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Army Regulation 25-50, Preparing and Managing Correspondence, defines the Department of the Army standards as being understandable in a single rapid reading and generally free of errors in grammar, mechanics and usage. These standards should apply to every writing assignment you prepare. These writing tips will provide you with basic information on how to write the Army way, and how to provide effective readability to a particular audience.
Effective writing generally transmits a clear, concise message that is easily understood, well-organized and to the point. Most audiences will understand what message you are trying to convey without difficulty of interpretation.Table of Contents
Write because you have to. If you can accomplish your purpose with a phone call or face-to-face contact, do so. Otherwise, make sure you state the facts briefly and to the point.
Make sure you have a clear, defined purpose for your writing. You will have three critical tasks in writing - -
Write so the average reader understands. Tell the audience what they need to know and why. Your main goal is to communicate accurately.
Write not to impress but to express your ideas.
Write the way you speak. Be personal and do not hide behind the bureaucratic mask. If you write for someone (speech/ presentation), try to adopt his/her voice or tone. Substitute short words for long ones.
Use short, conversational words. Words with three or more syllables are usually cumbersome and misunderstood. Avoid jargon, technical terms and legalisms. Jargon is defined as the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of specialists or workers in a particular activity or area of knowledge; often pretentious or unnecessarily vague and obscure terminology. When writing, the use of jargon is often unavoidable; however, those terms can be easily identified by a brief explanation.
Do not waste your reader's time. Write short sentences, usually 15-20 words, and limit paragraphs to four or five sentences.
State your main message in the first sentence. Discuss the detail in the sentences to follow. Make sure your reader knows what your writing is about. Next follow with your purpose, discussion, and conclusions.
Use active voice and not passive voice. Active voice is most effective because it is more direct; someone or something is responsible for the action, and the action is stated in fewer words.
Use standard punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Above all, make sure your writing is neat and legible.
Maintain a consistent point of view by continuing to use one subject; and one tense, mood, and voice in verbs. Sudden shifts in any of these elements tend to obscure meaning and make reading difficult.
Use personal pronouns.
Use proper contractions to avoid wordiness. Improper use of contractions can be confusing [who've (who have), where've (where have), who're (who are)].
Don't be repetitious just for the sake of sounding more important. You avoid getting to the point.
Avoid starting sentences with "It is," "There is," and "There are."
Avoid "that" and "which." Use "that" when introducing a restrictive clause. Use "which" when referring to things or ideas.
Don't use nominals. Nominals are noun forms of verbs. For clearer writing, try to use the verb form of the noun.
Rely on active verbs in the present tense, and avoid "will," "will be," and "must be."
Research. Start with mind mapping or brainstorming. This lets the creative part of your brain work before the ordered part puts the ideas together. Capture what you know about your subject.
Mind mapping process. This helps determine your purpose and narrow your ideas - -
Planning consists of three parts - -
Begin by forming an outline from your mind mapping. Organize the known information into major parts, and organize the groups internally.
Establish your controlling idea/bottom line. This will help you organize the major groups and make sure you have adequate information to support your bottom line.
Establishing your bottom line will vary depending on the organizational style you choose to develop your idea. A decision paper will need a bottom line that announces or takes a position on a topic. An information paper will provide facts. The information must serve a purpose, and the bottom line has to be the purpose of the paper. Make sure your bottom line is relevant to the purpose of your paper and to your audience. Make sure the content focuses on a single ideal. Is it clear? Make sure your information adequately supports your bottom line.
Make sure you define the major parts of your groups more precisely and focus on each group, one at a time. You will develop subordinate controlling ideas relating to each major part.
Select the sequence of parts to be more effective. Choose a developmental style that will support your bottom line.
Check for final consistency between - -
Along each pathway from bottom line to major part to subordinate part, you must have a credibility point. Your reader must see the relevance of this point and how it supports your bottom line.
Outline. You have your plan for how you want to proceed with your paper; you have a bottom line and you have your major parts. Now you must organize these parts into an outline. You are still developing and refining your ideas at this stage.
EXAMPLE OF HOW TO BUILD AN OUTLINE
- Introduction. B and C may be reversed.
- Attention Step, Purpose, or Context (when necessary).
- Thesis Statement (Bottom Line)
- List of Major Reasons Supporting the Thesis Statement
- Development. If you list the major parts in your introduction, use the same sequence here.
- Major Reason No. 1
--Evidence 1 and analysis
--Evidence 2 and analysis
--Relevance to thesis/bottom line
... Submit in a logical order
- Major Reason No. 2
--Evidence 1 and analysis
--Evidence 2 and analysis
--Relevance to thesis/bottom line
- Other major reasons, when necessary
- Conclusion. Sequence appropriately.
- Review of Major Reasons and Support of Thesis
- Thesis Statement Application(to provide information or to persuade)
- Recommendations (further research, etc. as appropriate)
Draft. Begin by writing down everything you have to say. Focus on substance and organization. Draft quickly. Do not worry about the perfect work or phrasing, worrying about such things will slow down your creative process. Use your outline as a road map to keep you on course with your bottom line.
Choose the best format. Packaging and organizing are very important to writing. Certain military papers will require specific formats: memorandums, information papers, fact sheets, decision papers, staff studies, etc.
Make your packaging easy to read and follow. The format needs to be easy on the reader's eye. White space is very important in packaging. Use headings, tables, indentions, underlining, highlighting, bold print, capital letters, italic print, color, columns, etc., in packaging.
Revise. This step is difficult especially when you are the author. You are prejudiced because you have an already-present knowledge of what you intend to say. Your drafting stage is much easier because you do not have to worry about style and correctness. In revising, you try to see your material from your reader's point of view. You need to see your material from the perspective of who will read it.
Check your substance, organization, style, and correctness. Is your document relevant, focused, and adequately supported?
Follow this checklist to make sure substance and organization go together - -
Make sure your style of writing is effective. Work on style before correctness because style can affect the meaning of your work more than correctness errors. Make sure your style of writing follows the basic steps in structure - -
Proof. You must check and mark your final copy. Always have someone else do the final editing of your work.
Before you start writing, you need to consider your audience; who will be reading this document? Analyze your audience by preparing an audience profile. Consider - -
There are four types of audiences - -
General. A nonspecific reader, one who has no technical experience in this area, who reads to be informed, persuaded, entertained, etc.
Decision maker. Most demanding and important audience; decision makers deal with costs, personnel, productivity, programs, customers, contracts, etc. and will want "bottom line" information and conclusions.
Operator. Usually a graduate of vocational and/or technical schools, whose experience level may vary; one who manufactures products or installs, uses, maintains, and/or repairs equipment. The operator will want a "how-to" or "step-by-step" procedure.
Expert. An expert has formal education and background and is familiar with the area and procedures. You must have adequate data to support your ideas since the expert is very knowledgeable about materials and sources.