Specifics: You are the new Secretary of Homeland Security. You are drafting a Policy Document for the Biden Administration that explores Port Security past 2021. MTSA and S.A.F.E Port are key legislations; the Secure Freight Initiative is a process embraced by the world. What are YOU recommending be the next issue to address within this homeland security issue? Is the biggest issue cyber-related? Is it the use of containers as weapons? Choose your issue.
The typical format for a White Paper is:
Define the issue
Summarize your findings and recommendations including Course of Actions.
To help you with this assignment please consider the following references:
White Paper Guidelines
White Paper Briefing
Tips for Writing Policy Papers
A Policy Lab Communications Workshop
This workshop teaches the basic strategies, mechanics, and structure of longer policy papers.
Most policy papers are written in the form of a white paper, which offer authoritative perspective
on or solutions to a problem. White papers are common not only to policy and politics, but also
in business and technical fields. In commercial use, white papers are often used as a marketing or
sales tool where the product is pitched as the “solution” to a perceived need within a particular
market. In the world of policy, white papers guide decision makers with expert opinions,
recommendations, and analytical research.
Policy papers may also take the form of a briefing paper, which typically provides a decision
maker with an overview of an issue or problem, targeted analysis, and, often, actionable
recommendations. Briefing books and white papers often accompany an oral briefing that targets
key findings or recommendations. The decision maker then refers to the extended paper for the
deep analysis that supports the core findings and/or recommendations.
Although the policy paper relies on your authority over the deep research that you have
conducted on the issue or problem, you should also pay close attention to audience, the
professional expectations and jargon of your targeted decision makers, and the structure and flow
of your argument. Here are some general attributes that structure the analysis and argument for
most policy papers:
Define the problem or issue. Highlight the urgency and state significant findings for the
problem based on the data. Objectivity is your priority, so resist the urge to overstate.
Analyze—do not merely present—the data. Show how you arrived at the findings or
recommendations through analysis of qualitative or quantitative data. Draw careful
conclusions that make sense of the data and do not misrepresent it. Your data should be
Summarize your findings or state recommendations. Provide specific
recommendations or findings in response to specific problems and avoid generalizations.
Generate criteria for evaluating data. Explain the key assumptions and methodology
underlying your analysis and prioritize the criteria you rely on to assess evidence.
If you are producing recommendations, develop a theory of change, and analyze the
options and tradeoffs according to your methodology and assess their feasibility.
What are the pros and cons? What is feasible? What are the predictable outcomes?
Develop a logic model to gird your analysis and support your assertions with relevant
Address—and when appropriate rebut—counterarguments, caveats, alternative
interpretations, and reservations to your findings or recommendations. Your
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credibility as a policy analyst relies on your ability to locate and account for
counterargument. You should be especially sensitive to the likely counterarguments that a
decision-maker would face in implementing or acting on your recommendations or
Suggest next steps and the implications of the findings or recommendations. You
may briefly address the feasibility of next steps or explore the implications of your
Distill the conclusions succinctly in a concluding section and remind the decisionmaker of the big picture, the overall goal, the necessity of the investigation, or of the
urgency for action. This answers the “Who cares?” question that reminds the reader of
the value of the research and recommendations. If you are targeting a decision maker,
you should reflect the decision-maker’s primary concerns.
Heuristics to Assess Competing Policy Options:
The options feasibility charts and the PEST and SWOT matrices
After you have produced findings on the problem, you must orient the data around likely
solutions. The option and decision feasibility chart and a PEST
analysis can help you locate recommendations in competing data and
PEST focuses on how political, economic, social, and technological
factors affect the feasibility of a policy option. Examples of political
factors could include applicable regulations, taxation issues and
government policies (which are also sometimes broken out more
specifically as “Legal” factors); they can also be construed as the
political interests at stake (which may overlap with social factors).
Economic factors include inflation, business cycles, government
spending, overall cost, and consumer confidence. Social factors
include demographics, public attitudes, and income distribution.
Technological factors focus on the technology involved in supporting or implementing a
particular option, including energy use and the availability of key technology. PEST analysis
involves not only identifying the relevant factors, but also considering options for responding to
Yet, PEST analysis for policy makers is a somewhat fluid heuristic. It simply offers a starting
point from which you can drill down to increasingly detailed conclusions and recommendations.
It may also be broken out as PASTEL, for example: Political, Administrative, Social,
Technological, Economic, and Legal factors. You should adapt and prioritize the underlying
criteria according to your policy needs.
The first example chart shows the variability in a strong PEST analysis, breaking it into five
categories to assess the feasibility of implementing four recommendation options: Political
Feasibility, Administrative Feasibility, Equity, Cost Effectiveness, and Environmental Impact.
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That chart also shows that the policy writer folded Social Feasibility into the Political Feasibility
and Equity tests. The example chart focuses on the problem of pesticides, offering four possible
policy options to control farm pesticide use: (1) Do Nothing/Status Quo, (2) Tax Pesticides, (3)
Increase Number of Pesticides Banned, (4) Discourage Pesticides through Tax Breaks to
Ecologically Appropriate Crops, (5) Limit the Number of Pesticides that can be applied to a
particular crop. The chart then assesses the overall positive and negative outcomes or qualities
associated with each possible solution to reveal a dominant recommendation: Tax Pesticides.
You can build your own Feasibility Chart by measuring options in the context of PEST
categories and through the perspectives of key interest groups. The more detailed your
knowledge of your subject, the more authoritative the outcome of the chart. In this chart, the
policy writer prioritizes five hypothetical solutions to the problem of pesticide use among
The PEST chart shows that, while all five options have positive environmental impact, only one
of the options predominates among the other criteria. In this policy analyst’s view, taxing
pesticides meets the bar of being administratively feasible and equitable to all parties; it has a
positive environmental impact and it is both cost effective and offers a positive economic impact.
For this policy writer, taxing pesticides is the best recommendation, which she will highlight
early in her memo.
You’ll note, however, that the first column—“Political Feasibility”—shows up as the single
negative for her recommendation of Tax Pesticides. Thus, in the body of her memo, the writer
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needs briefly to address and rebut or qualify the shortcomings of the political feasibility of taxing
pesticides. The writer will also discuss the highlights, tradeoffs, and shortcomings of the other
findings, demonstrating, for example, the limitations of increasing the number of banned
pesticides and of limiting the amount of pesticides applied to particular crops.
A second chart examines the same five possible options through the perspectives of involved
The stakeholders chart shows that, while all five possible options (or solutions to the problem of
under-regulated and over-used pesticides) have both positive and negative aspects, once again,
the solution of taxing pesticides dominates. When the option of “Tax Pesticides” again shows up
positively, the writer can feel certain in prioritizing that recommendation.
Should the researcher wish to drill down further into the recommendation of taxing pesticides,
she could, for example, compose yet another chart that breaks “Tax Pesticides” into different
components, depending on her overall goals. She might, for example, analyze different types of
taxes for pesticides or, alternatively, break the pesticides into subgroups, taxing them according
to their virulent effects on people or the environment. The chart is only as authoritative as its
creator but it will focus your attention on possible outcomes or findings. It is a first step in
clarifying your ideas before writing the policy paper.
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SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) Analysis. The SWOT analysis is adapted
from organizational management and business strategy. It surveys the surrounding environment
of a specific policy or strategy that you are analyzing or proposing. It allows you to identify the
internal characteristics of the policy as either strengths or weaknesses and classify external
factors as opportunities or threats.
After assessing and classifying internal and external factors, analysts construct a 2-by-2 matrix
with the following four cells: strengths-opportunities (S-O), weaknesses-opportunities (W-O),
strengths-threats (S-T), and weaknesses-threats (W-T). You should run each of your
recommendations through a SWOT analysis.
The Executive Summary
Once you have determined your dominant recommendation/s or findings, you are ready to
structure your white paper or briefing book and write the Executive Summary. The structure of
the paper or briefing book should build towards your recommendations, not develop the
chronology of the problem or research. It can help to write a draft of the Executive Summary
first as a structuring device. You will, of course, return to it at the end of the process of writing,
revising it in accord with your final analysis.
Although the Executive Summary is the most important part of any policy paper, it is often the
most difficult to write. Yet there are basic steps that will help turn complex ideas into succinct
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and powerful arguments guaranteed to capture the attention of a busy reader. You will, for
example, need briefly to describe the current policy situation, offer immediate pros and cons of
your reasoning for change, and explicitly state your recommendation/s or findings.
The Executive Summary serves as a starting point – but also the end point – for the policy paper.
It telegraphs your key recommendations, relying on your authority as a researcher or expert in
your field. It not only summarizes your key points for the busy reader, but highlights the
recommendations in a memorable way to guide future discussions. Think of it through the lens of
your decision maker: What key points best prepare your decision maker to remember and
understand your research and recommendations?
As a general rule, the executive summary is no more than 5% of the full length of the paper, so a
100-page white paper might have a 5-page executive summary. This is merely a rule of thumb.
Your executive summary should be as long as it needs to be to summarize your key points.
1) Motivation/problem statement: Why do we care about the problem? What practical,
theoretical, legal, sociological, or policy gap does your research address? How does your
work contribute to the field? How does it intersect—or not—with other scholars’ work in
2) Methods/procedure/approach: What did you do to get your results? What methods did
you use—e.g., developed and analyzed surveys, completed a series of multivariate
regressions, analyzed the legislative history of the issue, interviewed stakeholders, etc.
3) Results/findings/recommendations: As a result of your analysis, what did you
4) Conclusions/implications: What are the larger implications of your findings? How do
they help readers understand the problem? How do they help decision makers
understand/solve the problem? How do they help identify the gap in existing research?
Are there next steps in pursuing research on the issue?
A useful way to draft your introduction is the journalist’s “Who / What / Why / How” heuristic.
WHO and WHAT / Where
1. Acknowledges the target audience, the intended use/s, and the expected dissemination
for the paper.
2. Concisely states the problem or issue. It may orient the problem in terms of policy.
What are the limitations or deficiencies in current policy?
3. Offers reasons for initiating research to examine the problem and more fully explains
why the issue is problematic.
4. May sign post key policy options or standard approaches; sometimes this is stated as
the status quo, sometimes it includes existing alternatives that seek to remedy or address
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5. May sign post the pros and cons of existing approaches or options or may highlight the
general trends in addressing the issue.
HOW / When
6. May reference the methodology used to examine the data or explain core assumptions
that guided research and analysis.
7. States findings or evidence that explore / describe / explain the issue. It may recommend
corrective actions or policies.
8. Offers supporting reasons for the analysis of the evidence or for selecting or
highlighting particular actions.
9. May conclude briefly with the urgency and opportunity for action.
A checklist for drafting the executive summary:
1. Are all of the crucial points of your argument covered? Do you prepare your reader for
the analysis ahead? Conversely, if this is all the reader had to refresh her memory after
reading your full analysis would she be adequately equipped to discuss your argument,
testify on the issue, or move forward with a policy debate?
2. Is there a brief, clear storyline that outlines the big picture?
3. How effectively do you summarize the sections ahead? Does the structure of those
sections reveal the right logic for your target audience? Have you framed the issues from
the perspective of key stakeholders, senior decision-makers, or your target audience?
4. How focused is the background description? Beware of wasting space on background.
5. Are problems well specified from the perspective of the likely reader(s)? If relevant, are
existing and potential laws, regulations, and current policy interventions covered?
6. If you are proposing policy options, do you signpost the tradeoffs involved? Are all
problems matched with potential solutions or guidelines for change? Is the treatment of
advantages and disadvantages (economically, politically) analytically sound and clearly
7. Are recommendations and/or findings feasible, clear, and logically prioritized?
8. Do you suggest a framework for future work on the issue?
9. Is the overall presentation and writing quality up to professional standards? Do you avoid
Basic Structure of a Policy Paper
1. The Executive Summary.
2. Introduction (and Background). These are sometimes broken out as separate sections with
the introduction dedicated to the broad goals and underlying motivations for the paper and
the background allowing a fuller development of the historical rationale and context for the
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issue. Sometimes they are joined to describe the context for the ultimate goal, the decision to
move forward with research on the topic, or the big picture for the research you are
undertaking. This is also where you might highlight your theory of change.
3. Methodology. Narrate your methodology briefly. Relegate the micro data, survey questions,
and the specific details for your rationale in the appendices.
4. Literature Review. Here, you should more fully describe the status of existing academic
work or thinking about the issue and situate your own research in the context of questions
that still need answers. How does your work or project fit into the overall context of existing
research or common academic perceptions on the general issue? What scholarly
contributions does your work offer?
5. Policy Options or Policy Context. Depending on the orientation of your research, you may
need to explore the pros and cons of possible policy options. You should always describe the
status quo of current policy, including current intervention efforts.
6. Analysis of Findings or Evidence. This is your original research. You want your argument
to flow logically and fluidly, but be sure to use descriptive headings and subheadings to help
guide and orient the reader.
7. Case Studies and Best Practices. If your findings are grounded in original case studies,
indicate the names of those case studies individually with “Lessons Learned” at the end of
each individual case study. Be aware that “Best Practices” demand rigorous analysis and do
not flow intuitively from Lessons Learned. If your analysis of the case studies proves
lengthy, you might relegate the full details to Annexes and then summarize each with
“Lessons Learned” (and, if relevant, “Best Practices”) in the text of the report.
8. Policy Options and Recommendations. Again, break these out by specific subheaders.
Some policy papers may merge the findings and recommendations, with the
recommendations flowing immediately from specific findings. Most, however, present all
findings together in a single section, followed by policy options and recommendations. Just
to be clear, it’s okay if your analysis stops short of full recommendations so long as you
clearly lay out the relevance for your analysis of the evidence.
9. Implementation and Next Steps. Some policy papers fold implementation into the
recommendations or into next steps. Others break out this section discretely to detail the
specific steps of how and when to implement the recommendations. If there are significant
risks, costs, or obstacles associated with implementation, you should discuss them in the
earlier section that describes the pros and cons of the policy recommendation/s. This section
should be dedicated to the mechanics of implementation. Again, your paper may stop short of
developing implementation, but you might acknowledge implementation as a part of “Next
10. Conclusion. Here, you might return to the big picture or the motive of your analysis: What is
the goal of the analysis or of your policy recommendation/s? What will happen if the
decision-maker does not act on your research or move forward with the recommendation?
What will happen if she does? While you do not want to succumb to rhetoric, this is your
opportunity to remind your reader of the importance of your analysis.
11. Appendices. These typically include the survey data and questions, charts and graphs, and
details of case studies that gird your analysis.
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12. Bibliography. While professional white papers may not reference their sources, any
academic papers must provide a full bibliography in addition to fully cited, footnoted
references. Footnotes and endnotes, however, are not standard for most white papers.
Sample White Papers
For Copyright Policy Lab: United States Copyright Office, PRE-1972 SOUND RECORDINGS
(12/11), Executive Summary. http://www.copyright.gov/docs/sound/pre-72-exec-summary.pdf
Copyright Office, PRE-1972 SOUND RECORDINGS (12/11), Full Report.
Prize-winning policy analysis thesis, Harvard Kennedy School: Mamie Marcus (2007), Immigrant
Voters in Massachusetts: Implications for Political Parties,
o This policy analysis paper first highlights the findings, building on them for the subsequent
recommendations. It is far simpler in style, structure, and argument than a Copyright Office
white paper, but it offers a good starting point for understanding the structure of a standard
Prize-winning policy analysis thesis, Harvard Kennedy School: Agustina Schijman and Guadalupe
Dorna, From Vulnerable Mountaineers to Safe Climbers (2012)
o This policy paper offers trenchant insight on the decline of the middle class in Argentina,
with actionable recommendations for the government. Following the Introduction, the paper
defines its key terms and describes its methodology. It states clear motivations for the
research, laid out as goals or objectives. At each step, the authors never lose sight of the
practical and actionable nature of their research and recommendations.
Pew Center, Asia Society. January 2009. “A Roadmap for U.S.-China Cooperation on Energy and
o This report presents a vision and a concrete roadmap for U.S.-China collaboration focused on
reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change. The report
begins with a “Forward” that highlights the importance of a collaboration between the U.S.
and China as key leaders in negotiating climate change policy. The Forward also names key
goals and describes underlying motivations.
o The Executive Summary explicitly names basic assumptions for the rationale supporting the
methodology, findings, and recommendations. Without those assumptions, readers will not be
persuaded of the report’s ultimate recommendations. The Executive Summary then advocates
its major recommendations before moving on to explicit findings with second-level, more
specific recommendations. The conclusion to the Executive Summary underscores the
urgency of following its recommendations both in a negative sense—what will happen if
China and the U.S. do not act on these recommendations—and in a positive sense—what will
happen if China and the U.S. do act on the recommendations. While conclusions are not
mandatory for executive summaries, they do allow you to return to the big picture or the
motive and urgency of your policy recommendations.
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General Texts on Policy Analysis:
• Bardach, Eugene. 2000. A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis. New York: Chatham House Publishers.
• Brest, Paul and Linda Hamilton Krieger, 2010. Problem Solving, Decision Making, and Professional Judgment:
A Guide for Lawyers and Policymakers. Oxford UP.
• Smith, Catherine F. 2010. Writing Public Policy. Oxford UP.
• Weimer, David L. and Aidan R. Vining. 1992. Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
• Williams, Joseph. 2008. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace.
Harvard Kennedy School Communications Program
The Hume Center for Writing and Speaking
The HKS Policy Analysis Exercise: The Writing Guide:
“Advanced Policy Writing for Decision Makers,” HKS communications course (DPI 821M), which focuses on
the production habits, style, and structure for extended white papers and briefing books.
“Policy Writing for Decision Makers,” Luciana Herman’s basic policy writing course (DPI 820M), which
teaches basic policy analysis, style, and structure for proposals, memos, and oral briefings.
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