Screens, Research and Hypertext

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The Essence of Briefs

A brief is an outcome, not an output.

No, not that kind. The kind that think tanks write. Here’s a nice summary from the University of North Carolina:

A policy brief presents a concise summary of information that can help readers understand, and likely make decisions about, government policies. Policy briefs may give objective summaries of relevant research, suggest possible policy options, or go even further and argue for particular courses of action.

The important thing about policy briefs is that they are intended for a very specific audience and for a very specific purpose. They are aimed primarily at people who make decisions about policies and secondarily at people who influence the people who make decisions about policies.

So what form would a concise summary plus policy options take? There’s really no one answer.

An infographic.

A chartbook.

A traditional narrative-plus-graphics.

A collection of semi-independent but linked articles.

Structurally, these are very different things.

An infographic may need to execute extra code or allow for a full-width embed.

A chartbook needs repeating paired fields for an interactive chart plus corresponding text.

A traditional narrative needs mostly text interspersed with embed fields.

A collection needs to hold some introductory text and some fields that allow editors to curate a number of distinct pieces of content.

And, of course, any (or all) of those things could exist as HTML, or they could be contained inside a PDF.

So is a brief one entity type? Or have we just described four different entity types?

Authors and Readers vs the CMS

If we take seriously the idea that an entity is a logically independent collection of attributes, and that two things with different attributes are different entities, then the answer is four.

From the perspective of a CMS, an entity is all about the structure of the content.

But if your concern is about providing concise summaries that help decision-makers—and those who influence them—understand and make decisions about public policy, then the answer is one.

From the perspective of an author, a thing’s type is all about the rhetoric of the content.

For more context

Better research outputs start with getting content into HTML.

What to read next

Wherein I introduce an old term to resolve a new problem.

Other items of interest

PDFs presume a particular way of thinking about the world.

Also, no one is reading your PDFs.

What do you mean by entity?

Referenced in

On Content

My clients trade in ideas and evidence. Those things don’t have a specific form. They’re abstractions floating around in the ether. Creating content is about wrestling those abstractions into some concrete form, whether that be a set of words or an infographic or a video. Knowledge and evidence are usable only when we’ve shaped them through discourse or publication.

Flexible Publishing Model

For an author or editor, content type refers to the rhetorical function a particular piece plays. A working paper, for example, is intended for other researchers, is not meant to be the author’s final considered view on a topic, is not usually peer reviewed, and doesn’t weigh heavily on tenure decisions. By contrast, a brief may be written for a high-level elected official, provide just enough argument to demonstrate its seriousness, and leave out most of the mathematics and detailed charts.