"The trouble with CIA writing is much the same trouble that there is with other governmental writing and with writing generally in the United States."
"CIA writing baffles our readers. We share this problem with other parts of government and the United States at large."
Check out this sentence.
"CIA's problem is unique only in the relation of our profession to our writing but this relation is important, for it lends itself to bad writing and if we do not write well we risk losing valuable information and wasting dangerous effort."
WTF? I think this writer means
"At CIA we write about hard-won information. We lose that information and waste our agency's work when we write badly."
Look, it's easier to be an editor than a writer. Everybody knows that. It's always easy to cherrypick a sentence or two and make them better.
The point is this: good writing isn't a solitary job; it takes editors as well as writers. It's like software, which takes coders and testers.
From my own experience, I have seen extraordinary writers, but I have never seen an extraordinary editor: I think the reason for this is that exceptionally great editors work in such a way that their own edits most explicitly convey the original work both in its form and in its spirit, so that the editor becomes almost invisible. Invariably, the more bragging I have seen from editors in prefaces etc. about their own work on some books, the worse the result has looked to me in the sense that it had very little to do with the original, and typically felt worse to me.
I think good editing is at least as hard as good writing, probably even more so because as an editor, you are working subject to more constraints, in addition to facing the same challenges that writers also face.
And, yes, good editing is invisible. It's a very good feeling, when you can discover the author's original mindspace, and hack away at it.
That's an empirical claim, and I'm wondering how often it is actually true.
I have no doubt that for many people, and probably most people, it is true. But how many people out there can (and do) write well without an editor?
Most writers need editors because of the two d's:
Distance is necessary to read your work as a reader and not a writer. In order to polish your writing you have to have an insane amount of empathy for your reader. It's hard for people to edit their own work because it's hard to forget what you know. You know what you've meant by a phrase, of course, but your reader, coming from who knows what background, may not. Your diction, metaphors, etc. may be more idiosyncratic, arcane, limited, or just plain confusing than you realize. We're talking a whole tabula rasa situation which is not easy to pull off.
As to our second d, deadlines, they prevent writers from being able to address the first d alone. As with any art, critiquing your own work from the perspective of the audience takes 'fresh eyes', 'fresh ears'--when you're grinding on a piece you become so involved it's hard to look at it from the audiences perspective unless you have sufficient time (sometimes months) to step away and get your brain out of creative/obsessive mode. you're blessed if you actually have the time to simply take off from your writing like this. As such, an editor is your stand in--a set of fresh eyes that can vouch for the audience while you keep grinding away and ensure your hit that deadline.
Basically the same kind of dumb and wrong prescriptivism the linguists and dictionaryists hate about it.
Also written in the 60s, it reflects upon their experience with how to convey uncertainty in prose, in a meaningful and consistent manner. Imagine an analyst writing a two pager for the President, who is going to use it to decide go/no go on a covert action. It's a big, ugly and complex situation - with a mixture of highly confident assessments, educated guesses and total speculation. Synthesizing it into something simpler is The Art of Writing; doing so while not losing the anecdotal quantification of uncertainty of the discrete issues is a more unique skill.
If you are in a position where you write about uncertain situations, it's worth the read. I'm a security guy and frequently find myself in that role (think annual risk assessments and estimating the likelihood of a successful attack). It's been a go-to reference for many years to refresh my thinking.
The idea was to look for stuff that was interesting as a resoure for role playing games, mostly, but I also included one about "how to produce estimates" that is close in spirit to the one about writing.
by @reedes (Reed Esau) is my favorite tool to automatically help me with many of the mentioned points.
Spell-corrects/warns you about:
* Weak and lazy words
* Puffy & Jargon
* To be and passive voice
* Colloquialisms, idioms, and similies
* Lots more..
> it says that CIA writing is “full of jargon, of would-be professional language, of clichés; it is even opaque”
That's what I'd have expected frankly, which is what you'd expect from people trying to build towers out of sand. If your ideas are lacking, bullshit, and if bullshit isn't working, obfuscate... that's the alphabet-agency way.
Just being pedantic though maybe.
Which leaves us with "Guide to Writing". Can we do better?
Stephen King's book on writing is called:
I would agree that the first section does not say a great deal about writing, but the second section reminded me of sitting in my High School english class with my favorite teacher writing a couple sentences on the board as an example and passionately (oops) dissecting the structure with arrows and margin notes to explain how and why a certain picture was playing in my mind while reading them.
Placing King's personal anecdotes and thoughts about the "life of a writer" before the actual lesson felt to me, when I began the second section, like I was sitting in the classroom of an artist who has far more passion for his work than I have ever felt for anything in my life before then. It made the writing lesson more impactful, if anything.
But it certainly had a lot to say about writing.
If the book was just writing and not concerning the subject it would be "writings" so there should be no confusion?
Tabs or spaces?
That case sounds like a textbook example of a document where you want to use that trick.
Such practices have a major effect on people regardless of how aware they are of what's actually going on.
- United States Marine Corps, School of Advanced Warfighting
So yes there is a very good reason to keep the CIA writing advice classified. Even though it seems banal.
Obligatory "you won't believe #5!"