Policy Briefs: Academic Papers for the Highly Distractable

Every good policy brief begins with two or three bolded, boxed, italicized, or differently colored summaries of the content of the brief. This way, congressmen or politicians don’t actually have to read on past the first five sentences. This is the key: a simple-text abstract to hold the reader’s attention for approximately ten seconds. Then, for the ambitious readers who want to fact-check the content in their chosen summary, oftentimes key statistics are placed in short bullet points which can be skimmed over in about ten seconds. If the reader is hooked, he or she may flip to the last page to see the again, often bullet-pointed list of policy recommendations. The format of a policy brief is broken up into sections with clear headers, with several options to stop reading and read the bolded gist throughout the short paper. If it succeeds, a busy person may read the brief and understand the key points within 60 seconds. In my experience, policy briefs seem to be an academic paper which is stripped to the bare minimum, dumbed down in terms of language, and shortened by about 8-15 pages. They follow a very similar structure of summary/abstract, background, data & methods, and implications/conclusion. However, while an academic paper may be 20 pages long, a policy brief tends to be around 3-8. They are written for people who likely have background knowledge and are educated, but do not know specifics and will not spend a long time reading. For this reason, they are very succinct, short, and highly readable.

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