The essence of the policy paper

Considerably more concise than classic academic essays, the process of writing good policy papers is by no means simple. In Italy, and perhaps other European countries too, us students are expected to internalize and parrot huge amounts of notions. Except for theses or doctoral programs, such topics are rarely the object of further investigation and research within the taught courses. As such, not only do students write occasionally; in many instances they are not given the chance to turn into the main actors who can analyze, discuss, dismantle, and rebuild the discipline. That is, many students perchance care more about memorizing notions rather than their own critical take on those very notions.

Without any type of prejudice against any university system, which we truly respect, our aim is to offer the most realistic range of simulations that combine both theoretical and practical tools. Through the envisioning of multiple possible scenarios, we encourage students to use the notions they learned to develop critical and dynamic takes on the subjects in question. In other words, here the main objective is to turn the students into the main policy actors. For instance, what would you do if you were the Italian Prime Minister in the aftermath of an ISIS’s-led terrorist attack in Rome? What would you do in the same situation if you were a right-wing politician, the head of the Jewish community in Rome, the minister of education, or one of the leaders of the city’s Muslim community?

That said, this exercise is quite challenging. The main stratagem is to include all of the necessary theoretical elements (definitions, models, references from the literature), identify one’s purposes and challenges, and suggest various plans of action in the most exhausting way, in the least amount of space. We will not set any word/page limit, though. We will accept up to 20-page papers, but, just to be clear, most policy papers, excluding appendixes and bibliographies, are only 5 pages long (1.5 space). In sum, the main goal of those who write is to identify the issue in question, summarize what others have said and done about it, identify the recipient’s main priority, suggest X policy options including their advantages and disadvantages, and conclude with policy recommendations.

As for the style, sentences must be concise and brief to the point. Yet, one should avoid exceedingly short and telegraphic sentences. Again, the logic is not to waste even a single word, for each one of them “takes space” and, thus, “matters.”


Structure of a policy paper

There is no rule of thumb for writing solid policy papers. Still, we believe that the scheme here below could be used as a steady guideline.

  1. Title: this has to be followed by “For”, which introduces the paper’s recipient. Ex: Report on the legality of targeted killings and recommendations for future American course of action For Chief Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan
  2. Definitions: 2-3 key definitions
  3. Abstract/Executive summary: 250 words maximum, this has to summarize everything one has done, including the suggested policy plans.
  4. Statement of the issue: generally, this is just a question dealing with what/how the main actor should tackle the issue. Ex: How should the U.S. tackle the issue of the legality of targeted killings?
  5. Background: brief literature review featuring theories, models, and, basically, those defining traits already studied by others.
  6. Main actor’s interest in the issue: after identifying the issue in question (point #4), the objective to is elucidate what/how the main actor should pursue given the matter. Ex: The goal of the United States is to maximize and capitalize off those missions including targeted killings without jeopardizing the democratic fabric of its legal system.
  7. Pre-existing policies: most of the times various actors (politicians, army, law enforcement figures) have already engaged in precise policy plans, which had both positive and negative results.
  8. Policy options: one has to formulate as many policy options as one is able to (generally 3-4) specifically aimed at the paper’s recipient. Such options must illustrate the action plan and analyze its advantages and disadvantages. Each policy option should be presented as such: Policy Option #3: “Get the job done” or Policy Option #4: “The tiptoes approach.”
  9. Recommendations: in this last section, the writer has to analyze the pros and cons of each proposed policy option and suggest a final recommendation, which could opt for one precise option, a mix of options, or none of them.
  10. Appendixes: they are not required, but if one has further pieces of information that cannot be inserted in the main text a list of appendixes is warranted.
  11. Bibliography: unlike classic academic bibliographies, the latter includes those sources that are cited in the main text, but arranges them according to the structure of the chapters. Further, under each source, it is necessary to write 2-4 sentences summarizing its main points.
Ex:
Background
Golan, Galia. In Stahl, Adam. 2006. “Questioning the Efficacy of Israeli Targeted Killings Against Hamas’ Religio-Military Command as a Counter-terrorism Tool.” Monitor. Journal of International Studies. Volume 12, Number 1. http://web.wm.edu/so/monitor/issues/12-1/6-stahl.pdf
Professor Golan argues that targeted killings carried out by Israel are ineffective and counterproductive. Such policies, in fact, are ineffective as a new leader is always ready to take the place of the former. Golan also believes that such killings are counterproductive since they only produce greater hatred. That is, the elimination of spiritual leaders only intensifies hatred towards Israelis, producing retaliatory attacks and hindering the peace process.
 
Organization’s Interest in the Issue
Obama, Barak. 2009. “Obama’s Speech on National Security.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/politics/21obama.text.html?pagewanted=all
During his speech on national security, President Obama reiterated his administration’s mission to protect America from terrorism and any other threat that may endanger American citizens. Yet, in doing so, Obama invited Americans to stick to their values and not stoop to the terrorists’ level, as they don’t believe in those principles of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law that allowed the creation of the United States.

 ©Michele Groppi, all rights reserved.