If you are a working in policy or public affairs here are three things I can confidently predict about you:
- Writing is a very important part of your job
- You have had little or no formal instruction in writing about policy
- Your writing could be significantly improved with moderate effort
Surely I’m not that bad?
Yes you are. Admit it.
You’ve stuffed select committee submissions with boilerplate.
You’ve lazily scribbled, “Government needs to improve X or Y” without specifying how they should improve X or Y.
You’ve tried to get a cabinet minister to read a five page briefing.
You’ve written reports full of words even you couldn’t explain.
And this is only a fraction of your crimes.
There’s no excuse for these misdemeanours. Plenty of materials by expert policymakers that can improve your writing are available online for free – and four of the very best are included at the foot of this article.
Why work on my writing?
Better writing will make you better at your job
All your communication – not just briefings, but presentations, letters, emails and face-to-face meetings – will have more impact
Your colleagues will notice your improvement. They’ll ask you to proofread their work. Because training your language skills will push your critical thinking to new levels, they’ll come to depend on you for critiques and new ideas.
Before you know it, you’ll be dictating new priorities and goals, as you point out where your current messaging is weak and how strategy needs to change to support more robust language.
That’s all well and good, but I don’t have the time to learn more.
Even if you are already good with words, you probably don’t understand why and you don’t know what you could do to be better.
No time to go through all of the guides?
No problem. Just read one.
They won’t take long to read, after all, they’re very well written.
Introduction to Policy Writing for Public Policy Professionals – Ian Doughty (Harris School, University of Chicago)
– A good primer for those wanting an introduction to the craft
The Craft of Memo Writing – Bob Behn, (Kennedy School, Harvard University)
– The most thorough guide on this list, and the most enjoyable to read. A model of its own lessons.
Policy Memos – Luciana Herman (Kennedy School, Harvard)
– Conveys many of the points made elsewhere but also explains formal, analytical approaches to choosing policy responses
How to Write a Policy Memo – Trevor Thrall (University of Michigan)
– Language and formatting can make or break your message. This explains how to present your writing for maximum effect
Did you find this article useful? If so, take a look at another one of our resources, The Lobbyists Toolkit: Work Smarter, Save Time