Research/Analyze/Write (RAW)


  • Use reliable sources when conducting OSINT (.gov sites are most consistently acceptable).
  • Don’t focus on research that confirms your hypothesis; actively seek different perspectives and contradictory evidence.
  • Be skeptical and read OSINT with a critical eye.
  • As you conduct your research, take notes about variations in terms, and query those, too (e.g., homegrown violent extremist, HVE, domestic terrorist).
  • When querying persons or companies, assume there are multiple spellings/variations. At the same time, never assume persons/companies with the same or similar spellings are identical to your subject. Cross-check all data. 
  • First reports are often wrong; never use initial reporting in disseminated intelligence without strong caveats. 
  • Read multiple accounts; there is a chance you’ll find just one or two additional facts that can enrich your analysis.
  • Sometimes news media that are located in the same city as an incident took place will offer greater detail.
  • Use original sources where feasible–for example, if you find an FBI statistic in a news article, go to
  • Beware of the slants and biases of mainstream news sources, opinion pieces passed off as “real” news, and satirical news sites.
  • Don’t let time constraints cause you to stop your research prematurely; if time is of the essence, and if possible, elicit help from co-workers.
  • Make the same query on different search engines to be sure you’re getting a complete set of data.
  • Devise a system to organize your data; it’s easy to get overwhelmed. 
  • Before you cite a fact, check for recent reports to ensure the story hasn’t changed. For example, if you cite an arrest, but the subject was later acquitted, your credibility might be at stake. At the same time, be aware the press does not always follow up on stories, especially if the circumstances are less marketable than the original piece. “When it doubt, leave it out.”
  • Consider the meaning of absent information. 
  • Put data into perspective by comparing and contrasting, and offering broader timeframes.  
  • If you’re using historic data, your research may slow or stop at some point as you move into the analysis and writing stages. On the other hand, if you’re using breaking news, you’ll probably need to add an “as of” date prior to dissemination, and then continue to monitor media reports and provide updates to your analysis, as needed. 


  • Begin your analysis by brainstorming to stimulate creativity and reduce mindset.
  • Seek to disprove your hypothesis; never seek to confirm it.
  • Focus on the inconsistencies of a theory. 
  • Incorporate formal methodologies, which can reduce bias and groupthink, and loosen mindsets. Formal methods also provide a roadmap of your analytical process so you can return later and identify positive and negative turns. 
  • Cultures matter. When conducting an analysis that involves cultural interpretation, discuss your results with an associate or someone from the larger IC who may have grown up or spent considerable time in a region to minimize mirror imaging.


  • The bottom line, sometimes referred to as the “BLUF” (bottom line up front), belongs in the first sentence of the first paragraph; the title is an abbreviated version of the bottom line.
  • Use active voice.
  • Write concisely. Vary the length of your sentences to keep the narrative smooth. Opt for a shorter paper rather than a longer one provided you’ve made your argument.
  • Try to avoid repetitive words if synonyms are available; simpler words are generally preferable to complex ones.
  • Cut unnecessary words, such as intensifiers like very, really, extremely, and so forth.
  • Write objectively.
  • Be apolitical; the reader should have no idea of your politics or the politics of your agency.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

Albert Einstein
  • It is sometimes helpful to create a PDF of a document as you proofread—this can highlight errors more clearly than proofreading an onscreen document.
  • As you proofread, read silently, and then again out loud. You’ll “hear” different things both ways.
  • Have a co-worker read your report out loud and take note of sentences he or she stumbles over, which may indicate sections that need smoothing.
  • The order of words matter.
  • Two (or more) proofreaders are better than one.
  • Consider the “newspaper test”; if your (unclassified) report accidentally gets released and lands on the front page of a newspaper (or on a prominent Web site), would there be any wording that might embarrass your agency?
  • Use pictures sparingly if at all. Your words are what matter. Don’t distract from them.
  • Graphs and diagrams that support your narrative are helpful.

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