From the Woodrow Wilson School’s website, we learn what they expect from the policy memo. They tell us: “The ability to write succinct and impactful policy memos will prove useful in both academic and career settings. For the purposes of this memo, the admissions committee is less concerned about format and more interested in your professional experiences, your critical analysis of the issues, and your ability to write cogently and clearly. Choose a topic to demonstrate your knowledge of an area related to your field of concentration and your professional and personal interests. Specific topics create better opportunities to demonstrate analytical skills and analysis than broader ones. The memo should be approximately four double-spaced pages and should identify a problem in domestic or international affairs, discuss the complexity of it, and propose policy recommendations.” Note: Always double check the school’s website for official topics and information, sometimes things do change. If you’ve never written a policy memo before, do some research first. They say they’re not concerned about format, but you’ll be well served both now and in the future if you have a sense of some widely accepted memo formats. Fortunately the Woodrow Wilson School happens to have an entire webpage devoted to this. It’s helpful to browse a few other site as well. Here’s one example from Harvard and an overview from University of Michigan. Now, it’s time to pick your topic (rest assured when using the examples, finding a reasonable format won’t be an issue). The prompt encourages you to select a specific topic. A specific topic is something like, “drug policy issues relating to US-Venezuela economic relations” instead of “drug policy” or, “human rights violations of Syrian refugees in Eastern Europe” instead of “refugee rights”. The topic should also “demonstrate your knowledge of an area related to your field of concentration and your professional and personal interests.” To begin, make a list of 4-5 topics you would like to write about and make sure (a) you can write about them in adequate depth to show off your analytical thinking and (b) the topic is related to your selected concentration in the program and what you say your goals are professionally. It seems obvious, but double check to make sure (a) and (b) are really related. Out of the 4-5 topics, pick one topic that best satisfies both. Be specific wherever possible in your description of the problem and your analysis. Your job here is to show how you think about the issue and the depth of your knowledge. Once you’ve described the problem and looked at it from all angles (i.e. shown the complexity of it), draw out your recommendations. Ensure the who, what and how are clear in the recommendations and that each recommendation is feasible. If you can think outside the box, great! But, there’s no reason to go so rogue that you won’t be taken seriously. Make sure to review your memo and have a few others review it too. Focus on the goal of being “clear and cogent”. WWS wants to see that you can write well, particularly in this format, where you’re arguing an issue and presenting policy recommendations (since you’ll be writing many many memos throughout your time in their program and in your career). Cut anything superfluous and make sure someone reading it quickly can come away with a strong sense of the key issues and what you recommend. If a friend reading it has a hard time finding the main points, you’re not being clear enough. You don’t need to dumb it down–the admissions officers will be reasonably familiar with current topics–but you also don’t want your message to be so complex the only person who can understand the memo is an expert on the chosen issue. Essentially, you’re arguing your perspective on an issue and providing a resolution. So, have someone else read it and see if they’re convinced by your argument. They don’t need to be fully on board, but make sure they find your points well reasoned and cogent (especially your recommendations). Ask the reader if they see any missing angles. Ask them if they have any outstanding questions. You may have some points you don’t tie up neatly in the memo, but you’ll want to go back and address them somewhere. Your final step is to double and triple check for typos and grammar errors (as with every other section of the application.) Get a few other people to check for any errors you may have missed and don’t rely on spellcheck to correct mistakes. Word won’t catch incorrect homonym usage like there instead of their, or when you’ve missed including a word that is crucial to the meaning of a sentence. Finally, don’t wait to start on this memo. It’s one of the most important parts of your application and the sooner you start, the stronger it will be!