Growing up I loved writing. More to the point, I loved words. Lots of words. But when I joined the IC I came to appreciate the philosophy “less is more.” It took years of practice, but I must have mastered the art because my fellow analysts began calling me the editor who hates words.
I don’t so much hate words, as I hate so many words, and so many sentences, and so many paragraphs. Intelligence findings are complex and nuanced, and a policymaker has a limited amount of time. So analysts need to convey their meaning quickly and succinctly.
Using active voice, eliminating qualifiers, and simplifying words streamlines narratives and helps make complex analyses more digestible. At the same time, we want the narrative to flow smoothly, so it’s a good practice to use synonyms, as appropriate, and vary syllables and sentence length.
Here’s a little game to master the self-edit. Try the “social media challenge.” Write a sentence that includes all of the elements of your thesis (the who, what, where, when, why, and how). Now, trim your sentence to 140 characters or less while maintaining the integrity of your message.
Of course, this is just a fun exercise. Conciseness is good, but there is a balance between writing tightly and writing so tightly that we lose context.