President’s Daily Brief Writing Exercise Guidelines

October 13, 2014

Each day the national security community provides the President a highly classified book outlining major threats and issues expected in the next week or so. Each branch or department covering issues drafts a summary for their area. These submissions are reviewed and edited; other agencies comment on or add dissenting opinions. An editorial panel from the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence and the Director of National Intelligence’s office select the topics and compile them into a book.

The President is very busy. He needs the critical information, but nothing extraneous. A writer needs to draw his attention with the article’s topic sentence. The brief, concise article must contain only critical information. The agencies writing the pieces should state the facts and give their assessment of what they think will happen, but not comment on US political aspects.

These are the general guidelines for the exercise(s):

--No more than ¾ of a page in length (11 point Calibri font), normal 1” margins

--Order of information:

   1. Title

   2. Assessment

   3. Evidence

   4. Other Opionions

--1 Topic Sentence as the Title

--Must clearly address the critical issue(s)

--Must make clear the sources of the information (not by name, but with defined categories, such as “a trusted source” or “special intelligence”—i.e., signals intelligence)

--Must address the reliability of the sources of information (e.g., “with a proven record” or “with unverified reporting”)

--Must assess which facts are known/undisputed versus those that are questionable

--Must give the assessment of the writing office as to the imminence of a threat and likely outcome

--Must address competing or dissenting opinions about the outcome between government agencies

--May have an accompanying graphic (map, chart, etc.) that doesn’t count as part of the ¾ page.

Helpful Suggestions:

--Start with the 1-page bullet-point backgrounder to get all your facts and assessment together; then craft the article from that. Start your draft with what you want to say and then get to the grammar. Your first draft will be longer than what you need; once it’s done, start the compression process by removing excess words and phrases. Engineer every word.

--Be sparing with adjectives.

--Use active voice

--Avoid “to be” verbs and prepositional phrases

--Use Bold and italics as necessary to emphasize key points, but don’t overdo it

--The example below is a real PDB report. Notice how spacing and indentations help the reader.

For your PDB piece:

--Focus on the FUTURE

--Write for GENERALISTS struggling with real problems

--Essentials only, meaningful characterizations

--Begin with conclusions and explore their implications

--What are the key issues? Frame a way for President Roosevelt to think about it. What are the probabilities for what might happen?

Attachments to use as examples for the Battle of Midway:

--bin Laden example (below)

--Pearl Harbor NIE (The Primary Purpose of National Estimating)

--CINCPAC War Diary 

Note: The attachments alone are not sufficient for writing the May 31st, 1942 PDB for the Midway exercise. You will need to use other data in the Envisioning History/Palantir database to sufficiently cover the facts you need.

Redacted PDB Article: