“Utilizing the assumption that military deception at the strategic and tactical level has been and may again be an effective and efficient technique in armed conflict, one that repays handsomely the minimal investment of resources it usually requires.” (This excerpt from a graduate thesis uses lots of big words, but it goes nowhere. There’s no verb for the subject.) Coherence “The assessment additionally need to be based on human perceptions and assessment of the problem. Combining the two above factors, the determination of terrorist responsibility may be expedited. Monitoring of the terrorist problem must be continuous and thorough, as well.” The student who wrote that short paragraph wasn’t thinking about coherence. There are at least three major ideas: 1) assessing the terrorism problem; 2) determination of the responsibility for terrorism; 3) keeping track of the problem. It may be easier to keep track of shadowy terrorist groups than the main idea of that paragraph. Think of coherence as a plan, a blueprint for logical continuity in your paragraphs. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (2003) defines coherence as a “systematic or logical connection or consistency.” Our minds have a natural tendency to think logically, always trying to connect one thing to another and make sense of them in terms of things we’ve experienced in our lifetime. When we encounter something incoherent, our minds immediately say “Whoa!” and shift into neutral, grinding and crunching what we’ve encountered, trying to bring it into focus. Failing our ability to understand, the inevitable result is frustration. You don’t want your readers to be frustrated because you failed to follow a coherent organizational scheme in your writing. That’s why the topic sentence is so important to intelligence writing. The topic sentence, usually the first sentence of your paragraph, says to the reader: “Hi, there. Welcome to a new paragraph. I’m the main idea here and I’ll be your guide through the next few sentences.” Pick your controlling idea — your central assertion for each paragraph — and stick to it. When you change controlling ideas, move to a new paragraph with a smooth transition. In that way, you’ll ensure a more coherent product for your reader. USING THE BASIC TOOLS Having reviewed the basic tools of writing an intelligence paper, you’re now ready to proceed with the writing itself. Don’t be overwhelmed with rules and regulations to the extent that you shy away from writing. Just try to remember those six basic principles, and review your papers with them in mind. Keep your writing clear and understandable; be concise, saying only what you need to say in order to get the point across; watch for coherence throughout the process, sticking to an orderly, logical procedure; be sure your writing is appropriate for your intended audience, as nearly as you can determine that audience; check the final product to ensure that you’ve said everything you needed to say 19
about the subject — that your paper is complete; and finally, edit and proofread as many times as possible to ensure correctness. If you seem to have particular trouble with one or two of the principles, spend extra time on the most troublesome. It’s easy for me to tell you these things, but the proof comes when the boss tells you to write a fact sheet and have it on his desk the next morning. You can never anticipate all the variables that may occur, but you can be sure that there will be some short suspenses and deadly deadlines you’ll have to cope with in your writing. Keep in mind that there’s no magic formula for writing, and that the ability to write well is not something you’re born with. While some writers seem to have a “natural” ability, most of the authors who have written anything about writing have admitted that it’s hard work, and they have to struggle with words even after years of successful writing. If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all. SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THE BASICS Four Levels of Knowledge 20 — Michelangelo 1) Know what you know; 2) Know what you don’t know; 3) Don’t know what you know; 4) Don’t know what you don’t know. To be precise as an intelligence writer, you must know the limits of your information and where gaps in the data lie (that is, know what you know and what you don’t know). If you know neither of those essential elements, then don’t try to disguise that fact by writing imprecisely. What We Write, Others Don’t Always Read I wrote a draft description for a new course offering to be placed in the College Catalog. My intention was to write that it was based on “an existing course,” but instead I typed exiting course on my word processor. The spellchecker read that as a perfectly good word, but my boss caught the typographical error. I had left for a two-week trip; so he corrected it to read the way he thought it should: “. . . based on an exciting course.