Writing in the CSI Style

Catherine is a big fan of the CSI shows on television (the original, CSI, and its spin-off CSI: Miami). And so often when I stumble in from the office late at night, that’s what I find on the television.

I find myself fascinated by one specific aspect of the shows, something I’ll call “CSI style writing.”

The nature of the shows — each show takes the viewer through a crime from the point of view of the crime scene investigator (hence ‘CSI’) — means that there’s a lot of forensic science happening. And because there’s nothing more deadening than watching machines whirr, or people hunting around picking up bits of some important foreign substance relevant to the crime, especially if you don’t know what they’re doing, what generally happens on CSI is that the actors, in a way that would never happen in the “real” world, talk in a very expository manner.

So rather than saying “Let’s stick the sample in the X-22 analyzer,” they say “Let’s stick the sample in the X-22 analyzer” and then their crimefighting buddy says “Ah yes, the X-22 will analyze the blood stain and compare it to millions of other samples in the crime database so we can match it to the killer.”

In other words, the show provides its own footnotes, and tries to do so in a way that seems sort of natural, especially if you squint your ears a little.

Once you get over the vague sense that these people talk too much, this is a pretty compelling trick, and once that I think the world outside of CSI television might profit from. Especially my little corner of the world, the techno-writer-geek space.


Derek Martin's picture
Derek Martin on July 23, 2004 - 14:54 Permalink

This guy was dead before he hit the lava…” — ad for this fall’s Hawaii.

McKyle Mackwame's picture
McKyle Mackwame on December 20, 2007 - 21:08 Permalink

CSI type writing is useful to viewers because they can understand terms that are not common place. I am an aspiring writer for CSI:Miami and looking forward to comparing my writing. Any referrel to a particular agent will be helpful. Thank you.