“Once upon a time” – Intelligence 101 -Writing an Intelligence Analysis.

By Roger Davies / 6 March 2012 / Intelligence 101

Here’s a few thoughts about presenting intelligence analysis. In a lot of organisations there is a standard template for such matters and variance from that “is not permitted”. But if you can, think beyond those constraints. A good analysis is provided to a decision maker to help him make decisions. It is meant to stimulate action.  So there are some generally valid things to bear in mind – whatever the “template’.  I would encourage analysts to consider the following factors. Some are them are obvious and cheesy, some of them are hard to achieve.

Listen to what the reader wants in terms of how he wants your stuff presented.  Like an intelligence cycle, an analyst needs to be engaged with and understand what the end “user” of his analysis wants. Seek feedback, constantly.

It’s unlikely you will be asked for an essay. Some analysts come straight from an academic training environment where essays are needed and encouraged. But analysis (like a blog!) shouldn’t be an essay. Bullet points work well. There is a real skill involved in distilling the complexity of an essay into half a dozen bullet points.  But:

    • Make them visible bullet points
    • Don’t have too many – 6- 8 maximum
    • Keep the sentences within a bullet very short

Graphics and images are great – but they’ve got to be useful. So be careful. If you find you are adding a graph in just to fill space or make the report look nice, you have failed already.  If a graphic catches the eye of the reader and draws his attention away from more important stuff, that’s bad.



Sentence length. This is a personal bugbear. If your sentences ramble on with qualifying phrases, you will lose the attention of the reader instantly.  Aim for an average sentence length of no more than 14 words. Once you’ve written your piece, go through it carefully. Look for every sentence that’s greater than 20 words and try and break it up.  It will lead to a punchier, easier to read report. Your reader will find it easier to digest. Less is more.

The more important the analysis, the more need for a summary of key points. You need to lodge these in the reader’s brain.

Use narrative techniques carefully. By “narrative” I mean a story that explains things, often in a temporal sense. – “He did this, which caused that, then this happened”.  A narrative technique is particularly useful for providing the context of a situation They are immensely powerful but the attractiveness of a narrative can hide reality.  The brain of the reader will latch on to narratives eagerly. You can present a narrative as bullet points. It doesn’t have to start “once upon a time”.

Use CuesUnderline stuff or make it bold. If appropriate use colour.

This list of thoughts is not by any means exhaustive –  free to add your own in the comments.  God forbid I come across as a didactic old fool laying down the law on “how it must be done”.

3 comments on ““Once upon a time” – Intelligence 101 -Writing an Intelligence Analysis.

  1. Abu Samak

    I would add one more to this: Avoid ambiguity at all costs. By way of example:

    ‘The militants then shot at the police with automatic weapons.’ – was it the militants or the police who had the automatic weapons?

    Or even worse:

    ‘They shot at the men with small arms.’ – How small were their arms? Was it a medical condition?

    Clearly, in a multi-national environment, this kind of stuff becomes doubly important.


    1. Ivan

      Very good point and hilarious example; the moment I read the “small arms” I immediately imagined “T-Rex” like limbs.


  2. Bev

    Fantastic article. Thank you so much for this. I have a uni assignment which involves writing an intelligence report, rather different to the usual essays I have undertaken so far, and your article is exactly the sort of concise, easy-to-follow guide I was looking for. Top stuff.


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