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How to Inform Policy Makers in a Briefing Memo or Opinion
Tasks for Writing Briefing Memos or Opinions
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Informing Policy Makers:
How to Inform Policy Makers in a Briefing Memo or Opinion

Below, the goal, objective, scope, and product for a briefing memo or opinion are specified along with a suggested strategy for writing a briefing memo or opinion.


Recognition of meaningful information in a mass of details and representation that highlights the significance of information for a user.

Communication objective

Skills of distilling: listening, recording, observing, evaluating sources, relating detail to context, interpreting detail accurately in context, selecting detail according to relevance.

Capability of stating informed opinion that is aware of and responsive to other opinion.


One to two-page written memo, or one to two-paragraph written statement, possibly with attachments.


Only essential topics in an identified context. Targets a specific information need.


Use these guiding questions to develop the memo’s or statement’s contents:

Why is this communication necessary?
Consider the workload (and information overload) of the user. Is the communication needed at all? Is it needed now?

What is the subject?
Consider the interruptions and distractions in the user’s routine. Exactly what is the communication about?

What is the purpose?
Do you want to inform policy makers about their choices? Or, do you want to persuade a community? Help the general public make up its mind? Lobby influential actors in order to influence outcomes? According to your purpose, what must the document include and exclude?

What will this communication do?
What can happen as a result? Consider what you want recipients to think or to do. What must the document include or exclude to enable the intended action? What other consequences (other than the intended) might the communication have?

What is the context?
To what policy process does this communication relate? Who are the players? What must the document include or exclude to catch the intended recipient’s attention?

What is the situation of reception?
Consider who will read and who will use the document. How do they like or need information to be presented? Will they refer it or forward it to others? In what circumstances will it be read or used? How will you design the document for readability and usability?

Why are you providing the information?
Consider the ethics of your communication. Do you have a position on, or a stake in, the subject? Do you have a role in the policy process? How will you make your interest clear to the recipient?


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Example 1

A London newspaper article summarizes investigations into Tony Blair's 2003 decision to join George W. Bush in a war against Iraq.

Example 2

A community resident provides information and interpretation to a local official about laws affecting a local zoning issue.

Examples of Tone

The tone of a communication affects its reception. Here are some examples of 'good' and 'bad' tone.