Help with a policy memo on Public Safety

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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


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, 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

 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.


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


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2. Executive Summary
Below the header, a memo generally includes an executive summary, a single paragraph that summarizes the

entire memo. After reading the memo just once, the reader can understand what the rest of the memo will explain.

The executive summary can




I. Introduction

The following policy memorandum samples provide you with examples on the format of a policy

memorandum. They display a variety and approaches and styles that you may find helpful when

developing your own policy memorandum.

Please note that these examples do not necessarily correspond to the writing guidelines and

evaluation criteria specifically established for the Global Debate and Public Policy Challenge

(e.g. some memos do not provide sources). The samples are therefore by no means a template for

your memo.

Please carefully follow the memo writing instructions provided separately to ensure that your

submission meets the requirements established for the Global Debate and Public Policy


II. List of sample policy memos

1. Harvard Kennedy School of Government (no date). Re-organizing the Government to Combat the

WMD Threat. Retrieved from


2. LK11538 (2012). Digital Freedoms and Canadian Economic Policy. Submission to the Global Debate

and Public Policy Challenge 2012-2013.

3. KG10240 (2012). Sanctions of the 21st century. Submission to the Global Debate and Public Policy

Challenge 2012-2013.


TO: President of the United States
FROM: [ ]
SUBJECT: Re-organizing the Government to Combat the WMD Threat
DATE: xx / xx / xxxx

The proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is the most serious threat to U.S.
security today, and will remain so far into the future. Whereas combating proliferation is an
inherently government-wide mission, the existing national security architecture has resulted in
a series of agency-specific efforts that are often poorly coordinated and fail to take advantage of
important synergies. Re-organizing the government to meet the WMD threat therefore requires
reforms that strengthen White House management of nonproliferation programs, expand
interagency counterproliferation capabilities, and improve WMD-related intelligence.

Strengthen White House Management of Nonproliferation Programs
The Departments of Energy (DOE), State, Defense (DOD), Commerce, and Homeland Security
(DHS) all contribute to U.S. nonproliferation efforts, but receive insufficient top-level program
guidance and coordination. For example, DOE did not learn of Libya’s decision to abandon its
nuclear program until it was revealed in the press. Moreover, DOE had no plan in place to
dismantle Libya’s nuclear assets despite its central role in performing such activities. Finally,
proliferation detection R&D projects are currently managed by a community of end users that
have overlapping needs but rarely communicate with each other.

To prevent future interagency breakdowns, the White House should designate a new

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