5 Tips for Writing Better Policy

5 Tips for Writing Policy

Whether you are new to policy writing or a seasoned pro, there are tips and tools that can help you write the most effective policy possible. Below, we share our top 5 suggestions on how to approach policy writing.

  1. Research and create. When creating a new policy, start by identifying your goals. What are you trying to achieve with this policy? Once you answer that question, do some research to determine whether there is already policy on the subject. If there is, consider whether it may be more appropriate to revise that policy than create a new policy. Next, determine if there are higher-order policies (e.g., state statute, UW System policy) that make the creation of new policy unnecessary. If it is necessary to create new policy, look at how other units or universities have done it. A good policy from another unit or organization can be used as a starting point and revised/adapted to meet your needs. Bonus tip: Check related policies through a search of the UW–Madison Policy Library to ensure that your policy is not in conflict with another university policy. If it is, coordinate with the appropriate responsible office to resolve any issues. Reach out to the policy library coordinator with any questions regarding policy research, creation, or conflicts.
  2. Use the approved template. The UW–Madison Policy Library offers a comprehensive policy template, along with instructions. This template takes away guess work and ensures that all required information is captured (approval authority, responsible office, policy manager, etc.) and that the policy adheres to the policy library styles and standards.
  3. Use plain language. Policies should not be written in legalese. They should be easily understood by the entire university community. Assume that readers have a basic understanding of the university campus and community but limited knowledge of specific policies.
  4. Be broad but clear. Your policy should be broad enough and clear enough to apply to changing and unexpected circumstances. Policies are not meant to anticipate every possible situation. Remember, further detail can be provided in accompanying procedures and guidelines. Bonus tip: Choose words carefully. The words “should” and “may” imply a choice, while “must” and “will” imply a requirement.
  5. Make it enforceable. A policy should explain why it exists, who it affects, major conditions and restrictions, and when and under what circumstances it applies. Bonus tip: To help readers understand the purpose of the policy or why it is needed, use the rationale/purpose field in the template. Do not include the conditions, restrictions, exceptions, or exclusions of the policy in the rationale/purpose field—those should be included in the policy details section.

Need more help? Check out the Style Guide for Writing University Policies.