Policy Memo Guideline

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Definition of Genre
Policy memos are not like other academic papers. Their main purpose is to provide analysis and/or
recommendations regarding a certain issue, and they are written for a specific, often limited, audience. Because of
the need for quick, accurate information in the policy world, policy memos are written so that readers can
efficiently access fact-based information in order to make an informed decision. Memos should, therefore, try to
inform the audience in a concise, organized, and professional manner, while still including the most relevant
content.
Writing criteria for policy memos
An effective memo will do its job if the reader comprehends the main points after one quick read or even after
reading just the first sentence of each section. To ensure that the memo gets the intended results, pay close
attention to the following: (1) content, (2) structure, (3) organization, (4) word choice, and (5) clarity.
Content
Content, of course, is the most important determinant of a good policy memo. Weak or illogical ideas, no matter
how well-presented, do no one any good. Therefore, a memo should provide both accurate and relevant
information, while also acknowledging the limitations of certain recommendations or analysis. Any
recommendations should include honest and realistic alternatives. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Present the most relevant information and state your main ideas and any recommendations clearly.
Make sure to present opinions as opinions and NOT as facts. Opinions presented should also be
substantiated.
Use logic and facts to support each of your main points and/or to refute opposing points. When citing
facts in-text, be accurate.
Avoid logical fallacies such as appeals to authority, slippery slope arguments, hasty generalizations, and
faulty causation.
Structure
1. Header
Structure, simply put, means how a memo looks. Most memos take the general form of an email, and the first
page has “To:,” “From:,” “Date;” and a title that starts with “RE:.” Consider the following example (with bolding
used to identify the parts):
To: Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Treasury (Writer’s Audience)
From: Michelle (Min Eun) Jeon, Policy Advisor (Writer’s name and title)
Date: 2/20/2012 (Date)
RE: Overcoming the Obstacle: House Speaker John Boehner (Title/Main Idea)
The header as formatted above comes at the beginning of a memo. With the header, the reader will know to whom
the writer is writing, what authority the writer has to address the audience, and the most critical message of the
memo.
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