Communicating your research findings to an audience who is informed, but not expert, in your field is essential to ensuring your work has impact. But how? Our policy brief expert Isabelle Le Marois shares her top tips for communicating with an audience with loads of decision-making power: policymakers.
- Understand your audience
- Follow the usual structure
- Keep it short
- Stay concise and focused
- Describe the urgency of the issue
- Provide sufficient background
- Include statistics to support your argument
- Avoid jargon that can confuse the audience
- Include visuals such as charts and graphs
- Check your policy brief
Policy Briefs are key tools to present research and recommendations to a non-expert audience with big decision-making power. They serve as a vehicle for providing evidence-based policy advice to help regulators make informed decisions. A strong policy brief distills research findings in plain language, draws clear links to policy initiatives, and provides guidance for taking policy action.
Here, Isabelle shares her top tips for drafting a policy brief that can drive systemic change.
1. Understand your audience
Before creating your policy brief, understand your audience. The more you know about the people who will be reading your brief, the more you can ensure your message is targeted appropriately. Level of government, department, historical policy decisions, affiliations, personal interests, and political platforms are all helpful context when considering what points will create a persuasive argument.
2. Follow this structure
There’s no one-size-fits-all; each policy brief will be unique based on the subject and target audience. However, effective policy briefs tend to contain these key elements: an executive summary, an introduction of the key issues, an overview of the research, a discussion of the findings, and a conclusion highlighting implications of the research and policy recommendations.
3. Keep it short
Policymakers are in-demand folks who are unlikely to read a 20-page document on a policy problem. Your entire policy brief should be 650-1300 words (2-4 pages) and never exceed 3000 words -(8 pages).
4. Stay focused
To provide a comprehensive but targeted argument in just a few pages, the focus of the brief must be limited to a particular problem or area of a problem. All aspects of the policy brief (from the message to the layout) must be strategically focused on achieving the intended goal of persuading your policymaker(s) of interest. Think carefully about the one action you’d like them to take, and cut out anything that isn’t crucial to achieving that goal. If needed, create multiple policy briefs instead of one long one.
5. Describe the urgency of the issue
Policymakers have many issues to consider and address. Include a few sentences discussing urgency, making clear why they should be paying attention to this particular problem and the potential ramifications of inaction. Support your claims with solid facts, not emotion-driven rhetoric.
6. Provide sufficient background
Don’t assume your audience will already have all the background information on this issue. Summarize the relevant background that will put the issue into context and ensure your reader quickly grasps the history and full scope of the issue. Use your appendices and sources section to provide additional background information to avoid disrupting the flow of the main text with information beyond what is necessary to grasp the concept.
7. Include statistics to support your argument
Backing up your argument with statistics is a non-negotiable for policy briefing. Choose stats that pack a punch and consider presenting them in a visual way that makes them intuitive and surprising. However, don’t drown your brief with too many numbers. Select the statistics that most support your recommendations and have the greatest impact.
8. Avoid jargon that can confuse the audience
Consider how the terms you use will be received by someone outside your industry. Jargon and acronyms that feel easy to you are likely entirely new words for your reader. The more words and acronyms they have to learn to understand your message, the less likely it is that they’ll feel convinced or excited by your work.
9. Include visual such as charts and graphs
Eye-catching, engaging visuals can illustrate your point and back up your data in an appealing way. Ensure your visuals are carefully designed and align with your message.
10. Check your policy brief
Once it’s been drafted, consider the policy brief’s purpose, audience, content, and structure once more. Revise the brief to make it as user-friendly as possible. Ask a colleague with no prior knowledge of the issue to read the brief and provide feedback. What points do they draw from it? Do these match your intentions? Will your brief help you achieve your goals?