How to Write a Policy Analysis Paper : A Nursing/Med Student Guide

Written by Brandon L.
July 27, 20239 min read
nursing-health-policy-analysis-paper

Healthcare practice has shifted to evidence-based decision-making, which nurses and other healthcare practitioners can achieve through policy analysis. Therefore, students pursuing health sciences such as nursing, pharmacy, and health sciences and medicine courses must understand the importance of evidence-based policymaking. In doing so, they are often assigned tasks where they critically appraise the policy processes and responses. Unfortunately, most students find completing a health policy document analysis paper, essay or report difficult.

The overarching purpose of a policy analysis paper is to investigate and integrate the knowledge of advanced nursing practice, scholarly research, and healthcare leadership through a critical examination of a policy at the level of clinical practice, social or public health, and healthcare systems policy.

Most policy analysis papers are above 2000 words, meaning their lower limit is 8 or 10 pages, giving you sufficient space to investigate a policy.

Writing a paper of such a scope is arduous and time-consuming. Therefore, we have compiled this ultimate guide to take you through the process and help you discover some tips for success when writing a policy analysis paper for your nursing class. But first, let's get solid on a policy analysis paper.

What is a Policy Analysis Paper?

Research shows that engaging nursing students in health policy prepare them for a holistic practice. So, if you are a medical or nursing student, expect to engage more in writing healthcare policy analysis papers or policy briefs.

Analyzing a policy helps identify the potential policy options that can sustainably, pragmatically, and feasibly address a health issue. It is a process that has evolved from a technical approach to a process that enables sharing of social meaning.

A Policy Analysis paper, sometimes referred to as a strategy paper or policy brief, is a document that entails a critical analysis of a healthcare policy at the level of clinical practice, healthcare systems, and public or social issues.

It entails in-depth research of a healthcare issue from a political perspective (analyzing a bill that touches on a healthcare issue). To better analyze a policy, it is imperative to reflect on the policy process (formulation, adoption, implementation, monitoring and evaluation). You should then consider the policy analysis framework that can be applied to nursing and health policies because they shape your policy critique paper. You can choose the analysis framework from the legal, historical, social, ethical, economic, and cultural contexts.

When analyzing a policy, you need to define the problem or issue of interest, provide background and significance, and include a well-balanced assessment of the options that policymakers can pursue to resolve the issue.

The analysis should also include recommendations for the best course of action for the policymakers.

Now that we know what a policy analysis paper or essay entails, let's focus on how it is done. What steps does one follow when writing a policy analysis paper or doing a policy analysis? We answer these questions comprehensively in the next section.

Steps for Health Policy Analysis - How to Get it Right

Policy analysis is a systematic and disciplined application where an individual defines a problem, gathers evidence, considers alternatives, selects a criterion, predicts the outcomes, confronts tradeoffs and makes or recommends a decision.

Writing a policy analysis paper is time-consuming, stressful, and demands attention and keenness. In most cases, given the possibility of problems arising when deciding which aspect of a policy to analyze, you must be meticulous.

You must distinguish between analyzing a policy process and a document or content. If it is process analysis, focus on the policy formulation process, and if it is content analysis, base your entire analysis on the composition or substance of the policy.

Our focus in this guide is on the analysis of the policy document or the contents of a policy. Policy analysis generally entails five processes: definition, prediction, prescription, description, and evaluation. It can further be condensed into policy making, cause and consequences, and policy prescription.

Step 1: Identify the Policy Issue

The first thing you need to do when assigned to write a policy paper is to determine the policy issue of interest. For instance, choose a topic that you find interesting to handle.

You can choose to focus on health promotion, mental health problems, stigmatization, drug and substance abuse, the opioid epidemic, adult obesity, road traffic accidents, chronic diseases, use of technology in healthcare, etc. look at the health policy issue from the political, social, cultural, spiritual, national, and economic lenses. To identify a problem, focus on a literature review, environmental scan, and survey the best practices.

The main aim of this step is to contextualize the issue. Look at the issue's broad and impactful and have a rationale for choosing it.

Consider the discrepancy between the status quo and the ideal or planned situation. You can also consider the reasons for the difference and the available solutions.

Defining the health issue or problem is like a typical problem statement and must to accompanied by a citation from credible scholarly sources. The statement should describe the problem and present a diagnosis of the causes of the problem using critical statistics such as mortality rates, live births, morbidity, and other statistics.

You should understand the problem conceptually and empirically for successful policy analysis. Then, with the problem stated, you should select a policy to evaluate the many alternatives and provide a rationale. Let's see how to do that in the next step.

Step 2: Select the Policy document for analysis

After identifying the problem, go ahead and search for the relevant evidence. First, collect data about the policies meant to address the health issue. You can access the relevant healthcare policies through research on government websites and publications. Next, look at the various policy options available to address the problem. Considering different policy options can entail adding a policy action that solves the issue or forgoing a policy alternative. Policy options can be described and determined through their health impact, cost of implementation, and feasibility. You should then rank the options and select the top choice.

When considering alternative policies, your focus should be on the outcomes of the alternative. Consider a feasible, practical, and relevant policy to your healthcare issue.

Step 3: Read the policy document and take notes

After choosing a policy of interest for the analysis, you must extract data further and compile excepts from the policy document. Here is where you apply your preferred evaluation criteria.

The evaluation criteria focus on assessing the suitability of an intervention. You need to have standards to measure the projected outcomes. The criteria will hugely depend on the issue of interest. When evaluating a policy, focus on its relevance, progress, efficiency, effectiveness, and impact on the health problem.

Consider the policy background, including its historical context, available evidence, its implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and strategies for stakeholder engagement. You need to take notes that will come in handy as you write the outline and later when compiling the entire policy analysis paper.

Related reading:

Step 4: Outline the Policy Analysis Paper

Given that you have defined the problem and are now conversant with the central policy of interest, the alternatives, and your evaluation criteria, it is time to outline your policy analysis report. The outline will depend on the selected framework or model for health policy analysis (we have discussed choosing a framework/model elsewhere in this comprehensive guide).

The outline should be based on the appropriate structure of a policy analysis paper. For example, plan what to include in the executive summary or abstract, introduction, problem statement, background information, policy alternatives, recommendations, and conclusion.

The outline is a roadmap that comes in handy as you begin to write the paper at the advanced stages of policy analysis. Remember, the focus is not on the policy but its outcomes. For instance, consider the improved health status of people with obesity after health promotion interventions versus improved knowledge of healthy lifestyle practices. Depending on its feasibility (resources, finance, human capital, etc.), you can then decide on the best policy to pursue.

Step 5: Write the Policy Analysis Paper

Assuming everything is in place, you need to take a break before resuming to write the policy paper.

When writing the paper, begin with the introduction. You can break this into separate sections as long as the underlying motivation of the report comes out clearly. For example, include the historical context and the current status quo of the healthcare problem or issue. Next, explain to your readers why you selected the problem or issue and why you settled on a specific policy option.

The next step is to write the methodology, which entails the evaluation criteria. You should also include a literature review where you contextualize the policy based o existing academic work. Next, explore the policy context or options by describing the current policy and the intervention efforts. Finally, look at case studies and best practice guidelines to get a good rationale for selecting a given policy.

Write down the policy options and recommendations before concluding the paper. Finally, include the reference pages and the appendices. When writing the first draft, focus on researching and writing. You should leave editing and proofreading for the final step.

Step 6: Review, Revise, and Polish the paper

Writing a policy analysis paper is the same task as critiquing a policy. It needs to be done in a professional and academic tone. After writing the sections of the policy paper, your next move is to edit it.

When editing, focus on the flow of information, paragraph structure, sentence structure, formatting, in-text citations, tenses, content, and the choice of words.

You should also proofread your policy analysis paper for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. You can use software such as Grammarly, Ginger, or Hemmingway Editor.

 This step aims to convert the first draft into a final one you will submit to your instructor for grading. First, therefore, you must ensure that it Then, you can use the reverse outline method to uncover the inadequacies in your paper.

Check whether all the citations are represented in the reference list. Equally, ensure that the references are consistent with the selected formatting style.

 You can read your paper loud so that you can spot the errors. Then, if you need further help, you can hire a proofreader and editor to check whether you omitted something or reduced the number of words but retained the message.

Structure of a Policy Analysis Paper in Nursing

When assigned to write a policy analysis paper, below is a standard structure to adopt. Note that some instructors will have a breakdown of how to do the policy analysis, but we share the standard structure here. Of course, the wording could differ depending on institutions, but these are the major sections or parts of a policy analysis paper or essay.

Title Page

Contains information about yourself. Include:

Abstract/Executive Summary

The abstract is a brief 200-word paragraph that condenses the entire policy analysis paper. It should elaborate on the chosen policy, its strengths and weaknesses, relevance to nursing or healthcare, implications, policy evidence, monitoring and evaluation, stakeholder engagement, the target population, how the policy addresses healthcare's social and ecological determinants, and the areas of improvement. The abstract is never indented and is presented as a whole paragraph. Some instructors will ask for an executive summary instead, a summary of your entire policy document analysis paper.

Introduction

The introduction should begin with an attention grabber or hook statement that not only attracts the readers' attention but also announces the focus or direction of the policy paper. It should also generally define and describe the policy issue of interest. It further entails a few sentences that identify the purpose of the analysis, the targeted policy level (clinical, public/social health, or healthcare systems), the policy's scope, and the topic's significance. Finally, it also identifies the questions the policy intended to address.

Background and Significance

In the background section of a policy paper, you will include the details of the issue or problem. Identify the scope of the problem and present its context, then explore relevant literature that details its history. You should also describe the existing policy that addresses the issue. Expound on the policy you are about to analyze regarding the health issue. You should also examine the enforcement implications. Explore the strengths and weaknesses of the existing policy. It should also identify and describe the major stakeholders (groups or individuals) that are or will be affected by the policies, including the reasons. The background should be supported by evidence from credible scholarly sources. Consider the fiscal impact of the policy or issue, its impact on social justice, and the recommended policy's potential barriers and unintended consequences.

Methods and Analysis

This section of the paper is where you describe the policy analysis plan. First, establish the evaluation criteria to guide your analysis and the policy selection. You can also identify the various policy alternatives to help achieve objectives and evaluate each alternative. Next, demonstrate the potential impact of the policies based on the evaluation criteria. Finally, assess the tradeoffs between the options.

Recommendations

In the recommendations section, you must identify the best policy among the alternatives to address the current problem or issue (the policy scenario). You should follow it by explaining the rationale for selecting it among the alternatives. Next, you should describe the potential strategies that can be used to implement the policy successfully. Also, explore the barriers to the implementation of the selected alternative. Finally, explain the methods to monitor and control (evaluate) the effectiveness of policy implementation.

Discussion

In this section of the policy analysis paper, you must discuss the analysis and recommendations relative to the policy level and the original questions in your introduction. Further, include the limitations of the analysis and discuss the implications for practice, research, policy formulation, implementation, and education.

Conclusion

The conclusion summarizes the findings and recommendations of the entire analysis. It should also feature the questions addressed in future policy analyses or studies.

References

This is where you list all the references cited in your policy analysis paper.

Appendices

The appendices can be a table displaying the results of your analysis. You can include the list of policy alternatives you considered, the criteria you use, and the degree to which each alternative meets the criteria. You can also include illustrations such as graphs, tables, images, charts, etc. be sure to cite them appropriately in either ASA, AMA, APA, or Harvard referencing formats if they are sourced from other sources.

Format of a Policy Analysis Paper in Nursing

You must follow academic and professional writing conventions in nursing and most healthcare sciences. Below are some formatting requirements you need to achieve for this assignment:

Use APA, Harvard, AMA, or ASA writing format for your policy analysis paper. In most cases, health sciences and nursing use APA, Harvard, and AMA. If unsure, ask your instructor for clarification.

How to Select a Policy Analysis Framework

A policy analysis framework informs the entire policy analysis paper. Therefore, you must select a plausible policy analysis framework after determining and defining the policy. A good policy analysis paper provides in-depth, reasoned, relevant, and evaluative information about a policy in the context of a health issue or problem.

The role of the framework is to guide the evaluation process. It provides the structure of the paper, allowing you to explore a policy issue logically. When selecting a framework, consider the assignment instructions and the policy focus you will analyze. It will depend on whether the policy is prescriptive or predictive.

Nursing practice and the consumers of healthcare have a social contract. Nurses should evaluate what is best for the consumers and promote/advocate for their best interests. Engaging in the policy process helps nurses influence healthcare, solve health issues, and promote social justice. One way to develop policy acumen is through using policy analysis frameworks to analyze policies.

In broad form, the policy analysis framework includes the stages of analyzing a policy. It could be done in many stages or a few steps. One of the most popular policy analysis models or frameworks advocates for an analysis process focusing on:

Considering that health policy analysis is a social and political activity, the best healthcare policy framework to adopt (one that considers the contexts relevant to healthcare) entails:

  1. Defining the context
  2. Statement of the problem
  3. Searching for evidence
  4. Considering the alternative policy options
  5. Projecting the outcomes
  6. Applying the evaluative criteria
  7. Weighing the outcomes
  8. Making a decision.

The above framework is similar to CDC's Policy analytical framework (PDF). Therefore, you can use the model to analyze and prioritize policy.

You can also consider the data-driven policy-analysis model presented in 2003 by the  Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to assist in evaluating the impact of health policies. Consult your class resources to select the best policy analysis models or frameworks. Asking for instructor clarification is also highly encouraged to get everything right.

Related Reading: How to write a personal nursing philosophy.

Questions to ask yourself before and when analyzing a health policy

  1. What is the context of the policy? Is it regulatory, administrative, legislative, ethical, etc.?
  2. How does the policy work? What's its scope?
  3. What are the aims and objectives of the policy?
  4. What is the value of the policy?
  5. What are the short, medium, and long-term outcomes of the policy?
  6. What are the unforeseeable negative and positive impacts of the policy?
  7. Who are the stakeholders? What are their interest and values?
  8. What are the available resources, capacity, and technical requirements for implementing the policy?
  9. What time frame is needed to formulate and implement the policy?
  10. How does the policy address the problem or issue?
  11. What are the populations of interest? How are they affected? What outcomes will affect them, and how?
  12. How grave is the health issue of interest?
  13. How does the policy relate to nursing practice and profession?
  14. What are the cost and benefits of the policy?
  15. How do the costs compare to the benefits (consider ROI, cost-to-benefit ratio, costs averted, cost savings, etc.)?
  16. What is the distribution of the cost?
  17. What are the timelines for the costs and benefits?
  18. Can you tell if there are any gaps in the data?
  19. Is there available local and national empirical data to support the policy?

References

  1. A conceptual model of Nursing and health policy
  2. CDC's Policy Analysis Framework (Website)
  3. Health Policy Analysis by Wendy L. Thomson (DNP, MPH, PHN) (Demonstrative Video)
  4. Healthcare Policy, Analysis, and Advocacy: Policy Initiative (Website)
  5. Is there life after policy streams, advocacy coalitions, and punctuations: Using evolutionary theory to explain policy change? 
  6. Policy Analysis by CDC
  7. Policy Analysis Examples (Issue Briefs) (Download Samples here)
  8. Policy Analysis Format
  9. Policy analysis paper Structure
  10. Policy analysis: A framework for nurse managers
  11. Putting policy theory to work: tobacco control in California
  12. Sample Expert Policy analysis papers (download)
  13. Theory and Methods in Comparative Policy Analysis Studies: Volume One
  14. How to write a policy paper (extended version)

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