What the CIA style manual can teach you about writing

by Liam Ward-ProudJuly 14, 2014, 4:17am

Be frugal with adjectives – nouns and verbs do the heavy lifting.

Spies aren’t exactly known for their literary exploits. But, as in business, intelligence work requires a precise, lucid writing style that can easily be ruined by failing to adhere to a few critical rules. And sloppy writing can be costly. Communications consultancy PowerSuasion reviewed nearly 3,000 emails at a large US company, and found that 15 per cent lacked a main idea or clear instruction for the reader, while 16 per cent had to be re-worked to make sense. It put the cost of poor communication at up to $12,600 (£7,365) per employee per year.

It’s no surprise then that the US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) style manual (recently shared online) displays a near-obsessive focus on precision: “Good intelligence depends in large measure on clear, concise writing. The information the CIA gathers and the analysis it produces mean little if we cannot convey them effectively.” The guide is packed with tips to make your prose as “crisp and pungent” as possible. Here are a few highlights from the 190-page book.

Download manual…DI_Style_Manual

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