Memo Review

Good policy memos are clear and concise. They use effective structure and well-conceived arguments. They are persuasive. Hitting all of these marks is a challenge for policy writers. In order to demonstrate best practices of policy writing, the blog posts below evaluate policy memos and consider both strengths, and areas for improvement.

"Removing Barriers to Mental Health Services in Ohio" a Memo from The Buckeye Institute

Mental Health

Memo review by Daniel Estupiñan, Amy Mahler, and Katie Wesdyk

The Buckeye Institute provided a memo recommending the removal of barriers to mental health services in Ohio. A case is made to recognize out-of-state practitioners permanently to provide mental health support, but lacks a clear connection from problem to proposed solution.... Read more about "Removing Barriers to Mental Health Services in Ohio" a Memo from The Buckeye Institute

Health Economist sends memo to U.S. Treasury Secretary-Urgent Need for Changes in Health Reform Implementation

Healthcare reform

Memo review by Oriol Solé Borràs, HSPH Masters candidate, 2021

David Cutler, a Harvard health economist and an advisor to President Obama’s 2008 campaign sent in May 2010 a memo to Larry Summers, the Treasury Secretary at that time, arguing that the White House had the wrong team in charge of health reform, and they needed to overhaul their implementation strategy.... Read more about Health Economist sends memo to U.S. Treasury Secretary-Urgent Need for Changes in Health Reform Implementation

Memo from Director of U.S. Dept. of Interior RE: Recycling and Reduction of Disposable Plastic Bottles in Parks

    Plastic Bottles in trash

Memo review by César Monarrez, 2021 MBA/MPA candidate, MIT Sloan and HKS

The National Parks Service (NPS) memo PM 11-03 regarding disposable water bottle policies is a mildly compelling document that, despite having some noteworthy elements, loses potential impact due to a lack of urgency and a muddled argument structure.... Read more about Memo from Director of U.S. Dept. of Interior RE: Recycling and Reduction of Disposable Plastic Bottles in Parks

"Building a Secure Energy Future" a Memo to President-Elect Obama

Factories and smoke

Memo Review by Leah Foecke

Memo being reviewed To: President-Elect Obama, From: Wm. Antholis and Charles Ebinger, Brookings Institute, RE: Building a Secure Future, Date: 11/010/2008

Apr 30, 2020
This is an example of a cross-organization memo – not written within an existing organizational hierarchy – that provides advice and advocacy from two Brookings Institution fellows to the newly-elected Barack Obama.... Read more about "Building a Secure Energy Future" a Memo to President-Elect Obama

Military Leaders Send Missives to Troops: 'Stay True' to the American People, By Nancy A. Yussef, The Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2020

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/military-leaders-send-missives-to-troops-st...

"Military Leaders Send Missives to Troops: ‘Stay True’ to the American People,"
By Nancy A. Youssef, The Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2020 

Army Gen Mark Milley WSJ WSJ 6_4_20
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shown speaking in the Oval Office last month. PHOTO: ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS
By Nancy A. Youssef
Updated June 4, 2020 3:19 pm ET

The nation’s highest-ranking U.S. military officer reminded leaders of the armed forces of their oath to uphold the values of the Constitution, an admonition that came amid concern that President Trump may order active-duty troops onto American streets for the first time in nearly 30 years. 

... Read more about Military Leaders Send Missives to Troops: 'Stay True' to the American People, By Nancy A. Yussef, The Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2020

Navarro Memos Warning of Mass Coronavirus Death Circulated in January, 2020

Memos reviewed by Lauren Brodsky, HKS Lecturer

Picture of Covid-19 Memo

The New York Times and Axiom have exposed the pleas, on the record, of Assistant to the President Peter Navarro in the months leading to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s excruciating now to read these memos, written January and February, whereby Navarro lit the siren for the administration to act quickly and prepare.... Read more about Navarro Memos Warning of Mass Coronavirus Death Circulated in January, 2020

Murrow, Kennedy and memos on Cuba

Kennedy Coin

Memo Review by Lauren Brodsky, HKS Lecturer

Sitting slightly reclined, with a steady stream of cigarette smoke visible to the viewer, esteemed journalist Edward R. Murrow faces a television screen with a view of a Boston apartment. It is 1953. Murrow is interviewing junior Senator John F. Kennedy, and his wife, Jackie, for the show People to People.... Read more about Murrow, Kennedy and memos on Cuba

"Our Response to Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan"

Adult man with gun in war battle black and white

Memo Review by James J. McDonnell,National Security Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School

A Memorandum for the President by Zbigniew Brzezinski: “Our Response to Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan” (December 29, 1979)

Brzezinski, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (currently called the National Security Advisor) under Jimmy Carter, wrote a memo to outline what response the U.S. should take to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.... Read more about "Our Response to Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan"

"Reinvigoration of Human Rights Policy"

Globe and many faces

Memo Review by Andreas L. Hahn, 2020 Fletcher MALD Candidate


(Memorandum From the Deputy Secretary of State (Clark) and the Under Secretary of State for Management (Kennedy) to Secretary of State Haig[1], 26 October 1981)

The memo on the “Reinvigoration of Human Rights Policy” left an impact on me because it distilled abstract concepts in a persuasive way. But what made this particular memo stick, compared to an abundance of other memos on the topic?... Read more about "Reinvigoration of Human Rights Policy"

"Iraq: The Perfect Storm:"

Soldiers deploying to Iraq

A Memo review by Dimas Muhamad, HKS Master's candidate

In 2002, William Burns, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, wrote to Secretary of State Collin Powell on the dangers of invading Iraq in the memo linked below. Overall, the substance of the memo is quite strong. However, in terms of writing, policy writers can learn from certain improvements that could have been made.... Read more about "Iraq: The Perfect Storm:"