LexPower

How to Write a First-Rate Diplomatic Cable

Posted on: December 2, 2010

U.S. Department of State and Unencrypted Diplomatic Cables

The U.S. Department of State is currently managing the fallout from the unauthorized release of a slew of unencrypted diplomatic cables. All political considerations aside, this post looks at the use of language in diplomacy.

From the sampling I’ve read and heard, the unencrypted diplomatic cables now being splashed onto the world stage seem to cover a rather wide range of topics, from the trivial to the important. Some give first-person accounts of meetings, others offer candid views of allies and world leaders. Some are lighthearted and amusing, others serious and filled with official acronyms, diplo-speak and numbing amounts of often arcane detail.

But let’s leave aside for the moment all political and moral questions involved in the unauthorized release of the cables, as well as any consideration of potential fallout, international distress, or issues of national interest.

Important as those things are, the cables also reveal something else that captured my attention.

As I listened and read, a pattern began to emerge. A common thread seems to run through the cables that are the most interesting from a writing perspective, and that is story.

Yes, it appears (to me at least) that a first-rate diplomatic cable tells a good story.

Grab Attention with a Strong Lead

The most engaging and memorable cables open with a strong lead sentence. They grab the reader’s attention by making a strong point right up front.

A good opening lead shows the writer comprehends the issue at hand, has a purpose in mind, knows who the audience is, and understands how to write for that audience.

Tell the Story

In the well-written cables, the author then proceeds to elaborate on the initial idea in the lead sentence by telling a lively and vivid story. The best of these are fairly short, punchy and use memorable, descriptive language to get the point across.

Once the writer has established the subject in the lead sentence, everything in the story must support and explain it. You can spot a lack of unity by looking for information that is not relevant to the lead sentence.

Wrap It Up

The author closes by stating any supporting details, data or technical information.

In some cases, there may be a call to action or a formal concluding statement.

 

Now, if the government had stored those cables in encrypted form, writers the world over would never have had the chance to appreciate how nicely written many of them are.

Before you leave … share your thoughts in a comment. Have you read any of the diplomatic cables? Did you notice anything about the writing, or how they were constructed? What is your opinion?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

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