Style advice from the CIA

Duncan Stephen
Tuesday 16 September 2014

Writing tips from the CIA’s ruthless style manual

It is always fascinating to see how other organisations attempt to keep their writing consistent via their style guides.

A good style guide is a mixture of common sense and the unique needs of your institution.

The CIA offers everyday advice such as “prefer the forthright to the pompous and ornate.” But it also has rules that are particular to the CIA.

As revealed in the manual, the CIA is a prescriptivist scold, a believer in the serial comma, and a champion of “crisp and pungent” language “devoid of jargon.” It takes a firm stand against false titles used attributively and urges intelligence writers to lowercase the w in Vietnam war (“undeclared”).

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