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Writing 39C Information Literacy Tutorial - 2019 version

Think tanks

Policy Papers and Think Tanks

For your Contexts Paper, you learned to distinguish between scholarly sources and popular sources. In reality, if "scholarly" sources are narrowly defined as "peer-reviewed academic journal articles," then there is tremendous range of types of sources that fall outside this category. Some sources may include very rigorous research, but do not undergo peer review. 

Policy papers often fall in this category: sources that involve quite a bit of research (and can include very robust bibliographies), but are written for a non-academic audience, and are not peer-reviewed. They usually try to persuade their audience to take a position on a social issue, and advocate for a particular solution.

There is no rule about who can write a policy paper. Anybody can write or create a policy. However, for the Advocacy Paper, it may be particularly helpful to you to examine policy papers written by think tanks.

Think tanks are public-policy research analysis and engagement organizations that generate policy-oriented research, analysis, and advice on domestic and international issues, thereby enabling policymakers and the public to make informed decisions about public policy. Think tanks may be affiliated or independent institutions that are structured as permanent bodies, not ad hoc commissions. These institutions often act as a bridge between the academic and policymaking communities and between states and civil society, serving in the public interest as independent voices that translate applied and basic research into a language that is understandable, reliable, and accessible for policymakers and the public. (Think Tanks and Policy Advice in the US [Routledge, 2007]; The Fifth Estate: The Role of Think Tanks in Domestic and Foreign Policy in the US [University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming])

Many think tanks describe themselves as non-partisan (not officially affiliated with a particular political party) but they do each have a specific point of view, ideological orientation, and some bias. Be sure to check out their “about” and “funding” pages for more information. Think tanks produce reports, standards, and policy briefs with proposed solutions that you can use as sources.

Advocacy Project - Think Tanks [Time = 3:02]

Search in think tanks for policies:

  • Learn about think tanks using the Global Go To Think Tank Index Report(University of Pennsylvania). This report will help you discover specific think tanks that address topics such as Education or Technology or Criminal Justice.
  • Search for policies in multiple think tanks at once using the Think Tank Search (Harvard Kennedy School).
  • Search in individual think tanks by Googling the name of the think tank plus the keywords you wish to search.