I spent the majority of this past summer in Washington, D.C. organizing constituent mail as part of my internship for Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). Most of my days consisted of sorting emails and drafting responses to fuming constituents. While this type of more monotonous work was the norm, I was occasionally given the task of writing policy briefings, which represented a reward for me and a break from reading some of the nasty messages to Senator Casey.
Due to my experience with this genre, I have decided to do a–wait for it–policy briefing for my second experiment.
Composing these briefings gave me a lot to talk about as it relates to genre, and in this post I want to analyze how sub-genres are determined for these different memos that I drafted, similar to the format Amy uses in her blog about music sub-genres.
For my first briefing, I had to outline President Trump’s “maximum pressure and engagement” policy toward North Korea. The strategy entails applying increased pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, while simultaneously keeping negotiations open with the Korean nation. Based off the fact that this policy involves another country, I initially believed this briefing falls under the foreign policy genre. But the more statements I read from Trump and Secretary Tillerson, the more I became convinced that this memo is part of the armed forces genre since the Trump administration seems almost in-favor of war with North Korea. With Trump continuing his war-mongering via Twitter recently, I’m inclined to classify this briefing under the armed forces genre.
My second briefing required me to report on Trump’s proposal to expand the size of the navy fleet to 355 ships. While this proposal involves some non-military aspects, like how to finance these ships, it seems to be a straightforward instance of the armed forces genre. A quick Google search showed me that nearly all of the Trump officials who have commented on this proposal are current or former military officers or employees, not to mention that this proposal is entirely focused on improving the military. I think it’s a pretty safe bet to call this briefing part of the armed forces genre.
As part of my third briefing assignment, I had to detail Trump’s ban on transgender citizens from serving in the military. This policy is almost entirely split between the armed forces and LGBTQ genres, so I struggled with its classification. Although it is nominally an armed forces policy, this policy is rooted in LGBTQ issues. Upon reading Trump’s tweets about the ban and studying his larger perspective on social policies, it seems to be more of a reaction to transgender citizens overall than transgender soldiers specifically. The policy comes off as Trump’s way of firing back at LGBTQ activists in any way he can, which, in this case, comes in the form of barring transgender individuals from the military. It’s a close-call, but I’d argue that, given this evidence, this briefing falls under the LGBTQ genre.
To me, it’s sort-of crazy that I, then a lowly intern, was entrusted with drafting such multi-dimensional briefings. I’m no policy wonk, especially when it comes to military issues, but I like to think that I’m a decently-informed citizen who can discern some of the differences between briefings, enough to categorize their genres, at least, even if I’m not yet able to do it as cleanly as Amy.
Regardless, this exercise has helped me to hone my understanding of the whole policy memo genre. With this newfound knowledge, as well as my prior understanding of policy briefings, I’ve made a brief guide to the genre:
Policy briefings are written objectively and formally and focus on a single policy.
Above all, policy memos are not written subjectively. Rather, they are composed only according to facts, on-the-record statements, and other bits of verified information. They are drafted from a third-person perspective and describe one policy, rather than a series of policies or a broader strategy at-work. Policy memos also use formal language and do not contain colloquialisms or cliches.
Policy briefings are direct and succinct.
Policy briefings are just that–“brief”–and to the point. Policy memos are intended to be as concise as possible without missing any points or information. They strive for a balance between clarity and brevity, and they often use direct language to ensure this quality. Policy briefings are straightforward and do not mince words, even when outlining more controversial policies.
Policy briefings themselves do not have to fit neatly into a single genre, but they can.
As we saw with my first and third policy briefing examples, policy memos often involve a number of separate yet related genres. This creates a sense of overlap that can cause confusion, but I’ve found that this overlap really only makes for a deeper, more complex genre analysis. On the other end of this spectrum, some policy briefings are more straightforward and easily fall into a single genre, which is acceptable given the unique circumstances surrounding each briefing.