Tips for Writing Public Administration Papers
Contributed by Melissa Oldreive
There are a number of elements that should be considered in writing an effective public administration paper.
It is important to make your paper look professional. Keep it neat and concise. It is also good practice to include a title page (usually containing the title of the paper, your name, student number, course number, and the date). Number your pages and include an Executive Summary for a lengthy paper. An executive summary should be a concise presentation of the content of the paper – not an explanation of the development of the paper. If you are writing a briefing note, use a clear and well formulated format.
As in many disciplines, it is not good practice to use the first person in public administration papers. Practically, in the public sector, public servants do not exist as “I” - only the Minister does. So it is useful to practice the culture of the public service.
Clarity is key in a public administration paper. Do not use any unnecessary words. You must write to an audience that would have only a general knowledge about the topic (your Minister, perhaps). Ensure that your points are not muddled by wordy sentences.
This element is crucial. There are a number of accepted styles, and usually the style you use depends on your professor’s preferences. Regardless of the style you choose, however, it cannot be emphasized enough how important this element is. Dalhousie’s policies on plagiarism are very strict, as they should be. Ensure that all ideas and information you have read in other texts are attributed to those authors.
Briefing notes are an important communication tool in the public sector. Knowing how to write one effectively is just as important. Briefing notes can be prepared on a variety of topics and are intended to address sometimes very complex information in a quick and concise way. Often the users of these notes have very little knowledge on the topic, nor do they have the time to conduct a careful analysis of issues, and therefore must rely on the notes to make key decisions. It is important to note that briefing notes do not simplify a topic for the sake of the reader, but rather that they give access to complex material.
Briefing notes can be used for a number of reasons and created in a variety of fashions. The steps for writing a briefing note are similar to writing a paper: understand the topic, gather information, write, and revise. The format, however, is quite different. Because of this, it is important to use any format you are provided. In an organization, you will likely be given a format, but in a course on public administration, you may not. In this case, create your own. Keep it logical, and ensure that it addresses all of the relevant parts of the note.
There are a few elements of a good briefing: substantive content, useful and appropriate communication, and relevance. Briefs need to be guided by as much knowledge that can be gathered in the time available. In order to write one effectively, you must use a wide range and broad depth of information and be able to summarize the information concisely to get to the central ideas and issues. In preparing a briefing note, it is particularly important to know the organizational context in which it will be read and used. The issues will likely be complex, and it is helpful to know what information is relevant to the context in which it will be used. Additionally, as a public servant, remember that the public interest is the highest order of relevance when writing a briefing note.