The Big Idea

A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Effective Policy Reports

Suri Duitch (Kathleen McGowan and Carl Vogel, editors)
Review by Kelly Barsdate, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

2002, 127 pages. The Center for an Urban Future, New York, NY, 212-479-3344,

Start with one applied business journalism syllabus. Add some Strunk and White, a dash of Tony Proscio, and a heaping handful of grassroots advocacy maxims. Mix well, then season with common sense. That's the recipe for The Big Idea, a how-to guide for creating informative and persuasive policy reports. This manual is an easily digestible antidote to the growing onslaught of research studies and reports that can be, in the words of author Suri Duitch, "pedantic, poorly written, hard to navigate or just too long."

The guide's first chapter begins with a description of how a well-crafted policy paper, if delivered during a ripe window of opportunity, can shape public opinion and change policy. Subsequent chapters take a journalistic look at project planning, research techniques, language choice, document design, and promotional strategies. Recommendations guide readers toward preparing reports that are smartly written and capture the attention of the press and elected officials.

This manual's target audiences are advocates, activists, and community service organizations without research experience or specialized writing skills. So Duitch devotes significant discussion to basic issues: how to conduct an interview, assess the credibility of data, and construct an editorial review process. Duitch also discusses partnerships in some detail, describing how collaborations can help shape an emerging policy agenda and bring visibility to findings once a report is published.

The Big Idea clearly and unapologet-ically aims to help readers advance a cause or recommend action — not to treat an issue with comprehensive, neutral, or scholarly detachment. It's as much an advocacy cookbook as writer's manual. Nevertheless, grantmakers with a public policy agenda will find valuable communications tips embedded in The Big Idea. And even if policy activity falls outside your funding portfolio, the principles Duitch outlines can inform your thinking about how to effectively package and present the next research project or report you commission from a scholar, policy analyst, or consultant.

Note: Tony Proscio's In Other Words: A Plea for Plain Speaking in Foundations and Bad Words for Good: How Foundations Garble their Message and Lose Their Audience are both available from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation at