Extracting the essential message is the ability to sort through the details of information and distinguish the essential from the non-essential. It also encompasses the ability to generate clear, concise statements that summarize the main point (the gist) of the information. The process is often automatic, because most people have extensive experience in attempting to get the main idea from what they read, see and hear. The automatic process usually works well if the amount of information is limited and the main points are stated clearly and unambiguously. However, critical thinking is needed when the information is extensive, is created in different formats and styles for different audiences, and the content has a high degree of complexity. The problem is further intensified when information is poorly presented with the main points not clearly discernable from the details.
The intelligence analyst typically deals with extensive amounts of information that is likely to be complex, is often ambiguous, may be prepared by someone from a different culture, and is not always presented clearly and simply. As a consequence, skill is required to extract the essential message from information and to summarize this message for future use in the analytical process. It is extremely useful to summarize a large amount of complex information with a simple statement so that the entire body of information need only be consulted subsequently to seek or verify specific details. Also, the gist serves as convenient shorthand to help communicate, is more easily remembered, and helps the analyst focus on the most important issues