A Suggestion


I have finished rereading very well-done book which carefully indicates to the reader the differences among hard facts, highly likely facts, and conclusions based on an analysis of incomplete evidence.

Warning – the book deals with the Holocaust.

The book is Richard Breitman’s, The Architect of Genocide – Himmler and the Final Solution[1]. Specifically, I am referring to Chapter 8 (“Cleansing the New Empire”), and Chapter 9 (“Heydrich’s Plan”)[2].

In those chapters, Professor Breitman analyzes everything from meeting notes to travel schedules, and from the parallel use of language to the way in which orders were communicated and followed by the Nazis in organizing and conducting the brutal murders of millions. In so doing, he clearly delineates “incontestable facts” from his own “deductions”[3] in a style that those of us in intelligence would do well to emulate.

I recommend reading this, if only for that careful style.

If you prefer another topic with a similar style, I can suggest any of Ron Chernow’s wonderful biographies, including Washington and Hamilton. He also clearly separates hard facts (“it happened”) from his interpretation or analyses (“probably”, “likely”).

[1] Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

[2] Pp. 167-206.

[3] As he puts it, “Not everyone will agree with all my deductions – which are identified are deductions, not incontestable facts.” Op. cit., p. 32.

Got Style?

March 23, 2018

Writing style is much overlooked (note the unfortunate, but common, use of the passive voice here) when we talk about business communication. However, what we write survives longer than our oral presentations do. A written document can always be referred to after the fact, while a presentation, unless recorded, relies on (imperfect) memory. So, your style of writing is important.

And, trust me, there are different styles of business writing. Here are a couple:

  • The entertaining – conversational, relaxed, and short, but tends to be lighter on content. It is an opening shot for discussion.
  • The direct – short sentences, clear language with no passive statements. It offers an issue and a conclusion. It reads like people (should) sound.
  • The professional – longer sentences, with more technical terms, presumably included for precision. No one, or almost no one, speaks like this – unless of course they are just reading it aloud, which is whole different issue. Then it becomes merely boring and unintelligible.
  • The overbearing – involves complex sentences, heavy use of acronyms. It is aimed at convincing the audience that the author is a real (and perhaps the only) expert on the topic. It is designed to persuade by being overwhelming, including the excessive use of footnotes and/or quotations.
  • The political/bureaucratic – filled with refences to rules, regulations, “context”, and past actions/decisions. Operates to conceal and deflect, by using the passive voice, rhetorical questions, and deep dives into often irrelevant sidebars. Rarely includes any acceptance of the possibility of (a) personal error, (b) institutional failure, or (c) cogent opposition to its conclusions.

Which are you (and which is this)?