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Vocal Europe publishes mainly three different types of research papers:

  • Policy Paper
  • Policy Brief
  • Opinion Paper

Guideline for each type of paper is explained below. In general, Vocal Europe aims to produce policy recommendations on EU Foreign Policy and Democracy.

Policy Paper

Policy papers typically provides an institution or a decision maker with an overview of an issue or problem, targeted analysis, and, often, actionable recommendations. They are separated from a theory-relevant research paper by their practicality. They often focus on prescriptive questions. They may begin by diagnosing a particular issue or situation, and typically argue for a solution that will address that issue or situation. Often, policy papers are focused on being persuasive. The intention is to convince the target audience that your position is the correct one. Evidence in support of a position is crucial. Policy papers are written efficiently. The audience often does not have much time and does not want to read a book on the subject.

Vocal Europe policy papers usually targets relevant EU institutions and policymakers.

Basic elements 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. Concisely identify the problem to be solved. It may be in the form of a question. Here, data can be relevant EU official documents (eg Working Papers, White/Green Papers, EU policy papers); official statistics; interviews with relevant stakeholders; other relevant qualitative or quantitative data
  • Analyze—do not merely present—the data: Show how you arrived at the findings or recommendations through analysis of qualitative or quantitative data (mentioned above). Draw careful conclusions that make sense of the data and do not misrepresent it. Identify key policy options or standard approaches and the limitations or deficiencies in current policy
  • Address—and when appropriate rebut—counterarguments, alternative interpretations to your findings or recommendations. You should be especially sensitive to the likely counterarguments that a decision-maker would face in implementing or acting on your recommendations or findings.
  • State recommendations: Provide specific recommendations or findings in response to specific problems and avoid generalisations.
  • 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 analysis.

Basic Structure of a Policy Paper

  • Title: The title should be short, catchy, and to the point
  • The Executive Summary.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Recommendations. You can 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Appendices. These typically include the survey data and questions, charts and graphs, and details of case studies that gird your analysis.

A typical policy brief is up to 10 pages. Please use Times New Roman font, size 12.

Policy Brief

A policy brief is a concise summary of a particular issue, the policy options to deal with it, and some recommendations on the best option. Vocal Europe policy briefs are aimed at relevant EU policymakers.

A policy brief should:

  • Provide enough background for the reader to understand the problem.
  • Convince the reader that the problem must be addressed urgently.
  • Provide information about alternatives.
  • Stimulate the reader to make a decision.

To achieve its objectives, a policy brief should:

  • Be short and to the point. It should focus on a particular problem or issue. Do not go into all the details. Instead, provide enough information for the reader to understand the issue and come to a decision.
  • Be based on firm evidence from various sources – preferably from several different areas or organizations.
  • Focus on meanings, not methods. Readers are interested in what you found and what you recommend. They do not need to know the details of your methodology.
  • Relate to the big picture. The policy brief may build on context-specific findings, but it should draw conclusions that are more generally applicable.

There are many ways of structuring a policy brief. Here is one way:

  • Title: The title should be short, catchy, and to the point.
  • Summary: Some policy briefs include a brief summary or policy message at the beginning. This may contain three or four bullets giving the main points in the policy brief. Ask yourself, “What are the main points you want policymakers to get – even if they read nothing else?”
  • Introduction: The introduction should grab the reader’s attention; introduce the topic/problem; say why it is important; give background and the context; tell the reader why he/she should do something about it.
  • Policy Context: Explain policy options and their implications. This part can have sub-headings.
  • Recommendations: State the recommendations clearly and in a way that is easy to understand. You can do this by starting each recommendation with an action verb and boldfacing the key words.

Policy briefs can also include graphs or tables. A typical policy brief is up to 5 pages. Please use Times New Roman font, size 12.

Opinion Paper

An opinion paper is a formal piece of writing which presents the author’s point of view on a particular subject supported by reasoning and examples. The opposing viewpoint is also suggested, but it is followed by arguments that show its inconsistency. While opinion papers allow writers to include their own voice and express an opinion, to be successful the columns must be grounded in solid research. Research involves acquiring facts, quotations, citations, or data from sources.

An opinion paper may be:

  • a critical challenge to a development, a current policy etc arguing for a position.
  • an elaboration or extension of a development, a current policy etc

Use these simple guidelines:

  • Identify and summarise the key issues you want to raise.
  • Use a short title that emphasises your key message.
  • Do not include an abstract/summary.
  • Make clear your take-home message.
  • It should not exceed 3 pages.
  • Use Times New Roman font, size 12.