Jenny Hoolachan (Policy Review Editor) | Tom Baker (Associate Editor)

A policy review is an excellent space to provide a short, sharp, critical analysis of a policy development.

Here at IJHP, we pride ourselves in publishing high-quality policy review papers. Policy reviews provide crucial insights into how different nations, regions and cities tackle housing-related challenges. A policy review can critically trace the impacts of a policy (or policies), or trace the processes, politics, ideologies and discourses that have culminated in a policy.

As editors for the IJHP, we have learned a lot about what makes a good policy review contribution, as well as some of the pitfalls that authors can fall into. In this blog, we outline the journal’s policy review guidance and share some top tips for writing a compelling and insightful policy review paper.

We are excited to see our policy review section going from strength to strength, with submissions focusing on a greater variety of geographical contexts and from authors at all career stages.

What is a Policy Review?

A policy review is a short paper that examines a single policy or a series of policies which are, in this case, related to housing.

It might focus on a particular country, city or region, it could involve a comparative analysis across different nations, or it might examine a general policy issue which is not specific to a geographical area.

Crucially, a policy review is not simply a description of a policy development. Rather, it will have a core critical argument that is based on some form of analysis. Just like any other type of published journal paper, policy reviews need to make an original contribution to the field of housing.

Policy reviews may or may not contain primary data. In the absence of primary data, they might revolve around the analysis of secondary data, policy documents, discourse, political or legal documents, or involve a systematic review (this is not an exhaustive list).

IJHP Policy Review Guidance

Let’s start with some fundamentals; guidance that authors should follow when writing a policy review for us.

Contributions to the Policy Review section should be a no more than 4,000 words. This limit includes the abstract, references and any tables or figures. This shorter word-limit makes clear written expression particularly important. Proofread before you submit, to ensure sound English-language expression, spelling and grammar. And be sure to follow our referencing, heading and formatting guidelines, which can be found here.

Your focus will be on a policy or series of policies. The policy might affect a city, a region, a country, or multiple cities or countries. But it will be a socially, politically or economically relevant policy that will appeal to an international audience of housing researchers and practitioners. Your review should also articulate a clear argument, message or contribution: offering our readers something more than a description of your chosen policy area or case study.

While these criteria can be achieved in a variety of ways, here is one approach that tends to work well:

  1. Begin by identifying an issue of international importance. Locate your specific case study (or case studies) within international literature and within international practices. Here you should signal your key arguments, messages or contributions.
  2. Then discuss your case study. Focus on ‘telling the story’ of your case study, drawing attention to key empirical and analytical points. Develop the connections to the international literature where appropriate.
  3. Finally, summarise your key arguments, messages or contributions. And reflect on the international importance or relevance of your case study.

An example of a policy review published in the journal which follows this broad approach is this one by Louise Crabtree et al (2021).

Dos and Don’ts for Policy Reviews

These tips relate to the most common issues we see with policy reviews when they are first submitted. Taking the time before submitting to ensure your policy review avoids these pitfalls will increase the likelihood of it progressing to peer review and, hopefully, publication.

  1. Stick to the word limit. We understand that 4,000 words is a tight word limit, but if your paper significantly exceeds this limit you will be asked to cut it down. Remember, this is the maximum limit – and the abstract, references and tables/figures are included – so use the space wisely.
  2. Proofread your work. Or ask someone else to proofread it, before submission. In particular, check for English-language expression to ensure the arguments are comprehensible.
  3. Situate your case study for an international audience. This does not need to be extensive, but our readers need to know how your case study and the issues you discuss link with other parts of the world. One way to do this is begin and end your paper with a short discussion of the international context to locate your case study.
  4. Have something to say. A policy review should be critical in nature and based on analysis. We understand authors often want to turn a report into a journal publication. However, reports tend to be too descriptive. Policy reviews should be written with a researcher audience in mind. This means scaling back the description, and developing an insightful and analytical argument.
  5. But don’t try to say too much. Sometimes authors try to pack in too many arguments. The tight word limit can result in the arguments becoming cluttered or underdeveloped. A strong policy review clearly and logically argues one or two core messages that are rigorously developed through the analysis.
  6. Incorporate academic literature. While ‘grey literature’ like policy documents and government reports are likely to be heavily cited, it is still important to tie your policy review to academic debates. So, make sure you include a sufficient number of relevant academic sources.
Over the past two decades, IJHP has published high-impact policy reviews authored and co-authored by many prominent housing scholars, including but certainly not limited to:

More recently, we’ve published papers involving two different analyses of the Dutch housing context written by Wouter van Gent & Cody Hochstenbach and by Peter Boelhouwer, a Housing First initiative in Australia written by Jane Bullen & Eileen Baldry, and microfinance in Latin America written by Monika Grubbauer.

Final Thoughts: Why Write a Policy Review?

There are several compelling reasons for considering a policy review as your next publication. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and policy experts have been forced to react quickly to contain the spread of the virus while ensuring that damage to people’s living circumstances, livelihoods and wellbeing is minimised. Housing has in many ways been at the centre of this (see Rogers & Power, 2020) and there are a myriad of policy developments for researchers to digest and scrutinise.

Furthermore, tighter funding regimes mean that researchers have had to become more creative in finding sources of data to draw upon for analysis and publications – policies offer an excellent source of data for examination. Policy reviews also offer a good outlet for those times when you have the seed of an idea or a form of data which may be insufficient for a lengthier research article, but which you feel is important to disseminate. Finally, as they are short and do not require primary data analysis, policy reviews offer an excellent platform for early-career researchers who are beginning to dip their toes into the world of academic publishing. The IJHP is particularly keen to work with early-career researchers and we will happily offer advice to any individual who wishes to contact us with a policy review idea.