Spring 2018 - 60850 - PA 388K – Advanced Topics in Public Policy

Writing for Policy


Course Description

This course, a requirement for all students pursuing the Master of Global Policy Studies degree, aims to develop the written and oral communication skills necessary for policy professionals by focusing on the various genres of writing that LBJ School graduates may be called upon to produce in their careers. The class is built around weekly writing assignments that allow students to try their hand at drafting specific types of policy documents.

We begin by exploring—and putting into practice—some fundamental principles of good writing: clarity, concision, persuasion, audience awareness, etc. These first few weeks also serve to inculcate good habits of editing, peer review, oral and visual presentation, which students will be required to engage in throughout the course. The class then turns to the challenges of communicating within policy organizations, drafting various types of internal documents about the same international subject, looking to U.S. and, to a smaller extent, international (both governmental and non-governmental) agencies, for some basic memo types. Finally, we confront the difficulties of advocacy: when communicating policy “toward the outside,” how can one effectively explain complex policy questions to the public, to the media, and to non-experts? 

The reading load is fairly light, but students are expected to spend substantial amounts of time drafting, re-drafting, editing, re-editing, polishing and re-polishing their writing assignments. Although we may touch upon some recurring grammar problems, this is not a remedial course. Its aim is to ensure that students understand and apply basic principles of policy-oriented composition and style. Some assignments need to be completed during class time, to mimic the time pressure frequently faced by policy professionals. Throughout the semester, we also engage in in-class exercises to work on oral communication and presentation skills.

Requirements and Expectations

Grading will be based on the assignments (approximately 75%), peer reviews (approximately 10%) and class participation (approximately15%). There are 12 graded assignments and three re-writes in this course* (subject to small modifications based upon the Fall 2017 schedule). Each re-write gives you a chance at improving a previous assignment: the professor and graduate teaching assistant will grade the rewrite and average the two grades. For meaningful peer reviews, papers must be turned in on time. We will penalize papers one full grade for being late. Papers turned in more than 24 hours after the deadline will be marked down by two grades, over 48 hours by 3 grades. We will not accept assignments more than three days after they are due. All assignments must be submitted on the course Canvas site. The due dates and times will be listed in the syllabus, with detailed instructions on the peer review process.

Required Readings

All readings will be posted to the course’s Canvas site, except the following book, which you should purchase online. Note that you will need to have acquired and read this book by the first day of class.

William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White: The Elements of Style, 4th Edition, Longman Press, New York, 2000.