How You Can Write Like An Intelligence Analyst

Zachery Tyson Brown
6 min readJul 16, 2020
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Being able to write well — by which I mean with clarity and concision — is an essential skill, even in the TikTok age. People today are both busier than ever and inundated with information; good writing is often the only thing that will make your content stand out.

I’m going to share some of the writing techniques that I was taught as an intelligence analyst and that I, in turn, taught to other intelligence analysts as I became more senior in that world. These aren’t hard and fast rules; there are no ‘right’ ways to write. But they are useful guidelines, ways to help you think about structuring your writing so that people will understand the message you want to deliver.

I was always told to learn the rules first, then to break them as necessary.

Know Your AIMS

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Image Courtesy of the Analytic Writing Guide (below)

AIMS stands for Audience, Issue, Message, and Storyline. It’s a simple way to conceptualize the structural building blocks of your analytic paper. Ideally, you’ll have the first three parts finished (or close enough) before you even start writing the final product.

It's only after you’ve identified the Audience, have narrowed down the key Issue they’re struggling with, and know the bottom-line Message that you need to convey to them, that you’re ready to start writing.

Answer The Golden Questions

You’re probably familiar with the 5Ws — Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Analytic writing compresses a few of these and expands on others. The method I was taught uses five “Golden Questions” that mirror the way we seek and absorb information. Answering these questions will allow you to isolate the Message and structure the Storyline.

What is Going On? What is the event or development you’re going to be writing about? This question is often difficult to answer, wrapped up as it usually is in context — but hey, you’re an analyst.

Why is it Going On? What are the key forces or drivers that led to the event or development?