UNITED STATES AIR FORCE ACADEMY

EXECUTIVE WRITING COURSE

United States Air Force Academy Executive Writing Course graphic


CONTENTS

 

ORGANIZED WRITING

 

Page

2

2

3

4

5

Establish Your Purpose and Audience

Start Fast, Explain as Necessary, Then Stop

Use More Headings

Write Effective Paragraphs

Write Disciplined Sentences

 

SPOKEN WRITING

 

7

8

9

10

10

11

11

13

Use Personal Pronouns

Talk to One Reader When Writing to Many

Rely on Everyday Words

Use Some Contractions

Keep Sentences Short

Ask More Questions

Listen to Your Tone

Be Concrete

 

CONCISE WRITING

 

14

15

16

16

17

17

17

Avoid "it is" and "there is"

Prune Wordy Expressions

Free Smothered Verbs

Shun "the ion of" and "the ‑meet of "

Cut Doublings

Prevent Hut‑2‑3‑4 Phrase

Avoid Excessive Abbreviating

 

ACTIVE WRITING

 

18

19

20

21

Learn the Symptoms of Passive Voice

Know the Three Cures

Write Passively only for Good Reason

Practice on These Examples

 

APPENDIXES

 

24

26

27

38

A—Simpler Words and Phrases

B—Editing for Conciseness

C—Completed Staff Work

Books About Official Writing

 


ORGANIZED WRITING

 

Too many writers start throwing ink before they know what to aim at.  When you write, start with a clear sense of your purpose and audience, and arrange your ideas so you get to the point fast.  Then write effective paragraphs and sentences.

 

Establish Your Purpose and Audience

 

You'll save time and rewrite less if you plan before you pick up a pen or start to dictate.  In the planning stage, analyze your audience in light of your purpose by answering these questions:

 

               What is my purpose?

 

               Who are my readers?

 

               What are their interests?

 

               How much do they know already?

 

               What will make it easy for them to understand or act?

 

You'll discover ideas as you write, but you'll wander less by keeping the answers to these questions in mind.

 

Start Fast, Explain as Necessary, Then Stop

 

Timid writing creeps up on the most important information.  This kind of writing starts with background, then discussion, and finally the so‑what.  With luck, the main point follows a sign such as therefore, consequently or due to the above.  This slow buildup isn't chaotic; it enacts the way writers inform themselves.  But the pattern isn't efficient, either.  From the perspective of readers, it's the clue‑by‑clue pattern of mystery stories.

 

Your writing should follow the newspaper pattern.  Open with the most important information and taper off to the least important.  Avoid mere chronology.  (Make your bottom line your top line.)

 

To find what to put first, think about the one sentence you'd keep if you could keep only one.  Many letters and memos are simple enough to have such a key sentence, which should appear by the end of the first paragraph.  The strongest letter highlights the main point in a one‑sentence paragraph at the very beginning.  Put requests before justifications, answers before explanations, conclusions before discussions, and summaries before details.

 

Sometimes, as in a complex proposal or a reply to various questions, you may have many key points.  They would overload the first paragraph if you tried to put them all there.  In these cases, start with a general statement of purpose.

 

Here are some good beginnings:

 

We inspected the Directorate of Administration on 24 January 1994.  Its overall performance was satisfactory.  Special‑interest areas were also satisfactory

 

We request authorization to hire a full‑time clerk typist or reassign one from the word‑processing center.

 

This memorandum summarizes how we are planning the first step toward your goal of reorganizing the Air Force Reserve.

 

Sgt Frank Martin did a superb job during our recent engine change.

 

Delay your main point to soften bad news or to introduce a controversial proposal.  But don't delay routinely.  Readers, like listeners, are put off by people who take forever to get to the point.  In most cases, plunge right in.

 

To end most letters, just stop.  When writing to persuade rather than just to inform, end strongly with a forecast, appeal, or implication that activates the reader to do something.  When feelings are involved, exit gracefully—with an expression of good will.  When in doubt, offer your help or the name of a contact.

 

Use More Headings

 

Any document longer than three pages probably needs headings, so that readers can follow at a glance.  Even a one‑page letter can benefit from headings when topics vary widely.  Be informative; avoid relying on headings that use one or two vague words.

 

       For: Procedures

 

       Try: How to Complete DOD Form 76

 

       For: Use of Contractors

 

       Try: How Much Contractors May Charge

 

If you want the scoop, then group, otherwise it’s poop (Poorly Organized Offers Perplexity)


 

Write Effective Paragraphs

 

Keep paragraphs short. Cover one topic completely before starting another, and let a topic run for several paragraphs if necessary. But keep each paragraph down to roughly four or five sentences. Divide long paragraphs where your thinking takes a turn.

 

Now and then use a one‑sentence paragraph to highlight an important idea, such as the main point of a letter.

 

Use more lists. Look for opportunities to divide paragraphs into lists. This technique is especially important for staff papers and directives. As you can see, lists

 

               Add white space for easy reading,

 

               Show levels of importance,

 

               Simplify--

 

                      Initial review,

 

                      Later revision,

 

Just remember to avoid dividing a paragraph into more than the three levels shown here. If you use too many lists within lists, readers will lose sight of the overall structure.

 

Take advantage of topic sentences. A paragraph may need a topic sentence—a generalization explained by the rest of the paragraph. Then again, it may not. The decision to use a topic sentence is among a writer's many judgment calls. A short paragraph announcing the time, place, and agenda of a meeting might begin with.  "Here are details about the meeting." Yet such a topic sentence is probably unnecessary, for readers can follow the writer's thinking without it.

 

But suppose you're writing a report on ways to protect a particular military facility from attack. Your ideas are complex and the evidence needed to make them clear and convincing is considerable. So your paragraphs are likely to run longer and use more topic sentences than is the case in letters. Here's a model:

 

Because so much of the complex borders the river, its waterfront is especially vulnerable to attack. The naval station and the shipyard next to it have 1.5 miles of waterfront on the river's north bank. Together they have 13 dry docks and piers. Two piers are used to load fuel. Most of the piers extend to within 100 yards of the center of the river's main ship channel, and the river itself is only 900 yards at its widest.

 

The first sentence of the sample gives the paragraph a bull's eye.  Because we know early where the facts are headed, the paragraph inspires confidence.  A lesser writer might have left out the topic sentence or put it elsewhere in the paragraph or claimed more than the facts support Be alert to the advantages of topic sentences, for they help shape masses of information. Without them, some paragraphs make readers shrug and say, "So?"

 

 

Write Disciplined Sentences

 

So far we've talked about organizing letters and paragraphs so they call attention to important ideas.  Now here are some important ways to avoid sentences that mumble: subordinate minor ideas, use more parallelism, place ideas deliberately, and try some mini-sentences.

 

Subordinate minor ideas.  Besides clarifying the relationship between ideas, subordination prevents overusing and, the weakest of all, conjunctions.

 

 

Use more parallelism.  Look for opportunities to arrange two or more equally important ideas so they look equal. Parallelism saves words, clarifies ideas, and provides balance.  The first words of the series should use the same part of speech (verbs in the previous sentence).

 

For:

 

 

Try:

 

The symposium is a forum for the dissemination of information and is

not intended to establish standards.

 

The symposium is a forum for sharing information, not for setting standards.

 

 

For:

 

 

 

Try:

 

Effective 1 October, addressees will be required to utilize the cost accounts contained in the attachment. Addressees will cease reporting against cost accounts 1060, 2137, and 2340.

 

On 1 October, start using the cost accounts in the attachment and stop using cost accounts 1060, 2137, and 2340.

 

Place ideas deliberately. Start and finish a sentence any way you like, but keep in mind that ideas gain emphasis when they appear at either end. To mute an idea, put it in the middle.

 

            Maintenance time may have to increase if more structural problems develop.  (mutes increased time)

 

            If more structural problems develop, maintenance time may have to increase.   (stresses increased time)

 

For:    I would like to congratulate you on your selection as our Employee of the Month for June.

 

Try:     Congratulations on your selection as our June Employee of the Month.

 

Try some mini‑sentences. An occasional sentence of six words or less slows down readers and emphasizes ideas. The principle is illustrated in this next example from a general's memo to his staff.

 

I can get more information from the staff if each of you gives me less.  Here's why.  In a week, about 110 staff actions show up in my in‑box.  I could handle these in a week if all I did was work the in‑box.  Yet about 70% of my time in the headquarters goes not to the in‑box but to briefings.  I could handle that dilemma, too—by listening to briefings and thinking about staff papers at the same time.  I don’t.

 

Look for opportunities in your own writing to use mini‑sentences. They'll give it variety.

 

For:      I apologize for not answering your letter sooner, but an extended TDY kept me away from my desk for three weeks.

 

Try:      I should have answered your letter sooner. I apologize.  An extended TDY kept me away from my desk for three weeks.

 

 

 

 

 


SPOKEN WRITING

 

Make your writing as formal or informal as the situation requires, but do so with language you might use in speaking.  This isn't a call to copy every quirk of speech down to grunts and ramblings.  And, granted, some people speak no better than they write.  Still, because readers "hear" writing, the most readable writing sounds like people talking to people.

 

To make your writing more like speaking, begin by imagining your reader is sitting across from you.  Then write with personal pronouns, everyday words, contractions, and short sentences.  Together with questions, good tone, and concrete language, these techniques are the best of speaking.

 

Use Personal Pronouns

 

Though you needn't go out of your way to use personal pronouns, you mustn't go out of your way to avoid them.  Avoiding natural references to people is false modesty.  Whether you're a senior official or a subordinate, follow these principles:

 

1.       Use we, us, our when speaking for your organization.

 

2.       Use I, me, my when speaking for yourself.

 

3.       Use you, stated or implied, to refer to the reader.

 

Multiplied across an entire letter, roundabout sentences like the next examples do severe damage.  We would be laughed out of the room if we talked that way.  Ordinary English is shorter, clearer, and just as official:

 

Not:     Conceivably, funding constraints for this year will exceed in severity the financial scarcities that have been anticipated.

 

But       We may have less money this year than we anticipated.

 

Not:     The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, by reference (a), forwarded its draft master plan for the Washington Navy Yard to the Naval Supply Systems Command for review and comment. The following comments apply.

 

But:      In response to reference (a), here are our comments on your draft master plan for the Washington Navy Yard.

 

Not:     It is necessary that the material be received in this office by June 10.

 

But:      We need the material by June 10.

 

Or:       The material must reach us by June 10.

 

It is and this command complicate the next example.  They force readers to put back the pronouns the writer took out.  To make matters worse, the first it is refers to the reader, while the second refers to the sender.

 

Not:     If it is desired that Marines be allowed to compete for positions on the pistol team, this command would be happy to establish and manage team tryouts.  It is recommended that tryouts be conducted soon to ensure…

 

But:      If you allow Marines to compete for positions on the pistol team, we would be happy to establish and manage the tryouts.  We recommend that tryouts start soon to ensure…

 

Military writers can profit from an axiom of business writing known as the "you" attitude.  It's a matter of showing greater concern for the reader than the writer by using you more than I or we.  Better to say "the service you receive" than "the service we provide."  Keep this distinction in mind, and when you have a choice, show that you see things from your reader's perspective by putting the emphasis on "you."

 

Can you overuse personal pronouns?  In a few instances, yes.  For example, you can use so many pronouns that readers lose sight of what the pronouns refer to.  Besides, some subjects don't lend themselves to pronouns; the description of a plane's structure isn't likely to include people.  Also, criticism hurts fewer feelings if delivered impersonally.  "Nothing has been done" avoids the direct attack of "You have done nothing."  Finally, if we or I opens more than two sentences in a row, the writing becomes monotonous and may suggest self‑centeredness.  Still, military writers have a long way to go before overuse of pronouns is a problem.  Most of us will benefit from using more natural references to people.

 

Talk to One Reader When Writing to Many

 

When you're writing to many people but none of them in particular, create in your mind a typical reader. Talk to that reader by using you and your, stated or implied. Only one person reads your writing at any one time, so the most readable writing speaks directly to one reader.

 

Not:     All addressees are requested to provide inputs of desired course content.

 

But:      Please send us your recommendations for course content.

 

Not:     It is requested that all employees planning to take leave in December fill in the enclosed schedule.

 

But:      If you plan to take leave in December, fill in the enclosed schedule.

 

When you write directives, look for opportunities to talk directly to a user. Procedures, checklists, or other how‑to instructions lend themselves to this cookbook approach. Imagine someone has walked up to you and asked what to do. The following example is from an instruction that repeated the duty officer dozens of times:

 

Not:     The duty officer will verify that security responsibilities have been completed by putting his/her initials on the checklist.

 

But:      When you complete the inspection, initial the checklist.

 

Rely on Everyday Words

 

The complexity of military work and the need for precision require some big words.  But don't use big words when little ones will do.  People who speak with small words often let needlessly fancy ones burden their writing.  On paper help swells to assistance, pay to remuneration, and visit to visitation.  The list goes on, and so does the damage from word inflation.

 

Do you remember the dude in those old Western movies who overdressed to impress the folks at the ranch?  Overdressed writing fails just as foolishly.  Here are some commonly overdressed words.

 

Not

But

commence

start

facilitate

help

optimum

best

promulgate

issue

utilize

use

 

Prefer short, spoken transitions over long, bookish ones.  Save long transitions for variety.  By preferring short ones, you help set an ordinary tone for the rest of what you say.  (And, yes, you can start sentences with conjunctions.)

 

Not

But

consequently

so

however

but

in addition

also

nevertheless

still

 

 

 

 

Avoid legalistic lingo.  Let a regulation's number or a letter's signature carry the authority instead of trying to put that authority in your language.  Write to express, not to impress.

 

Not

But

aforesaid

the, that

heretofore

until now

herewith is

here is

the undersigned

I

 

All writers try to impress readers, but the best do it through language that doesn't call attention to itself.  Size of vocabulary is less important than skill in manipulating the words you already know.  See Appendix A for a list of simpler words and phrases.

 

Use Some Contractions

 

Contractions link pronouns with verbs (we'd, I’ll, you’re) and make verbs negative (don’t, can’t won't).  They're appropriate for all but the most formal writing situations.  Yet even when your final product will be a formal reprimand, for example, you can use contractions in drafts to help you write naturally.

 

The point is that if you're comfortable with contractions, your writing is likely to read easily, for you’ll be speaking on paper.  And because the language is clear, you're more likely to spot holes in your thinking that need to be filled.

 

If contractions seem out of place, you may need to deflate the rest of what you say.  In the next sentence, something has to go, either the opening contraction or the inflated language that follows: "It's incumbent upon all personnel to effect energy savings."  Written naturally, the sentence might read, "It's your job to save energy."

 

Keep Sentences Short

 

For variety mix long sentences and short ones, but average under twenty words.  Though short sentences won't guarantee clarity, they're usually less confusing than long ones.  You needn't count every word.  Try the eye test: average under two typed lines.  Or try the ear test: read your writing aloud and break up most of the sentences that don't end in one breath.  In the next example, we first break the marathon sentence into manageable units and then make the writing sound like speaking.

 

Not:     It is requested that attendees be divided between the two briefing dates with the understanding that any necessary final adjustments will be made by DAA to facilitate equitable distribution.  (29 words)

 

Uh:       It is requested that attendees be divided between the two briefing dates.  Any necessary final adjustments will be made by DAA to facilitate equitable distribution.  (12,13 words)

But:      Send half your people on one day and half on the other. DAA will make final adjustments.  (12, 5 words)


 

Ask More Questions

 

A request gains emphasis when it ends with a question mark. Do you hear how spoken a question is?  Look for opportunities to reach out to your reader:

 

Not:     Request this headquarters be notified as to whether the conference has been rescheduled.

 

But:      Has the conference been rescheduled?

 

Not:     In an effort to improve the cost of office copier operation, it is requested your firm complete the attached form relating to office copiers which you would propose to rent/lease.

 

But:      Would you let us know on the accompanying form what you charge to rent or lease your copiers?

 

Listen to Your Tone

 

Speakers have gesture, voice, and movement to help them communicate.  Writers only have words on paper.  Recognize your disadvantage as a writer and remember to pay special attention to tone.

 

Tone—a writer's attitude toward the subject or reader--causes relatively few problems in routine writing.  The more sensitive the reader or issue, however, the more careful we must be to promote good will.  Tactlessness in writing suggests clumsiness in general.  When feelings are involved, one misused word can make an enemy.

 

Imagine you are a reservist who has asked to stay on active duty even though you have a serious illness.  How does the following answer strike you?

 

Because you have failed to pass the prescribed physical examination, you will be removed from active duty.

 

Failed?  Removed?  These words hint at crime and punishment.  To avoid such tactlessness, the tone should be positive.

 

Negative

Positive

Opportunity is limited.

Competition is keen.

Stop writing badly.

Start writing well.

Don’t use the small hoist.

Use the big hoist.

The cup is half-empty.

The cup is half full.

The positive approach removes some of the sting from the reservist's answer.  Here's a possibility:

 

Given the results of your physical examination, we must transfer you to the Retired Reserve.

 

The structure of the letter was better than the wording of the "failed" sentence. The letter opened by acknowledging the favorable endorsements that accompanied the request to stay on active duty, and it closed by thanking the reservist for his years of service. This tactful arrangement helped to soften the bad news.

 

Now imagine you've asked for more time to complete a correspondence course. Here's the last sentence of the letter that turns you down:

 

       If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to write.

 

Beware of rubber-stamp endings such as the one you just read.  They don't improve good letters or save bad ones.  To the reader whose request has been denied, further assistance promises further disappointment.  The closing sentence should be dropped entirely or tied to the rest of the letter with positive language:

 

This setback aside, we hope you will take advantage of other correspondence courses available to you.

 

In all fairness to the writer, the letter did explain the denial in enough detail to avoid any hint of a brush-off.  Most no answers need some explanation.  Yes answers need little explanation because readers get what they want.

 

Be Concrete

 

Without generalizations and abstractions, lots of them, we would drown in detail.  We sum up vast amounts of experience when we speak of dedication, programs, hardware, and lines of authority.  But such abstract language isn't likely to evoke in a reader's mind the same experiences it evokes in a writer's.  Lazy writing overuses such vague terms.  Often it weakens them further by substituting adjectives for examples: immense dedication, enhanced programs, viable hardware, and responsive lines of authority.

 

If you write, "The solution to low morale and poor discipline is good leadership," your readers may feel warm all over.  But until you point out some specific behavior meant by low morale, poor discipline, and good leadership, neither you nor your readers can tackle the problem.  Similarly, don't use a general word if the context allows for a specific one.  Be as definite as the situation permits.

 

 


 

For

Try

 

 

aircraft

plane

plane

F-16

improved costs

lower costs

enhanced method

faster method? cheaper method?

 

Vague, high-sounding language also weakens job descriptions. Someone is said to "assist and advise in the organization management aspects of manpower management."  Another "serves as a system proponent to transition from current capabilities to architectural projections."  But what do these people really do?  After all, a person who "serves as a direct interface with interstate commerce" may be only a highway flag holder.

 

Performance evaluations suffer when writers make extravagant, unsupported claims. Someone actually wrote this next example, and someone else has it ticking in his files.

 

Engaged in an assignment of a highly complex and technical nature, Sgt Anderson has molded on-the-job experience, diligence, and perseverance to a point where his seniors and supervisors can inevitably afford credence to his work and the conclusions he derives therefrom.

 

An effective evaluation shows what a person did and how well he or she did it. it's concrete enough to inspire confidence in the writer's judgment about the ratee's performance and potential.


CONCISE WRITING

 

Concise writing includes only those ideas that readers need, and it gives those ideas no more words than they deserve.  Careful audience analysis and a willingness to be hard on yourself are essential for conciseness.  Have you included too much background?  Do excessive details bury your point?  Are you keeping an irrelevant idea just because it sounds ever so fine?

 

You can say too little, of course, and not persuade your readers that a certain problem is serious or that your solution is worthwhile.  Sometimes simple courtesy requires bulk; a one‑sentence letter of praise is just too abrupt.  But the point remains the best writing, like the best machinery, has no unnecessary parts.

 

Don't be overly concerned about conciseness when you are getting your ideas on paper.  If you try to create and edit at the same time, you may bog down in detail and lose sight of your point. When you polish your writing, though, look for wordiness everywhere.  Question the need for every paragraph, every sentence, every word.  The longer you take to say things the weaker you come across and the more you risk blurting important ideas.  In the war against wordiness, the best weapon is a writer's ruthlessness.  Let's review some common forms of wordiness that are easy to spot and avoid:

 

Avoid "it is and "there is"

 

No two words hurt military writing more than it is.  They stretch sentences, delay meaning, hide responsibility, and encourage passive verbs.  Unless it refers to something mentioned earlier, avoid it is.  Spare only spoken expressions such as "It is time to..." or "It is hard to…" and an occasional pointing expression such as "it is your job to…"  (not someone else's).

 

Not

But

It is requested

We request, please

It is my intention

I intend

It is necessary that you

You need to, you must

It is apparent that

Clearly

It is the recommendation of this office that

We recommend

 

Not:     It is mandatory that all personnel receive flu vaccinations.

 

But:      All personnel must receive flu vaccinations.

 

Not:     It is requested that all badges be surrendered upon departure of your group from the restricted area

 

But:       Return all badges when your group leaves the restricted area.

 

Like it is constructions, forms of there is make sentences start slowly.  Don't write these delayers without first trying to avoid them.

 

Not:     There will be a meeting of the Human Relations Council at 1000 on 26 July in the main conference room.

 

But:      The Human Relations Council will meet at 1000 on 26 July in the main conference room.

 

Not:     There are two alternatives offered in the report.

 

But:      The report offers two alternatives.

 

Prune Wordy Expressions

 

Wordy expressions don't give writing impressive bulk; they clutter it by getting in the way

of the words that carry the meaning.  In order to and in accordance with, for example, are minor ideas that don't deserve three words.  Here are some repeat offenders.

 

Not

But

for the purpose of

for, to

in accordance with

by, following, under

in order to

To

in the event that

If

in the near future

shortly, soon

be advised

---

in the process of

---

is responsible for

---

the provisions of

---

the use of

---

 

Wordy expressions dilute the next examples.  Extended across a letter or report, the savings from cutting such bloated language are considerable.

 

Not:     In accordance with the new regulation, you may pay the claim with a check in the amount of $300.

 

But:      Under the new regulation, you may pay the claim with a check for $300.

 

Not:     In the event that this offer is satisfactory, be advised your written acceptance must reach us before May 11.

 

But:      If this offer is satisfactory, your written acceptance must reach us before May 11.

 

Not:     We are in the process of revising our form letters in order to make them more readable.

 

But:      We are revising our form letters to make them more readable.

 

Free Smothered Verbs

 

Make your verbs do more work.  The most important word in a sentence is the verb, the action word, the only word that can do something.  Weak writing relies on general verbs, which take extra words to complete their meaning.  When you write a general verb such as make or give, check to see whether you can turn a nearby word into a specific verb.

 

Not:     This directive is applicable to everyone who makes use of the system.

 

But:      This directive applies to everyone who uses the system

 

Not:     The committee held a meeting to give consideration to the proposal.

 

But:      The committee met to consider the proposal.

 

Not:     We will conduct an investigation into the incident before making a

 

But:      We will investigate the incident before deciding.

 

To be deserves special attention. it's the most common verb in English and the weakest.  Though we need it often, often we don't.  Cut down on your use of to be in any of its forms am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been.

 

Shun "the ‑ion of'' and "the ‑ment of''

 

Words ending in -ion and -ment are verbs turned into nouns.  Whenever the context permits, change these nouns to verb forms. By favoring verb forms, your sentences will be shorter and livelier.

 

Not:     Use that format for the preparation of your command history.

 

But:      Use that format to prepare your command history.

 

Not:     The settlement of travel claims involves the examination of orders.

 

But:      Settling travel claims involves examining orders.

 

Or:       To settle travel claims, we examine orders.

 

 

Cut Doublings

 

As the writer, you may see some differences between advise and assist, interest and concern, or thanks and gratitude. But your readers won't. Repeating a general idea can't make it any more precise. Simple subtraction will overcome doublings such as these:

 

Not:     We must comply with the standards and criteria for controlling and reducing environmental pollution.

 

But:      We must comply with the standards for reducingUenvironmental pollution.

 

Not:     The Department of Defense has developed plans for an orderly and integrated system of executive and management advancement.

 

But:      The Department of Defense has developed plans for a system of executive advancement.

 

Prevent Hut ‑2-3-4 Phrases

 

Though you should cut needless words, sometimes you can go too far.  Avoid hut-2-3-4 phrases—long clots of nouns and modifiers.  Readers can't tell how the pieces fit together or where they all will end.  We must live with some established hut-2-3-4 phrases such as Air Traffic Control Radar Beacon System, but you can keep them out of whatever you originate by adding some words or rewriting entirely.

 

Not:     the Board of Inspection and Survey service acceptance trials requirements

 

But:      requirements by the Board of Inspection and Survey for service acceptance trials

 

Not:     training needs planning summary survey

 

But:      survey of training needs for the planning summary

 

Avoid Excessive Abbreviating

 

Excessive abbreviating is another common form of false economy.  Use abbreviations no more than you must with insiders, and avoid them entirely with outsiders.  Spell out an unfamiliar abbreviation the first time it appears, like this:

 

       Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)

 

If an abbreviation would appear only twice or infrequently, spell out the term every time and avoid the abbreviation entirely.  Put clarity before economy.


ACTIVE WRITING

 

Passive writing is wordy, roundabout, and sometimes downright confusing.  To avoid this infectious disease, learn how to spot passive verbs and make them active.  Most of your sentences should use a who‑does‑what order.  By leading with the doer, you automatically will avoid a passive verb.

 

Doctor:     When did you first notice your use of verbs in the passive voice?

 

Patient:      The utilization was first noticed by me shortly after the military was entered. A civilian agency has been joined by my brother. The same condition has been remarked on by him

 

Doctor:     Did you know that most of the verbs we speak with are active? So are most of the verbs in newspapers and magazines, the kinds of writing we like to read.

 

Patient:      Well, it is believed by me that many verbs are made passive by military writers. In the letters and directives that have been prepared by this speaker, passive verbs have been utilized extensively. Are problems caused?

 

If you heard the unnatural sound of the patient's passives and know how to lead with doers, you needn't read on. But the following technical discussion may be helpful.

 

Learn the Symptoms of Passive Voice

 

A verb in the passive voice uses any form of to be plus the past participle of a main verb:

 

                                    am        is          was      were     be        being    been

 

PLUS

 

a main verb usually ending in en or ed

 

Unlike sentences with active verbs, sentences with passives don't need to show who or what has done the verb's action. If a doer appears at all, it follows the verb. But most passives in military writing just imply the doer, a severe problem when the doer isn't clear from the context. Passive verbs look like the following underlined words:

 

Ex:       As a result of what has been learned, it is desired that additional equipment testing be made.

 

            (Be made is passive.  The past participle of to make is irregular.)

 

Ex:       Two units of blood were ordered for an emergency patient whose hematocrit had fallen below 20 percent.

 

            (Had fallen is active.  Had isn't a form of to be.  Besides, what did the falling? Hematocrit, which appears before the verb.)

 

Know the Three Cures

 

Put a doer before the verb:

 

Not:     The part must have been broken by the handlers.

 

But:      The handlers must have broken the part.

 

Not:     The requests must be approved.  (By whom?)

 

But:      The supervisor must approve the requests.

 

Not:     Complete uniforms must be worn by all personnel.

 

But:      All personnel must wear complete uniforms.

 

Or:       Wear complete uniforms.

 

Drop part of the verb:

 

Not:     The results are listed in the attachment.

 

But:      The results are in the attachment.

 

Not:     Then she was transferred to Maxwell AFB.

 

But:      Then she transferred to Maxwell AFB.

 

Change the verb:

 

Not:     Letter formats are shown in the correspondence manual.

 

But:      Letter formats appear in the correspondence manual.

 

Not:     The replacement has not been received yet.

 

But:      The replacement has not arrived yet.

 

 

Write Passively only for Good Reason

 

Now and then, write passively if you have good reason to avoid saying who or what has done the verb's action. This situation may occur if the doer is unknown, unimportant, obvious, or better left unsaid:

 

Presidents are elected every four years. (doer obvious)

 

The part was shipped on I June. (doer unimportant, perhaps)

 

Christmas has been scheduled as a work day. (doer better left unsaid)

 

Now and then, you may want to write a passive sentence that names the doer.  The situation may occur when you need a transition from one topic to another.  The following sentence would shift a discussion from individual habit to group inertia:

 

Writing improvement is doubly difficult when individual habit is reinforced by group inertia.

 

Now and then, a passive sentence that names the doer is appropriate if the rest of the paragraph is about the receiver of the verb's action.  The following sentence might work in a paragraph about a general.

 

Then the general was hit by a falling limb.

 

Finally, for variety or stateliness, you may want the slow procession of a passive sentence such as this one on a monument at the Air Force Academy:

 

Man's flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge.

 

When in doubt, write actively, even though the doer may seem obvious.  You will write livelier sentences (not, livelier sentences will be written by you).

 

Practice on These Examples

 

The following paragraph comes from a letter that proposes to expand a Scheduled Airline Ticket Office (SATO).  Find the passives and try to make them active.  Then check yourself against the revision.

 

During that time period, a total of $644,000 was expended in the issuance of government transportation requests (GTRs) for air travel.  It is estimated by SATO that an additional $10,000 per month would be generated through casual travel.  A summary of the GTR revenue by month is provided in attachment 1.

 

Here is a sentence-by-sentence revision of the passive paragraph:

 

During that time period, a total of $644,000 was expended in the issuance of government transportation requests (GTRs) for air travel.

 

We can cut 19 percent from the passive sentence above just by shortening during that time period to during that time and by omitting a total of.  No writer has any excuse for not performing such simple subtraction.  To avoid the passive was expended, we don't have to know who or what did the spending.  The core idea is this: "During that time, government transportation requests (GTRs) for air travel totaled $644,000."  Now the verb carries more of the meaning, $644.000 appears in a stronger place and the sentence is slimmer by 43 percent.

 

It is estimated by SATO that an additional $10,000 per month would be generated through casual travel.

 

This sentence is easy to improve because doers follow both passive verbs.  "SATO estimates that casual travel would generate an additional $10,000 per month."  Though active now, the sentence still needs work.  We can shorten generate to add, and additional to another, and per to a.  For clarity, casual travel can become off-duty travel.  These small improvements add up: "SATO estimates that off‑duty travel would add $10,000 a month."

 

A summary of the GTR revenue by month is provided in attachment 1.

 

Though the sentence would be shorter if we simply dropped provided, the weak is would remain.  Better to reshape the sentence: "Attachment 1 provides a summary of the GTR revenue by month."  But provides a summary is a smothered verb for summarizes.  So the best improvement is this: "Attachment 1 summarizes the GTR revenue by month."  Here is the passive original again, followed by the active version:

 

Passive:   During that time period, a total of $644,000 was expended in the issuance of government transportation requests (GTRs) for air travel.  It is estimated by SATO that an additional $10,000 per month would be generated through casual travel.  A summary of the GTR revenue by month is provided in attachment 1.  (50 words)

 

Active:     During that time, government transportation requests (GTRs) for air travel totaled $644,000.  SATO estimates that off‑duty travel would add $10,000 a month.  Attachment 1 summarizes the GTR revenue by month.  (31 words)

 

The following letter, from an inspector general, suffers from epidemic passives and other problems.  On a separate sheet of paper, rewrite the letter to make it organized, spoken, concise, and active.

 

Attachment 1 is forwarded for review and comment as to concurrence or non- concurrence with the recommendations of the subject to inspection.  Only those recommendations requiring action are forwarded.  Comments are requested by 7 June in order that approval and implementing can be taken.  Recommendations will stand as written if concurrence is not provided by the above date.

 

Status reports or comments concerning actions completed or in progress are not to be submitted at this time.  Guidance on status reporting will be provided at a later date. (85 words)

 

Here's our version (you may have come up with a better one).

 

Please concur or non-concur with the inspection recommendations in attachment 1.  To consider changes to these recommendations, we must have your comments by 7 June.

 

Don't send status reports about actions completed or in progress.  Guidance on these will reach you later.  (40 words)

 

The second sentence of the original is unnecessary.  Elsewhere in the original the writing is swollen: provided and submitted for sent, in order that for so, and at a later date for later.  But the worst damage comes from the seven untouched‑by‑human‑hands passives.  They force readers to pause and figure out just who is supposed to do what. The revision avoids the passives by talking directly to a typical reader.  Note the personal pronouns, contractions, and please.

 

Please, the first word of the active version, is a convention of modern writing (and speaking) that helps avoid many roundabout constructions. "Please send us two blivets" is far more efficient than "it is requested that two blivets be sent to this command."  Real men and women do say "please."


Appendix A

SIMPLER WORDS AND PHRASES

 

Instead of

Try

Instead of

Try

accompany

go with

Disclose

show

accomplish

carry out, do

discontinue

drop, stop

accomplish (a form)

fill out

disseminate

issue, send out

accordingly

so

do not

don’t

accrue

add, gain

due to the fact that

due to, since

accurate

correct, exact, right

echelons

levels

achieve

do, make

effect

make

actual

real

elect

choose

additional

added, more, other

eliminate

cut, drop, end

adjacent to

next to

employ

use

advantageous

helpful

encounter

meet

advise

recommend, tell

encourage

urge

affix

put, stick

endeavor

try

afford an opportunity

allow, let

ensure

make sure

aircraft

plane

enumerate

counter

anticipate

expect

equitable

fair

a number of

some

equivalent

equal

apparent

clear, plain

establish

set up, prove, show

appear

seem

evaluate

check, rate, test

appreciable

many

evidenced

showed

approximately

about

evident

clear

as a means of

to

exhibit

show

ascertain

find out, learn

expedite

hurry, rush, speed up

as prescribed by

under

expeditious

fast, quick

assist, assistance

aid, help

expend

pay out, spend

attached herewith is

here’s

expense

cost, fee, price

attempt

try

explain

show, tell

benefit

help

facilitate

ease, help

by means of

by, with

factor

reason, cause

cannot

can’t

failed to

didn’t

capability

ability

fatuous numb skull

jerk

category

class, group

feasible

can be done, workable

close proximity

near

females

women

combined

joint

final

last

comply

follow

finalize

complete, finish

component

part

for example

such as

comprise

form, include, make up

forfeit

give up, lose

concerning

about, on

for the purpose of

for, to

conclude

close, end

forward

send

concur

agree

function

act, role, work

confront

face, meet

fundamental

basic

consequently

so

furnish

give send

consolidate

combine, join, merge

has the capability

can

constitutes

is, forms, makes up

herein

here

construct

build

however

but

continue

keep on

identical

same

contribute

give

identify

find, name, show

cooperate

help

immediately

at once

currently

(leave out)

implement

carry out, do, follow



Appendix A  (Cont.)

SIMPLER WORDS AND PHRASES

 

Instead of

Try

Instead of

Try

deem

think

in accordance with

under, by

delete

cut, drop

in addition

also, besides, too

demonstrate

prove, show

in an effort to

to

depart

leave

inasmuch as

since

designate

appoint, choose, name, pick

inception

start

desire

wish

in conjunction with

with

determine

decide, figure, find

incorporate

blend, join, merge

develop

grow, make, take place

incumbent upon

must

indicate

show, write down

programmed

planned

indication

sign

promulgate

announce, issue

initial

first

provide

give, say, supply

initiate

start

provided that

if

in lieu of

instead of

provides guidance for

guides

in order that

for, so

(the) provisions of

(leave out)

in order to

to

purchase

buy

in regard to

about, concerning, on

reason for

why

interpose no objection

don’t object

recapitulate

sum up

in the amount of

for

reduce

cut

in the course of

during

reflect

say, show

in the event that

if

regarding

about, of on

in the near future

soon

relating to

about, on

in view of

since

relocation

move

in view of the above

so

remain

stay

it is

(leave out)

remainder

rest

it is essential

must

remuneration

pay, payment

it is recommended

I, we recommend

render

give, make

it is requested

please

request

ask

justify

prove

require

must, need

legislation

law

requirement

need

limited number

few

retain

keep

limitations

limits

return

go back

locate

find

review

check, go over

lcoation

place, scene, site

selection

choice

magnitude

size

similar

like

maintain

keep, support

solicit

ask for

majority

greatest, longest, most

state

say

minimize

decrease, lessen, reduce

subject

submit

modify

change

submit

give, send

monitor

check, watch

subsequent

after, later, next

nebulous

vague

subsequently

after, later, then

necessitate

cause, need

substantial

large, real, strong

notify

let, know, tell

sufficient

enough

numerous

many, most

take appropriate maeasures

please

objective

aim, goal

terminate

end, stop

obligate

bind, compel

that

(leave out)

observe

see

therefore

so

obtain

get

there are

(leave out)

 

 

there is

(leave out)

 

 

thereof

its, their


Appendix A  (Cont.)

SIMPLER WORDS AND PHRASES

 

Instead of

Try

Instead of

Try

operate

run, work

this office

us, we

operational

working

time period

(either one)

optimum

best,greatest, most

transmit

send

option

choice, way

transpire

happen, occur

participate

take part

type

(leave out)

perform

do

until such time as

until

permit

let

(the) use of

(leave out)

personnel

people, staff

utilize, utilization

use

pertaining to

about, of, on

validate

confirm

place

put

value

cost, worth

portion

part

verbatim

word for word, exact

position

place

via

in, on, through

possess

have, own

viable

workable

preclude

prevent

warrant

call for, permit

prepared

ready

whenever

when

previous

earlier, pas

whereas

since

previously

before

with reference to

about

prioritize

rank

with the exception of

except for

prior to

before

witnessed

saw

probability

chance

 

 

procedures

rules, ways

/

and, or

proceed

do, go on, try

 

 

proficiency

skill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


Appendix B

 

EDITING FOR CONCISENESS

 

1.      TESS is a long‑term, dynamic development effort to modernize and upgrade the capabilities of major combatant ships and selected shore stations to rapidly and instantaneously assimilate, correlate, process, and display the large quantities of environmental, temperature, and weather data required to counter atmospheric effects on fleet and shore based sensors and weapons systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.     It is requested that all two letter directorates or a designated representative from their staffs attend a preliminary meeting next Thursday at 1600 in order to lay the groundwork in advance for preparation for the upcoming POM input on the B‑2 development and acquisition program

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appendix C

 

COMPLETED STAFF WORK

 

Here are two testimonials on how to write for a busy boss.  The first comes from an anonymous university administrator.  The second is part of a memo by Army General Donn A. Starry to his staff.  Together the statements argue for thorough legwork and compact paperwork.

 

Completed staff work consists of studying a problem and presenting its solution in such a way that the President need only indicate approval or disapproval of the completed action. The words completed action are emphasized because the more difficult a problem is, the more the tendency is to present the problem to the President in piecemeal fashion. A staff member's duty is to work out details, no matter how perplexing they may be.

 

It's so easy to ask the Presidents what to do, and it appears so easy for them to answer. Resist that impulse. You will succumb to it only if you do not know your job. Tell Presidents what they ought to do, don't ask them what you ought to do. THEY NEED ANSWERS, NOT QUESTIONS. Your job is to study, write, restudy, and rewrite until you have evolved a single proposed action—the best one of all you have considered. The President merely approves or disapproves. Alternate courses of action are desirable in many cases and should be presented. But you should say which alternative you think is best.

 

The theory of completed staff work does not preclude the rough draft, but the rough draft must not be a half‑baked idea. It must be complete in every respect, except that it lacks the required number of copies and may not be neat. Do not use a rough draft as an excuse for shifting to the President your burden of formulating the action.

 

The completed staff work theory may result in more work for the staff member, but it results in more freedom for the President. This is as it should be. Further, it accomplishes two things:

 

The President is protected from half‑baked ideas, voluminous memoranda, and immature oral presentations.

 

The staff member who has an idea to sell can find a market more readily.

 

When you have finished your staff work, the final test is this: if you were the President, would you sign the paper you have prepared and stake your professional reputation on its being right.' If the answer is no, take it back and work it over, because it is not yet completed staff work.

 


***

 

I can get more information from the staff if each of you gives me less.  Here's why.  In a week, about 110 staff actions show up in my in‑box.  I could handle these in a week if all I did was work the in-box.  Yet about 70% of my time in the headquarters goes not to the in-box but to briefings.  I could handle that dilemma, too—by listening to briefings and thinking about staff papers at the same time.  I don't.  Most of the information I need is in the field.  Much of my time must go there.  In February, for example, I was here six days.

 

Within six days, add 15‑20 office calls a dozen or so visitors, seven social engagements, two or three ceremonies, and 32 telephone calls.  These are the realities.

 

To work the problems of the central battle within the restrictions of the realities, I need less information.  But every piece of the less has to be pure.  Every piece must go through that old filter of need to know, good to know, nice to know.  I need the need part, not the rest.  You need to synthesize, condense, stop out, boil down, distill, abstract—like a good newspaper editor.

 

Here's your challenge: reduce six months of work to a 10‑page package, or a package to a page, or a page to a paragraph, or a paragraph to a sentence, or a sentence to a few words, or a few words to a mode or diagram.  I need concepts, bottom lines, central themes, summaries, abstracts.  Any action officer who can condense accurately is worth ten who run out poop sheets by the pound.  My measure of completed staff work is less paper, not more.

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


BOOKS ABOUT OFFICIAL WRITING

 

A New Guide to Better Writing by Rudolf Flesch. Warner Books, 1982. A "how to" guide with sections on clarity, pruning, choosing the right word, and adding punch to get the point across. Devotes several chapters (with exercises) to curing troubling grammatical mistakes.

 

Business Communications by Michael Adelstein and W. Keats Sparrow. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990. A thorough college text that offers excellent examples of business memos, letters, and reports.

 

Effective Writing: A Workshop Course by Internal Revenue Service. Government Printing Office, 1975. (Stock No. 048‑004 01288‑0/Catalog No. T22.19/2: W 93/3). Excellent advice on how to write official letters that are complete, correct, clear, concise, and appropriate in tone.

 

Handbook of Technical Writing, 4th edition, by Charles T. Brusaw, Gerald‑J. Aired, and Walter E. Oliv. St Martin's Press, 1992. Besides covering the elements of technical reports, this reference text answers hundreds of questions, some of them fussy, on grammar and punctuation.

 

Harbrace College Handbook, l1th edition, by John C. Hodges and Mary E. Whetted. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990. A popular reference on grammar and punctuation. Thorough and sensible.

 

Plain English for Lawyers, 2nd edition, by Richard C. Wydick. Carolina Academic Press, 198S. A lively, practical book for all who care to write the law in readable English. Includes exercises and answers.

 

Revising Business Prose, 3rd edition, by Richard ~ Lanham. Macmillan Publishing 1991. Called "a quick self‑teaching method of revision for people who want to translate bureaucratic prose, their own or someone else's, into plain English."

 

Rudolf Flesch on Business Communication by, you guessed it, Rudolf Flesch. Barnes & Noble, 1974. A short, practical book by the leading advocate of spoken writing.

 

Else Elements of Style, 3rd edition, by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White. Macmillan, 1979. These tips on style are sure to improve anyone's writing.

 

The Plain English Approach to Business Writing by Edward P. Bailey, Ir. Oxford University Press, 1990. A readable, concise guide by one of the strongest advocates of executive writing. Practical advice ranging from punctuation and style of sentences to visual layouts and using a computer to write.

 

The Tongue and Quill: Communicating to Manage in Tomorrow’s Air Force, Air Force Pamphlet 4‑19, 31 August 1992.