Policy Memo #1A
Policy Memo #1B
Policy Memo #2
Policy Analysis Final Report, #3
Oral Presentations

Topic SelectionTips
Paper Pointers


SMA 519, Winter 2004
Marine Policy Analysis
Writing Assignments

The Policy Memo
Students will choose (as soon as practicable) a policy analysis topic that will form the basis for three written memos and an in-class oral presentation.  In preparing their memos, students may work alone or, in consultation with the instructor, in teams of two.  Students working in teams will jointly prepare a single written memo for each assignment.   Each individual student will give an oral presentation at the end of the course, including those working in teams.   There are some advantages to students selecting topics on which other students are also working.  The clustering of topics can reduce the number of issues to be confronted by any one individual to a manageable level, while permitting more complete examination of the core policy problem by the class.  Memo topics follow:

Policy memo #1A:  Defining the policy problem.  [This memo will be brought to class and exchanged with another member of the class.  Bring an additional copy for the professor.  The second person will provide written comments on the memo using materials from class readings.  Since the memos will be the subject of a lecture, they must be submitted on time.]  The finished memo should be three to five pages long.  (All references to page length are for double-spaced text, with type size not smaller than twelve point.  You will be penalized if you exceed the page length limit.  Learn to be concise.  Spend your extra time editing your paper rather than lengthening it.)


Policy memo #1B:  Same as above.  The edited memo 1A will be returned to its author(s), who will revise it and submit it for a grade.  The length should be 3 to 5 pages.

Policy memo #2: Establishing policy objectives and alternatives.  This memo should be no longer than 6 to 8 pages, and should include memo #1.  Be sure to rework your problem definition in light of your objectives and alternatives.

Policy analysis final report, #3.  This memo includes your evaluation of alternatives and recommendations.  It should be no longer than 15 pages and should include memos #1 and #2, possibly reworked once again.  Figures and appendices are not counted in the 15 page limit.


Oral presentations will be scheduled during the last week of the quarter.  The presentations will (probably) be five minutes long per student; the time limits to be rigidly enforced.

Course grades will be based on memo #1B (20%), memo #2 (20%), memo #3 (35%), the oral presentation (15%), and class participation (10%).


A few pointers on selecting a policy memo topic:

Pick a topic that is narrow enough to analyze in less than 10 weeks but broad enough to be of interest to the rest of the class.  (Students are prone to select topics that are too broad to do proper justice to within the constraints of the class.)

 Pick a topic that interests you, preferably one within the area of study that most attracts you.  Pick a topic that is related to your intended career path or thesis project but is not necessarily one on which you have actually worked.  It is tempting to select a topic that draws on your job or volunteer work or a topic that is the subject of an ongoing degree project.  This has the advantage of providing easier access to information and clients, but it has disadvantages as well.  Students who select such topics are prone to bring agendas to their analysis that compromise objectivity and interfere with the analysis format used in the course.  It is arguably better to work within an issue cluster on a topic on which you do not have direct personal experience.


A few pointers on your papers:

You should address your memos to a specific client (real or imaginary).  Ideally, you will actually share your work with that person or group.  This targeting will help to focus your work and simulate the real world of policy analysis. Experience shows that it is far better to work on a real problem and realistic decision options for which you can obtain actual data or estimates than it is to try to work in a fictitious world that you invent.  [You may need to provide a short preface that outlines the background of the problem, which you would not provide to your client but which a reader not so informed would need.]

Note that the first two memos are interim, part of a continuing effort rather than complete products.  In the first memo, you will present an initial description and definition of the problem being analyzed.  Be sure to describe the problem so that readers understand why it is of public concern and to define the problem in such a way as to support the analysis to follow.  As part of your definition, list the possible causes of the problem.  Why do different people think that the problem exists?  This diagnostic list of possible causes will help to introduce the solution alternatives in memo #2.  As in the medical analogy, good diagnosis requires that you distinguish symptoms from their underlying basic causes.  Prominent among underlying causes in the analysis of public policy are various forms of market failure, government failure and distributional concerns.  [See Ch. 9 of W&V and Table 9.6 on p. 251 in particular for a preview.]

The second memo outlines your policy objectives and alternatives.  Begin this memo with a reworked version of the first.  Following that, set out and explain the various policy objectives you seek to attain and your criteria for gauging the attainment of them.  End with a description of the policy options (alternatives) to be considered in addressing the problem.  You will also want to discuss significant uncertainties at this stage.  There are few marine environmental problems of significance for which uncertainty is not a prominent feature.  You will not evaluate the alternatives at this stage.

The final report (memo #3) should incorporate the basic information from the earlier memos and reflect the feedback you have received on them.  Assume that your client has read your earlier memos, but has forgotten much of what they contain (an often realistic assumption).  Also, assume that the memo will be shared with a larger audience (e.g., the agency head, budget director, chief executive, legislative committees, interest groups, and other interested parties).  The memo must be intelligible to them and not too narrowly focused.

In memo #3 evaluate the policy options in light of the criteria you have established, using the best information and relevant theory you can marshal.  Assess the likely effects of each option, should it be implemented.  As Bardach puts it, "Project the outcomes."  Remember that this is the heart of the analysis and needs to be substantive and well-supported.  You should highlight the important differences in the effects that each option will likely produce.  This allows you to discuss intelligently the trade-offs between options.  Do not overlook important considerations of political feasibility and implementation.  It makes little sense to recommend an impractical alternative.  Also, be sure to deal with the uncertainties (e.g., how do uncertainties affect your analysis or recommendations).

Ideally, the paper should conclude with a recommendation.  Ending with a recommendation provides good discipline inasmuch as you must put yourself in the position of the decision maker.  You should therefore try to offer for your client’s consideration a recommended choice among your policy alternatives.  If however you feel a superior course of action has not emerged from your analysis, then emphasize the tradeoffs inherent in adopting one or the other of the favored options.  You should also sketch out an implementation strategy for your recommended alternative.  At the minimum, try to anticipate barriers to implementation.

 Finally, it is always a good idea to have a succinct and clear summary of your whole analysis, including the recommendations you make.  For a paper of the length you are aiming for, this should be no more than a page, ideally only a paragraph at the paper's very beginning.

The oral presentation of your analysis will be strictly timed.  Due to the size of the class, your presentation could be as little as five minutes long, although this can be adjusted depending upon class preferences and scheduling necessities.  This is certainly a shorter time than you would have in a real situation, but not so little as you might think.  The short time provides good discipline in learning how to focus attention on your recommendations and the reasons for them rather than providing a lengthy (and potentially boring) description of your work.  Students working in teams will have twice the normal allotment of time, which they may use for a single presentation (split equally between the two) or two separate presentations of equal length.

Because of the limited time, you will have to choose carefully what to present and what to leave out.  Practice to ensure smooth delivery.  The presentation should include overheads and/or handouts so that the audience can follow along.  PowerPoint is an attractive option for many students.  Those wanting to make PowerPoint presentations will be required to coordinate with one another, such as by assuring that all presentations are loaded onto a single computer in advance.  Visuals that are particularly helpful are a brief outline of what you will cover, charts or graphs depicting the nature and extent of the problem under study, and a simple diagram that summarizes your evaluation of the policy options.  Of course, it is up to you to decide what is appropriate based on the nature of the problem and your analysis.

It is a good idea to prepare and distribute a one- or two-page brief that summarizes the problem and identifies the client.


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Contact the instructor at:  tml@u.washington.edu