Structured Analytic Techniques: Tradecraft


    Structured Analytic Techniques

    Structured analytic techniques question intuitive judgements by identifying a wider range of options for analysts to consider. There is no formula to get it always right, but the use of such techniques can reduce the frequency of error by analysts.

    These techniques can help analysts check cognitive limitations, avoid some of the known biases and confront the problems associated with unquestioned models. Structured analytic techniques can help individual analysts to work more efficiently, especially at the start of a project. The following is only a list of some of the techniques used by analysts.

    Structured Analytics Technique: Brainstorming

    Often used at the beginning of a project to draw out relevant information. The goal is to identify a list of relevant variables, driving forces, hypotheses, key players, stakeholders, sources of information and potential solutions to a problem.

    Key Assumption Check 

    It requires analysts to list and question the most important working assumptions underlying the analysis. Current events or future developments, require an interpretation of incomplete or potentially deceptive evidence, allowing the analysts to create assumptions.


    Potential apparent actions or events monitored to detect or evaluate change over time. Indicators can create an awareness that prepares an analyst’s mind to recognise early signs of notable change.

    Analysis of Competing Hypotheses 

    This technique requires analysts to start with a plausible hypothesis to then judge its consistency or inconsistency. It provides a trail of what the analysts consider and how they arrive at those conclusions.

    SWOT analysis 

    It provides a framework for analysing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the problem being considered.

    These structure analytic techniques can be supported by strategic techniques as well as basic tools for analysts. It assists the gathering and organisation of information to then use it in structured analytical techniques. These strategies and tools can be done at the beginning of a project and can be renewed or updated depending on suitability, thus allowing for time efficiency from the analyst and performing better.

    Structured Analytic Techniques: Strategies


    Effective when information elements can be broken out into categories for comparison. This is useful for reviewing data stores. It aids the review of multiple categories of information where components can present insights not easily identifiable.

    Chronologies and Timelines 

    Used to organise data on events or actions. They can be used whenever it is important to understand the timing and sequence of relevant events or to identify key events and gaps.

    Ranking, Scoring and Prioritizing 

    They can be used with brainstorming to provide a foundation for interagency collaboration for example. These lists are useful to determine which items are most important, useful, most likely or should be prioritised.


    Used for sorting and organising data that facilitates comparison and analysis. Matrices are used to analyse interrelationships among a single set of variables.

    Concept Maps 

    As a visual representation, they are used to show how an individual or group thinks about a topic of interest. These types of maps are used to help sort out thoughts and to facilitate the communication of a complicated situation in a briefing or an intelligence report.

    Structured Analytic Techniques: Basic tools


    It is a simple tool to start any project. By using checklists, analysts can avoid having to change their techniques later on. It can save the analyst a lot of time and improve the quality of the final product.

    AIMS (Audience, Issue, Message, Storyline)

    Its purpose is to prompt the analyst from the beginning with who the paper is being written for, what key question or questions it should address and what is the key message the reader should take away. Focusing on these elements helps ensure that the customer quickly benefits from the analysis.

    Customer Checklists 

    It helps analyst tailor the product to the needs of the customer to obtain better results. Using the checklist will help focus attention on what matters most and generate more rigorous responses to the task.

    Image: Norwich University (link)

    Maria Garcia Ribera
    Maria Garcia Ribera
    Maria is a graduate of Brunel University in Military and International History and is currently undertaking a masters in Intelligence and Security Studies. Her research is focused on war and conflict and its effect on geographical acquisitions.

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