How to write up your analysis (Part 1)

October 23, 2012

Recently, the members of the International Association for Intelligence Education, individuals involved with teaching military, diplomatic, police or business intelligence, have been discussing communications, and particularly writing.  Their general feeling is that most people who write up the results of an intelligence analysis assignment do not do it very well.  Of course contributing to this could be the fact that, in the eyes of some of these people, few people write anything well.

However, let’s focus on writing up the results of your intelligence research.  This is a complicated topic.  In future posts, I will give you some hints about how to organize your research to help you when you move into the writing stage (Commercial message – there are a lot of these in our book, Proactive Intelligence: The Successful Executive’s Guide to Intelligence).  But here, let me get across a couple of points that impact your writing and can help you improve it rather quickly.

One, in spite of the existence of voice recognition packages, writing is different from speaking.  Those differences may be diminishing, but they still exist simply because in writing your audience cannot hear your inflection, your emphasis, and the concepts you stress. So, spend enough time on your writing – first drafts should be just that – drafts which are improved by reviewing and rewriting them.

Two, remember that anything that you write down will have to be read in the future by someone who cannot talk to you.  If you are writing it for your own records, remember that when you read it again seven days, two months, or six months from now, you will not have at hand all the research that you did, nor will you have retained all of the analytical nuances and insights that came out of analyzing that research.  So make the document complete.  In other words, start by saying what it is you were researching, that is the question or questions you were trying to answer.  Then, answer each of them in turn, including the supporting research at that point.

Three, analysis is not the same as data.  When writing up a report or file memo, consider keeping the two items separate.  One way is to simply label your analysis as “analysis”, “conclusion”, “discussion”, or the like.  And separate the supporting data from that heading.  By doing this, you communicate to the reader where the data ends and your analysis begins.

Four, keep it simple.  A report is not an exercise designed to show how smart you are or how well you have mastered the English language or some scientific subset of it.  You are trying to conclude your research with a clear message.  Simple means be direct, not indirect. For example, in general, things do not happen.  Events or people or something else caused them to happen.  Write your sentences that way.

Five, if you do not know something, or you could not answer a question, say so.  It is very deceptive to make it appear that your analysis or your memo is somehow a complete coverage of the topic when you know, and we all know, that the odds of it being complete are remote. For example, if you do not know the cause of some event (see Point Four above), say that.

Six, keep it short.  From time to time there may be reasons for you to detail or record all that you did not find, resources you could not utilize, or other such omissions.  However, that is the exception rather than the rule.  In addition to keeping the report short, keep your sentences short.  As a general rule, if you cannot read a sentence back aloud without taking a breath, it is too long.  Cut it into two or even three shorter sentences.

This discussion will be continued from time to time.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please just let me know

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