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LDRS 202 Principled Leadership in American Government

How to write a policy memo. Also see examples in Canvas

Policy Memo

The memo provides background, breaks down the problem and identifies the significance of any new information. Then it suggests a possible direction. A well-written briefing paper can influence the recipient and shape policy

Avoid jargon, and don't use big words just to impress.

Explain Why You're Writing

The opening paragraph should tell the reader why you're writing the memo, why a decision needs to be made and what your recommendations are.


This briefing note covers the need to protect confidential data from the newly discovered Red Dagger vulnerability. Foreign hackers are actively exploiting Red Dagger to access Social Security numbers, birth dates and other information they can use in identity thefts. The weakness needs to be fixed immediately.

Provide Some Background

Most issues don't spring up out of nowhere. The background paragraphs should explain how the problem you're addressing developed, going into more detail than the opening. The level of detail and which details you include should reflect who you're writing to. If the issue is nuclear contamination, a scientist might want technical specs, while a health official will be more interested in the risk to the public. A stakeholder's main concern might be how media coverage will affect the organization.


The toxic waste has leaked into the local reservoir, which provides water to 2.7 million residents. Initial estimates are that cancer and birth defect rates may quadruple over the next decade.

If the company doesn't take action to mitigate the damage and clean up the contamination, potential losses from liability claims could top $7 million.

Structure the Memo Logically

Writing a briefing paper isn't art, it's persuasion, designed to lead the reader to your recommended conclusion. All your paragraphs should relate to the subject at hand. Information should flow from paragraph to paragraph until you reach the end. The headings should identify the content of each section, with bullet points to break down itemized lists. When you reach the end of the memo, give your conclusion, restating your key points.


Past failures to discipline sexual harassers have led to $2.4 million in payouts to settle harassment lawsuits. The new harassment scandal threatens to dwarf the previous incidents. If the company does nothing, we risk larger payouts and a tarnished reputation. The best way to protect the company financially, legally and to preserve its reputation is to adopt the recommended policy.  .