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Roles and Communication Practices

General Method
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Communicating in the Policy Process:
A General Method

So far, you have been introduced to expectations and roles with associated communication practices typically found in public policy work.

Change reading gears here, please. What follows is a method for writing (or speaking) fitted to the culture of public policy making. It translates the culture into practical, routine questions you should ask when considering the motivation, context, and situation for a communication. At the end of the questions are two checklists that compile the expected qualities that public policy documents or talks should have. The checklists are intended for your use in assessing a policy document you have written or a talk you have planned.
Now, you should only read the outline and checklists for perspective and for familiarity. Later, when you have an actual need to communicate (for instance, in a course or a policy workplace), use the method to plan before you write. Use the checklists after you write.

If your writing experience has been mainly in the classroom, you may be surprised by the method’s questions. They represent real world writing conditions.

Ask and answer the method’s questions to plan and produce a communication. They prompt you to consider all the usual components of a writing situation and to take note of significant particulars that might affect your work. Your answers to the questions are your guide to writing or planning the needed product.

Practice this procedure methodically (even if laboriously at first) until it becomes routine to ask these questions each time you have a need to communicate. At first, jotting down your answers and keeping your notes nearby as you write will be helpful. (Use the general method worksheet to help you.) Later, when you habitually use this method to prepare for communicating, you will routinely adapt it to particular demands. A word of caution: Even if you skip some questions, do not omit whole steps in the method. All the steps are needed to cover the basics. Omitting a step in the preparation wastes time when you are writing or causes other trouble later.

If you are writing for someone else or if you are producing a document with many contributors (the state budgeting case illustrates both), remember to consult with others as needed to answer the questions.


Step 1: Prepare

First, ask questions about the policy process.


To what policy process (underway or anticipated) does this communication relate?

Does a policy already exist?


What conditions are problematic?

What problem do these conditions present?

How do I define the problem?

How do others define the problem?


Who are the actors?

What are their roles?

What are their interests?

Who else has a significant role in the process?


What are the major disagreements or conflicts?

What are the major agreements or interests in common?

Which actors are most likely to influence the process or the outcome?

Step 2: Plan

Second, ask questions about the communication.


Why is this communication needed?

What do I want to accomplish?


What is my message?

How does my message differ from others on the same topic?

What argument will I make to support my message?

How does my argument relate to others on the topic?


What is my role in this process?

What is my interest in the outcome?


Whose name will be on the document(s)—mine? another’s? an organization’s?

For whom does the communication speak?


Who is (are) the named recipient (s)?

Who will use the information?

Will the document(s) be forwarded? Circulated? To whom? Re-presented? By whom?


What will recipients know after reading the document(s)?

What will users of its information do?

What is likely to happen as a consequence of this communication?

Setting and situation

What is the occasion? What is the timeframe for communicating?

Where, when, and how will this communication be presented?

Where, when, and how will it be received? Used?

Form and medium

Is there a prescribed form, or do I choose?

What is the appropriate medium for presentation and delivery? A written document? A telephone call? E-mail?


What information will support the message?


Where will a succinct statement of the message be placed?

How should the contents be arranged to support the message?

How will the document’s design make information easy to find?

Tone and Appearance

How do I want this communication to sound?

What attitude do I want to convey?

How do I want the document(s) to look? Is a style or layout prescribed, or do I choose how to present the contents?

Document management

Who will draft the document? Will there be collaborators?

Who will review the draft? Who will revise it?

Step 3: Produce

Based on your preparation and planning, write the document. Do it in three separate passes: draft first, review second, and revise third. Do not mix the tasks. Separating those tasks allows you to manage your time and handle distractions while you write, and to communicate better in the end.

The tasks are outlined here. Use this outline to stay on track if you’re working alone, or under pressure, or producing a short document.


Produce a complete working draft in accordance with your preparation and plan (including your answers to the questions, above).


Compare the draft to the plan, and highlight any differences

Get additional review of the draft by others, if advisable

Refer to the checklists to assess the draft’s effectiveness and quality, and to highlight needs for revision.


Make the changes called for by review

After a document or talk is produced, assess it by using evaluation checklists.


Task Outline

Right-click on the links below to download a worksheet for using the General Method

Download .pdf

Download .rtf