Law: Policy paper

What is a policy paper?

A policy paper or brief (sometimes called a policy memo) is an advocacy tool which is typically used to influence change on a broader scale. The writer’s aim is to engage and persuade a target audience, usually non-specialist, that your proposed solution to a contemporary issue is practical, credible and necessary to create positive change. A policy paper in law is usually advocating for reform in a particular area of the law.

What is the purpose of a policy paper?

In law, the purpose of a policy paper is to convince a policy maker to advocate changing course on a specific policy issue. Governments often call for public submissions when they conduct an inquiry into a certain area of law, or amend or bring in new legislation. You might find a policy paper/brief is referred to as a "policy submission", indicating that the document is submitted to the policy maker for consideration.

How to write a policy paper

Examples and resources of policy papers/submissions


There are many examples of policy papers online. Please note that these are examples only.  Some may be submissions to law reform bodies, others may be called policy papers or briefs. It is important to follow the assignment instructions given by your lecturer. The examples below are policy submissions to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Australian Law Reform Commission: ‘ALRC submission: NT Law Reform Inquiry into the mandatory sentencing and community-based sentencing options.’

Australian Law Reform Commission: ‘ALRC submission: Inquiry into the indefinite detention of people with cognitive and psychiatric impairment in Australia.’


Australian Law Reform Commission, ‘Making a submission

Federation of Community Legal Centres, ‘The Change Toolkit

Catherine F. Smith, Writing public policy : a practical guide to communicating in the policy making process (Oxford University Press, 4th edition, 2016).

Australian National University - Academic skills, 'Policy brief'

Sources of evidence to support your policy paper

The following resources are a selection of databases which may be useful as a starting point. As always, you will need to evaluate and assess your results and their relevance to your research.

Guidance for finding Acts, Bills, Explanatory Memoranda and Second Reading Speeches can be found on the Legislation tab on our Law Library Guide.

  • Analysis and Policy Observatory
    Key resources to support evidence-informed policy and practice in Australia. APO hosts and provides free access to a wide range of grey literature, data, journal articles and books, audio and video and online resources.
  • ProQuest
    Access case studies from the advanced search option. Scroll down to the heading 'Document type' and tick the 'Case studies' box. Enter keywords and perform your search.
  • Public Impact Observatory
    A unique database of public policy case studies. Analysis on public policy succeeding or failing is provided, drawing out the key lessons for future policy work.
  • Sage Research Method Online
    Researchers can explore various research methods and results, including case studies, social policy and public policy.