What kinds of issues might you make a policy recommendation about?

Theory and Policy Paper Guidelines

This final paper will be in the form of a policy briefing or memo, with more theoretical information than is usually included in a traditional policy or briefing memo. What kinds of issues might you make a policy recommendation about? Just about anything in the crime or criminal justice realm. Students have made recommendations about:

Reducing recidivism
Establishing training protocols for law enforcement (related to use of force, domestic violence situations, situations that involve juveniles, LGBT populations, migrants, stateless people, etc.)
Incorporating community outreach programs
Improving prison conditions
Reducing juvenile delinquency
Examples of Student Work

All of the papers below earned at least 90% of the total points available for the assignment. They might give you ideas about what to include.

Deadly Use of Force Actions

Policing Trans and Gender Nonconforming Communities Actions

Sex Trafficking and Illegal Prostitution Actions

Active Shooters Actions

Trans People in Prisons Actions


The typical recipient of a briefing or policy memo a) is extremely busy, b) is far less knowledgeable about the subject at hand than the memo’s author, c) is responsible for making important decisions on the basis of memos like the one you are about to write and d) has an agenda. All the suggestions below should be considered in this light.


Begin your memo with a short summary introduction. This introduction should tell the reader:

The memo topic and what ground or issues it covers.
Why you wrote the memo – the problem, request, debate, decision to be made, etc.
The primary theory that will be used to solve the problem.
What recommendations you make or key themes to remember. Summarize your main points in a few sentences.
Where the memo is headed. You should provide a brief roadmap: Section 1 provides background on Dhanu (a.k.a. Tanu); Section 2 describes why she participated in genocide; Section 3 assesses the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE); Section 4 outlines policy options for dealing with female terrorists; Section 5 describes policy recommendations for counter-terrorism.
Many people never read more than the introduction or executive summary. Those who do will find it much easier to understand your memo after reading it.


Your paper must include:

The Problem: Define the problem you seek to solve. Discuss the magnitude of the problem, why this is a problem that needs to be solved, who is affected by this problem, how it affects the larger society, and so on. You can use evidence from peer-reviewed journals in this section, but you could also use reports from government agencies or think tanks. Just do some background research on the organizational reports you cite – make sure you know where their biases are, because it will affect how they report and interpret the numbers.
The Theory: The theoretical perspective the existing policy embodies or which underlying the new policy being proposed. Explain how this theory sees the world and how/why this theory drives your recommendation. This section is meant to demonstrate you understand the theory well enough to apply it to solve a problem. So, if theory X says Y problem is caused by Z, your policy will be to end Z to solve Y problem. You should have lots of evidence to support your argument that this theory is the best explanation for your problem. Have studies shown that the problem is caused by what your theory says caused the problem or problems like your problem?
Policy Alternatives: A description of policy alternatives (comparing contrasting existing policies for the same or similar problem). No policy is perfect and many policies have been proposed to solve the same problem, probably. Discuss other ways to solve your problem (other policies) and what is wrong with those ways of solving the problem. This section is meant to demonstrate why your theory is the correct explanation and will actually solve the problem, while other policies use an unhelpful theory and, therefore, won’t solve the problem. You should have lots of evidence from peer-reviewed journals in this section.
Your Recommendations: Your paper is leading up to this point. What are you recommending? Should we keep an existing policy, update or revise the policy, end a policy, or introduce a new policy entirely? Be clear and succinct here. If you’ve given us adequate background on what the problem is, what causes the problem, and why alternatives are not satisfactory, your recommendation should be obvious.
Organize your memo around meaningful sections. Repeat the memo’s most salient points and conclusions in the section headers. These will help guide the reader quickly through your memo.

Example Sections:

Alternatives: Law Enforcement or Military Intervention?

Criteria for Decision Making

Fewer Attacks, But Greater Lethality

From Exile to Terrorism: The Evolution of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

(Appendix) Terrorist Threat Profile

Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that summarizes its main point. A reader should be able to follow the flow of your memo just by reading the first sentence of each paragraph.

If your section is very dense, you may need a roadmap sentence to remind readers of the main points the section will make.


Section Header: The Evolution of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Roadmap Sentence: This section traces the evolution of LTTE beginning with its origins as a splinter faction to its development as a full-fledged terrorist organization.

Topic Sentence for the paragraph: LTTE evolved from a splinter faction of the Tamil nationalist platform into a full-fledged terrorist organization.

In a paper, the section would look like:

The Evolution of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

This section traces the evolution of LTTE beginning with its origins as a splinter faction to its development as a full-fledged terrorist organization. LTTE evolved from a splinter faction of the Tamil nationalist platform into a full-fledged terrorist organization. Evidence, support, argument ….

Your memo should be easy to follow and easy to read.

Stay on point and keep it short. The typical memo should make a single point or a handful of related points. Drop any argument that does not support your main point/s. Concise memos earn wider readership and higher praise than long memos no one ever finishes. You should be direct, choose your words carefully, and edit rigorously. There should be no extraneous words in your memo.
Use formatting to enhance the informational content of your memo. An important way to improve ease of readership is the use of tables, figures, and bullet points. The goal in all cases is to say more with less. Make sure when you use these that they actually enhance understanding and don’t just look cool. Use bullets for lists and simple ideas. Avoid long lists. Use paragraphs for complex ideas. Tables and figures should allow the reader to understand more while reading fewer words – if you have to spend a page explaining a figure you probably should drop it.
Write for a broad audience. Don’t write a memo that only you and three other experts can understand. Avoid technical jargon and bureaucracy. Make your memo self-contained and comprehensive enough (while keeping it short!) to enable others to understand the basis for your conclusions.
Provide citations to your sources of information within the text of the memo (Thrall 2006). All citations must appear in the bibliography in the correct format, with all identifying information. By default, use APA style. If you would like to use a different citation style, talk to me. You must include a minimum of 8 peer-reviewed journal articles in your references. You may include additional sources, such as academic books or research from think tanks and policy organizations – just make sure you’re aware of the potential bias of the source. Sources such as blogs or newspaper articles can NOT be used as evidence to support your argument. You may use these sources to illustrate examples, to provide examples of harm, or to provide “color” to your policy paper.


The fundamental purpose of a policy memo is to help people make decisions. Your memo should provide exactly as much description as is required to allow you reader to understand your analysis and no more; but you must include sufficient information to fully explain the policy, the theory, and your recommendation. Even if you are asked to provide background or an overview of an issue, event, person, or group, your goal is to analyze, not merely describe. When necessary, descriptions of historical periods should aim to illustrate the key themes relevant to current policy debates. Likewise, when you are making a case for a policy option, your memo must persuade through logical argument, not simple recitation of facts and assertions.


Descriptive style (bad choice): Sheik Ahmed Yassin founded Hamas in 1987 to create an Islamic state in Palestine.

Analytical style (better choice): Three major factors led Sheik Ahmed Yassin to found Hamas in 1987. First,…

Your memo is fundamentally an argument paper. You are ultimately arguing that an existing policy should be revised, proposing a new policy should be implemented, or recommending an existing policy should be discontinued. You will need the theoretical and empirical background for your argument to make sense. (Capstone students, your theoretical background must be clearly developed and explicitly engage established theories in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Your argument should be original and contribute to creating new knowledge in the field.)

What should you include in your argumentation paper? Review the helpful tips at the OWL at Purdue: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/724/1/ (Links to an external site.)


Roane State has provided an excellent set of brief key points in writing argumentative papers (http://www.roanestate.edu/owl/argument.html – Go to the site for more resources, including examples):

While some consider persuasive papers and argument papers to be basically the same thing, it’s usually safe to assume that an argument paper presents a stronger claim—possibly to a more resistant audience.

For example: while a persuasive paper might claim that cities need to adopt recycling programs, an argument paper on the same topic might be addressed to a particular town. The argument paper would go further, suggesting specific ways that a recycling program should be adopted and utilized in that particular area.

To write an argument essay, you’ll need to gather evidence and present a well-reasoned argument on a debatable issue.

How can I tell if my topic is debatable? Check your thesis! You cannot argue a statement of fact, you must base your paper on a strong position. Ask yourself…

How many people could argue against my position? What would they say?
Can it be addressed with a yes or no? (aim for a topic that requires more info.)
Can I base my argument on scholarly evidence, or am I relying on religion, cultural standards, or morality? (you MUST be able to do quality research!)
Have I made my argument specific enough?
Worried about taking a firm stance on an issue?
Though there are plenty of times in your life when it’s best to adopt a balanced perspective and try to understand both sides of a debate, this isn’t one of them.

You MUST choose one side or the other when you write an argument paper!

Don’t be afraid to tell others exactly how you think things should go because that’s what we expect from an argument paper. You’re in charge now, what do YOU think?



…use passionate language

…use weak qualifiers like “I believe,” “I feel,” or “I think”—just tell us!

…cite experts who agree with you

…claim to be an expert if you’re not one

…provide facts, evidence, and statistics to support your position

…use strictly moral or religious claims as support for your argument

…provide reasons to support your claim

…assume the audience will agree with you about any aspect of your argument

…address the opposing side’s argument and refute their claims

…attempt to make others look bad (i.e. Mr. Smith is ignorant—don’t listen to him!)

Why do I need to address the opposing side’s argument?
When you argue it is to your advantage to anticipate your opposition and strike down their arguments within the body of your own paper. This sentiment is echoed in the popular saying, “The best defense is a good offense”.

By addressing the opposition you achieve the following goals:

illustrate a well-rounded understanding of the topic
demonstrate a lack of bias
enhance the level of trust that the reader has for both you and your opinion
give yourself the opportunity to refute any arguments the opposition may have
strengthen your argument by diminishing your opposition’s argument
Think about yourself as a child, asking your parents for permission to do something that they would normally say no to. You were far more likely to get them to say yes if you anticipated and addressed all of their concerns before they expressed them. You did not want to belittle those concerns, or make them feel dumb, because this only put them on the defensive, and lead to a conclusion that went against your wishes.
The same is true in your writing.

How do I accomplish this?

To address the other side of the argument you plan to make, you’ll need to “put yourself in their shoes.” In other words, you need to try to understand where they’re coming from. If you’re having trouble accomplishing this task, try following these steps:

Jot down several good reasons why you support that particular side of the argument.
Look at the reasons you provided and try to argue with yourself. Ask: Why would someone disagree with each of these points? What would his/her response be? (Sometimes it’s helpful to imagine that you’re having a verbal argument with someone who disagrees with you.)
Think carefully about your audience; try to understand their background, their strongest influences, and the way that their minds work. Ask: What parts of this issue will concern my opposing audience the most?
Find the necessary facts, evidence, quotes from experts, etc. to refute the points that your opposition might make.
Carefully organize your paper so that it moves smoothly from defending your own points to sections where you argue against the opposition.