Style writing guides for spies

While the content of the revelations by Edward Snowden of NSA and CIA spying were disturbing, the poor quality of the internal memos and PowerPoint slides also brought the agencies some ridicule. It turns out that these agencies actually pay quite a bit of attention to style and have produced internal guides on how to write clearly and make good presentations and the style guides have now been released under Freedom of Information requests.

The CIA document is called the DIRECTORATE OF INTELLIGENCE: STYLE MANUAL &.WRITERS GUJIDE FOR INTELLIGENCE PUBLICATIONS (Eighth edition, 2011). The NSA document is called SIGINT Reporter’s Style and Usage Manual.

Now the challenge is to get the people in the organizations to actually follow the advice. If they are going to break the law and spy indiscriminately on people around the world, at least they should do it in style.

(Via Cory Doctorow.)


  1. says

    DoD and intelligence community presentations are some of the most horrible writing I’ve ever seen. I believe that their abysmal quality is what caused Edward Tufte to lose his mind and become so vehemently anti-powerpoint — there’s something totalitarian about the tiny fonts and over-used bullet points, acronym hash and nelogistic whargarble that you wouldn’t even expect from the Soviet Union. It’s a weird mix of overconfidence and incoherence.

  2. says

    Yeah, clear writing is important; but so is speed, which is why no one has enough time to edit a document and get all that stuff right. The people who need to read those documents need that information ASAP, and having a tech-writer look at it only means more time lost and more people who have to be cleared to see it. Also, I suspect a large fraction of tech-writers are a bit too, um, liberal-artsy to get a secret clearance these days.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says


    Every published complaint about other people’s writing has to have spelling and punctuation errors –
    it’s a rewel!

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