BLUF: Writing for government senior leadership

The acronym BLUF stands for bottom line up front. The inverted pyramid and BLUF style of writing is a tool used to communicate to leadership quickly, in times of stress, or when the topic is fairly controversial. These writing tools focus on providing the reason of why the document should be read in such a way as the least amount of time is necessary to understand the primary focus of the document. Leadership will want to focus on the findings, of who, what, where, and why as quickly as possible.

This is supposed to be a short blog post on how to write for what is often called the BLUF form of communication. Each agency or entity will have it’s own style guidelines like for intelligence, but the actual structure across disciplines is remarkably consistent. This is a form of writing that is used in the intelligence, law enforcement, and policy fields.  is often used at the start of email communications as in:

BLUF: Your father was a hamster and your mother smells of elderberries

As you may know parentage and familial discussion is a part of the heritage of our corporate ideals. In the matter or parentage we would like to discussing a three part essay the following parenting attributes you may find … and ad nauseum for 25 more pages.

This form of writing is not the far from how journalism is taught via the inverted pyramid. The inverted pyramid is the lead, the body, the tail and segments information on where the reader is expected to stop reading based on their level of interest or time. This is not an academic form of writing and it most assuredly does not play to the how to tutorial version of writing.

The inverted pyramid strength is in getting the most important information up front for the reader. That information and structure of writing is often carried forward into each section and even into the paragraph depending on the material.

Structure example:

The importance of the pyramid is in the quickness that it conveys information. The information is not compared in the first sentence to anything else. Nor, is the information contrasted until it is found in the second or third sentence elements. Finally there is a conclusion where importance, comparison, and contrast is tied up into a final sentence.

That makes for a stilted reading but a quick idea of what is in a document as the structure and major important points could be gathered from simply reading the first and likely last sentence of every paragraph. The same format should be followed when writing the actual sections or even chapters of a longer form document. The most important section is up front and subsequent information goes from important to trivial.

Take what you can from the examples and linked documents. Keeping the structure as much as possible will make the documents better accepted if not understood by policy makers. The format though will create a certain cadence that is almost cultural in nature.


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