Communicating for policy audiences

Communicating for policy audiences, whether in written formats or via oral presentations, is very different from communicating for academic audiences. The following general principles apply to all forms of communication with policymakers and the media:
  • Brevity: keep documents and presentations as short as possible. Some formats, such as articles for press and briefing papers, have quite specific lengths, but in general you will be writing or speaking much less than you would for an academic audience. Always have a summary of the document or presentation prepared.
  • Get to the point: briefing papers and reports have an executive summary; media articles have a lede (the opening summary statement). Both follow the same principle: all the important information should be stated immediately. All policy communications should begin with something which, if considered in isolation, would convey a working understanding of the issue.
  • Clarity: write and speak in plain English. This means avoiding jargon and ‘academese’ as much as possible and keeping sentences short. Your communications should be readily intelligible to a layperson.
  • Narrative: particularly when communicating for the media or the public, focus on telling a story, and make this the centre of your piece, rather than beginning with background information or theoretical/critical frameworks. Third sector organisations are especially good at using narrative as an effective tool for advocacy.

You’ll need practice to get comfortable with the style and structure. If you can, seek feedback from someone who is accustomed to communicating in the sector. This could be someone from an external organisation, but your institution’s communications team and research support staff may also be able to help.

This section considers:

Writing a policy brief
Writing for the media