GEOG 882
Geographic Foundations of Geospatial Intelligence

Writing Guidelines

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David Cariens spent over 30 years as an analyst with the CIA and wrote for all levels of the U.S. government. He headed the CIA University to teach new analysts writing and briefing skills.  Since retirement from the CIA, he teaches intelligence analysis and writing for the intelligence community. Additional information about Cariens can be found at: http://www.davecariens.com/

The following text is from “Intelligence and Crime Analysis: Critical Thinking through Writing” (2012) by David Cariens and is used with permission.

Rules for Intelligence Writing

Used with permission from "Intelligence and Crime Analysis: Critical Thinking through Writing," (2012) p. 18.

Writing is thinking on paper.  When you write you give the reader a glimpse of your thinking abilities-you are saying something about yourself. Like it or not, people form images about you based on how you write. If there are a number of spelling or grammar mistakes what are you saying about yourself-that you are careless, not well educated, lack pride? Writing can be easy if you will remember a few simple rules:

Rule One: Think before you write. Know what you want to say before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Rule Two: Organize your thoughts. If you are writing a longer paper or memorandum, take time to organize your thought so you can present a logical argument.
Rule Three: Use simple sentences wherever possible-in the active voice.
Rule Four: Pick your words carefully. Use shorter English words based on the Anglo-Saxon roots of the language. Usually these words are clear and void of nuance and innuendo.
Rule Five: Pursue economy of language.  Make each word count and use familiar terms.
Rule Six: Make the majority of your sentences short and to the point.
Rule Seven: Self-edit and proofread.

The Intelligence Style is expository writing. It is plain talk, straightforward and matter-of-fact communication. Expository writing efficiently conveys ideas, requires precision, and stresses clarity. A major goal of expository writing is to never make the reader wonder what the main point is in the paper or paragraph. Expository writing emphasizes the use of the active voice, although the passive voice is not wrong and should be used at times in your writing.

Basic Principles of Analytic Writing

Used with permission from "Intelligence and Crime Analysis: Critical Thinking through Writing," (2012) pp. 87-88.

  1. Put your conclusion(s) first. If the reader reads nothing else, he or she will know from the topic sentence of the first paragraph the main intelligence point or conclusion you want to make.
  2. Organize your analysis by your topic sentences. Make sure the topic sentences of each succeeding paragraph ties to, explains, or advances your analysis.
  3. Know the formats your intelligence organization uses and know when to use them.
  4. Be precise: pick your words carefully so that you are sure you are conveying the right message.
  5. Be economical in your use of words-avoid adjectives and adverbs.
  6. Clarity trumps all else in intelligence writing. Your intelligence analysis must not leave the reader wondering what you mean or why you decided to write.
  7. Know when to use the active voice and when to use the passive voice.
  8. Self-edit and then welcome the editorial review of others.
  9. Know the reader’s needs-know why the reader needs to take the time to read what you have written.

Mistakes

Used with permission from "Intelligence and Crime Analysis: Critical Thinking through Writing," (2012) p. 41.

Six mistakes are common to all new intelligence analysts, mistakes that must be corrected to have a career in intelligence analysis:

  1. Breaking away from the more verbose academic writing style. The simple truth is, if you cannot write in the tighter intelligence style, you do not have a career.
  2. Being content with throwing down numbers and facts and not making judgments. These analysts do not identify gaps in knowledge, nor do they identify opportunities. In the case of new law enforcement analysts, they do not make recommendations.
  3. When new analysts do make judgments, they do not give their strongest evidence to support their analysis.
  4. When they write, they often write something that is very interesting, but their draft is not intelligence-it does not address an intelligence problem or question.
  5. They do not conceptualize their main point at the outset, and their drafts do not have an angle. If the intelligence is not clear, if there is no indication as to why a policy-maker should take his or her time to read their product, they have lost the reader.
  6. They overuse adjectives and colorful language; their goal seems to be to elicit an emotional response. The net result is sensationalism. This emotionalism undercuts the objectivity and credibility of the intelligence.