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August 16, 2017

Declassified: CIA Secret Style Guide

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From muckrock: 

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The CIA, like all government agencies, produces a huge amount of paperwork.

The agency has declassified a 1962 collection of essays produced in-house aimed at improving the literary quality of the documents the agency was creating.

The anonymously authored collection addressed both specific problems of style — it says CIA writing is "full of jargon, of would-be professional language, of clichés; it is even opaque" — and the culture at the CIA its author(s) believed tended to produce poor writing.

"There will be no sizeable and lasting improvement until supervisors refuse to accept bad writing. This is the single most significant fact about improving CIA writing."

The document provided a number of writing tips aimed at dealing with the problems it saw as most prevalent:

 

• Avoid Jargon

Of the Agency's tendency to use specific terms of art or internal slang, the report said "The chief and worst aspect of CIA writing is the failure to let words say what they have to say, to use simple words and let them alone. The result of this failure is a thick paste of words, a conglomeration of jargon, cliches and euphemisms, of redundancies, pomposities and irrelevancies, that instead of accomplishing more accomplishes much less."

The essays also included a list of words (below)

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that it considered to be "new jargon" or needless replacements for existing words.

 

• Capitalize Carefully

The document recognized that rules for capitalization vary and attempted to provide a consistent set of standards for the CIA's writers based on two main principles: keeping each page clear of unnecessary punctuation and capitalizing only proper nouns.

 

• Avoid the Passive Voice

Like many advocates of clear writing, the CIA's anonymous essayist(s) strongly urged writers to avoid the passive voice. "Nine times out of ten we use the passive voice out of indolence or caution; we are either too lazy to find the active-voice phrase or we are too cautious to risk it."

The passive voice's prevalence in CIA writing means that "it will take two acts to get rid of it: recognition and will power."

The 56-page document ended with a proposal that the Agency create an internal apparatus aimed at monitoring writing quality, but recognized that writing well can be difficult.

August 16, 2017 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

An analysis of Chubby Checker's 1962 smash hit, "20 Miles"

This great song came out when I was 14 years old, in eighth grade at Steuben Junior High School in Milwaukee.

So catchy, I used to sing it to myself all the time, and occasionally still do.

But it took 55 years, until today — while I was enjoying the earworm that keeps on giving for the umpteenth time — for the penny to drop such that I seriously thought about the life of the guy in "20 miles."

First, the lyrics:

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Now, let us stipulate that our man walks at a rate of 3mph and doesn't ever stop for a break.

Well, when I do the math I get 20/3=6.67 hours each way, a total of 13 hours 20 minutes for the daily round trip.

Let us stipulate there are 24 hours in a day.

Therefore, the man has 10 hours 40 minutes daily to work/sleep/eat/party with his gf (not necessarily in that order).

Huh.

And that assumes someone else does his shopping/laundry/house cleaning/etc.

You be the judge.

August 16, 2017 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What is it?

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Answer here this time tomorrow.

Hint: smaller than a bread box.

Another: not stone.

Different view:

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August 16, 2017 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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