Notes on Analytic
This is the seventh in a series of Product Evaluation Staff notes to clarify
the standards used for evaluating DI assessments and to provide tradecraft
tips for putting the standards into practice.
The summary plays a key role in determining the kind of impact a DI report
or memorandum will have on the policymaking process. Thus, within the allotted
space, the summary has to make the distinctive DI value added stand out
- whether consisting of special intelligence with immediate bearing on US
security interests, important findings from the sifting of all-source information,
or actionable judgments about pending threats and opportunities.
As with other criteria covered in this series of tradecraft notes, analysts
have to tailor each summary to the circumstances of the individual assignment.
One way or another. though, the analyst has to crystallize the DI expertise
presented in the text in a manner that will seize the attention of the intended
When the clients for the assessment are few in number and their priority
interests regarding US policy and action agendas are well known to the DI,
the analysts' job is to craft a summary that crisply presents the what's
new and the so what.
- For example, in a Special Intelligence Report, the allotted "hook"
of a couple of lines of text must be designed to assure the intelligence
consumer that his or her time will be well spent in digesting the rest
of the report.
When an assessment is broadcast to a larger and more diffuse audience,
the analysts' challenge in determining the structure and content of the
summary is greater. Usually, the two most important goals are:
- To highlight the value added of the paper against the contingency
that busy readers will not get into the main text, especially the implications
regarding threats to and opportunities for US interests.
- To support these values with distinctive expertise in order
to motivate the "gatekeepers" to read the text and recommend
that their principals survey sections targeted to help them advance their
policy and action agendas.
To account for the diversity of the potential audience for broadcast
assessments, other introductory sections can be put to use in flagging the
full range of value added and DI expertise. In particular, an introductory
textbox, placed immediately after the summary, can be used to meet the
needs of specialized segments of the audience:
- For example, a depiction of the background or general context that
would try the patience of the officials already directly engaged on a policy
issue can be provided in a textbox to serve the needs of peripherally engaged
- Similarly, technical findings needed to meet the threshold of value
added for a small, highly specialized portion of the intended audience
can be placed in a textbox.
- And when depiction of policy implications on a controversial issue
requires more space for balanced presentation than a summary can accommodate
(for example, cost-benefit analysis of alternative courses of action),
a textbox is an effective solution.
A preface is also a useful instrument, in longer and broadly distributed
assessments, for supplementing the summary:
- Use it to explain to peripherally engaged readers the precise policy
challenges the assessment seeks to clarify.
- Use it to augment DI credibility; for example, by listing prior publications
on the issue at hand.
DI veterans offer the following experience-based tips for enhancing the
effectiveness of summaries:
- Conform the summary to the text and vice versa. Often the process
of squeezing all the values of the text into a summary paragraph or page
sharpens the analyst's depiction of key variables (drivers), cause-and-effect
relationships, and argumentation generally. Retrofit any new insights and
values into the text.
- Break up the typography. Many readers interpret summaries with
paragraph blocks that run solidly from margin to margin as a signal that
the memorandum or report is "user unfriendly":
-- Use short paragraphs, bullets and sub-bullets, bold face, and
italics to break up the space and to help the busy decisionmaker latch
on quickly to the key information, relationships, and judgments.
- Fit the writing style to audience and purpose. When writing
for a broad audience, including many policy officials with whom the production
unit has only limited contact, top-quality exposition can help attract
the readers' attention to the main text. When working in support of a single
consumer, however, consider using a more informal style to speed his or
her grasp of the value added:
-- One official reported that he did not have time for whole
sentences - just for what it was the analyst wanted him to know.
- Concentrate on the new and important. Historical background
and other setting of the context can be presented tersely or dispensed
with altogether. Use the allotted space to concentrate on content that
will make a difference to well-informed policymakers, warfighters, and
law enforcement officers as they contend with their daily challenges:
-- This usually means policy implications. In effect, the summary
is a vehicle for explaining why a busy policy official should spend time
on a DI product.
-- Strive to make the summary actionable; that is, structure it
to help a policy official get something started, stopped, or otherwise
- Role-play key members of the targeted audience. Regarding what
belongs in and what can be omitted from the summary: If you were a time-challenged
policy official, what would you want to gain from spending five minutes
or so with your assessment?
- Make fewer points, but make them well. If you have to choose
between the quantity and quality of the points made in the summary, opt
for the latter. This is particularly important when writing for a well-informed
audience which has no need for a "tutorial" on the issue:
-- If the assessment makes a bottom-line predictive judgment, refer
to the key assumptions and other essential elements of the argumentation.
-- If the assessment conveys important new findings, cover the
reliability of the sourcing and the essence of the methodology.
Forward to "Note 8"
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