need for policy reforms within the VA to address the shortcomings in mental health services for veterans. It highlights issues such as long wait times, limited availability of specialized care and stigma surrounding mental health treatment.



The analysis section presents evidence-based research and data to support the policy recommendations proposed in the brief. It examines best practices in mental health care delivery, identifies successful models of care and assesses the effectiveness of current VA programs and initiatives.



Based on the analysis conducted, the policy brief presents a series of actionable recommendations for the VA to improve access to mental health services for veterans. These recommendations could include:

  1. Increasing funding for mental health programs and hiring additional mental health professionals.
  2. Expanding telehealth services to reach veterans in rural and underserved areas.
  3. Implementing peer support programs and outreach initiatives to reduce stigma and encourage help-seeking behavior.
  4. Enhancing collaboration with community-based organizations and private-sector providers to supplement VA services.



The conclusion summarizes the key findings and recommendations of the policy brief and emphasizes the importance of prioritizing mental health care for veterans. It calls for swift action by policymakers and VA leadership to implement the proposed reforms and ensure that all veterans have access to high-quality mental health services and support.


Discover How to Write a Policy Brief

Writing a policy brief is both an art and a science, requiring meticulous research, clear communication and strategic advocacy. By following the guidelines outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can craft compelling policy briefs that inform decision-making, drive positive change and contribute to meaningful progress in addressing complex societal challenges.

Through the use of public affairs software like LegiStorm, you can access thousands of congressional reports and policy briefs. This provides your cause with policy brief examples to analyze in order to discover the most effective way to communicate your cause.

In addition, the LegiStorm platform provides transparency into the goings-on of Congress and state legislatures, such as town halls, hearings, press releases, congressional offices and more.


Originally published May 31, 2024, updated May 31, 2024




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