Next, you will identify elements of structure inherent to Army writing. The structure of Army writing is simple and consists of two elements: the first, “begin with the main idea,” and the second, “packaging.”
Begin with the Main Idea
All Army writing should begin with the main idea. The greatest weakness in ineffective writing is that it does not quickly transmit a focused message. Introductions with the “bottom line” first, as business writers do, focuses on the topic immediately. One test you can use to see if your writing meets this element is to ask yourself, “What information would I keep if I had to get rid of all the rest?” If your writing begins with the answer to this question, then you have met the criteria.
The second element of effective Army writing is packaging. Packaging is the general framework of the writing style. Packaging consists of the following requirements: •Open with a short, clear purpose sentence;
•Place the recommendation, conclusion, or most important information (the main point) next. Some writing combines the purpose and the main point; •Clearly separate each major section. Use paragraphs, headings, or section titles; •Use a specific format if one is appropriate.
These two elements of structure––main idea first and packaging––will greatly aid you in creating effective documents and correspondence.
The two essential requirements for good Army writing are putting the main point in the introduction and using the active voice.
While using passive voice is not necessarily wrong, and is sometimes
appropriate, the Army emphasizes the use of active voice in correspondence. This makes your writing clearer and more direct.
Why should we avoid using passive voice?
1. Passive voice creates sentences that are indirect, unfocused, and slows communication 2. Passive voice hides the doer of the action, blocking communication 3. Active voice is direct, natural, and forceful
4. Active voice normally makes sentences shorter and clearer
Voice – The property of a verb that indicates whether the subject acts or is acted upon. Active voice – A verb is in the active voice when its subject is the doer of the act. Passive voice – A verb is in the passive voice when its subject is acted upon.
There are rules and guidance for writing specific documents. For example: term papers, and articles for publication. In keeping with that process, the Army developed a set of rules for preparing military correspondence. In this portion of the lesson, you will review the general and specific techniques for constructing military correspondence, and the format for constructing military correspondence.
You will also complete a practical exercise where you will practice using the writing techniques we discussed in this lesson
Use short words
The first rule is to use short words. Normally, shorter words are simpler, but not in all cases. “Foe” is an example of a shorter word that is not necessarily simpler. “Enemy” is a better choice for military readers. Normally, using shorter and simpler words will make your writing clearer. You can use a dictionary and a thesaurus to choose words that mean exactly what you want to say. However, there are many words with similar meaning. You should pick words you think will convey the message to the reader in the clearest and most concise manner. According to AR 25–50, try to write so that no more than 15 percent of your words are more than two syllables long.
Keep Sentences Short
The average length of a sentence should be about 15 words.
Write paragraphs that, with few exceptions, are no more than 10 lines. Using shorter words and shorter sentences should assist you in following this rule. The objective is to clearly convey your ideas in a concise manner. Avoid Jargon
Dictionaries give many definitions of jargon. One definition of jargon most appropriate and identifiable with the Army is found in Webster’s II New Riverside University. It states that jargon is “the specialized language of a trade, profession, or similar group.” Here are some examples of Army–specific jargon: “Leg” (non–airborne Soldier); “Top” (First Sergeant); “old man” (commander). Use “I, you, and we” as subjects of sentences instead of “this office”; “this headquarters”; etc. Another rule for constructing military correspondence is to use personal pronouns. Using pronouns places responsibility on the writer, makes the writing more direct, and can sometimes make it shorter. As general guidance, use I, me, and my when speaking for yourself, and use we, us, and our when speaking for the unit. Avoid sentences that begin with “It is. . .”; “There is. . .”; or “There are . . . .” Normally, these words do not add to the meaning of the sentence, instead, they make it longer. For example, instead of writing, “There is a problem that bothers me,” just write, “A problem bothers me.” This supports the rule of keeping sentences short.
Write one–page letters and memorandums for most correspondence By writing short sentences and short paragraphs, we should be able to say what we want on one page.
Use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation
Using correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation is a necessity in constructing military correspondence. Errors or mistakes in these areas not only detract from your writing, but may also turn your reader into an editor. Once the reader sees one error, it may become instinctive to look for more errors instead of reading the correspondence for its intended message. Most computer word processing programs have a spelling and grammar checker—use them. Errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation can leave a negative impression on your reader. You are the one who decides whether that impression will be positive or negative.
We will now discuss some of the rules you need to be familiar with when preparing correspondence. We recommend you refer to AR 25–50 for more detailed guidance Paper
The standard paper is plain white and the size is 8 1⁄2 by 11 inches. Original pages
The original pages of the formal memorandum use computer–generated letterhead for the first page and plain white paper for continuing pages. The informal memorandum uses plain white paper but does not use letterhead. Copies
Prepare only the number of copies needed. Remember, as a leader you must use and enforce supply discipline. Dates
Type or stamp the day, month, and year on the memorandum flush with the right margin Margins
A standard margin is 1 inch from the left, right, top, and bottom margins. Do not justify right margins Abbreviations
Paragraphs 1–16 of AR 25–50 list the rules for using abbreviations and brevity codes. The Army regulation identifies AR 310–50 as a reference. However, this publication is no longer available. Established abbreviations are acceptable in all but the most formal writing. For reading ease, use only well–known abbreviations or those you think would be known by the recipient. When a word or title that is not well known is used more than once in a document, place the abbreviated form in parentheses after the first time the word or title is used. Thereafter, use only the abbreviated form. Acronyms
Use military and civilian acronyms in memorandums, if appropriate. However, do not use military acronyms when writing to individuals or organizations that would not be familiar with their use. Spell out the acronym the first time it is used. Above all, do not overuse acronyms. Signature blocks
Type the signature block of military officials on three lines with the name (in uppercase) on the first line; rank and branch of Service on the second line; and the title on the third line. If the title requires an extra line, use a fourth line. Indent the beginning of the fourth line so that the first character is aligned underneath the third character of the third line. Type the signature block of civilian officials on two lines with the name (in uppercase) on the first line, and the title on the second line. If the title requires an extra line, use a third line. Indent the beginning of the third line so that the first character is aligned underneath the third character of the second line. Do not use academic degrees, religious orders, or fraternal orders as part of the signature block unless it would benefit the Army for the receiver to know this information. For example using “MD” to signify medical doctor would be beneficial to show that medical information is provided based on the expertise of a medical professional. Do not use “P” (meaning that the signer is promotable) after the rank for personal benefit. Use it if it benefits the Army.
Types of Memorandums
There are many different types of military correspondence. Therefore, we will not try to cover each type. Instead, we will focus our discussion on the most common type of correspondence you will create–the memorandum.
We will discuss two types of memorandums: the formal and the informal memorandum. Formal memorandums – You will use the formal memorandum for correspondence that you send outside of your headquarters, your command, the installation, or similarly identifiable organizational elements within the Department of Defense. You would also use a formal memorandum for notification of personnel actions, military or civilian; and for showing appreciation or commendation to Department of the Army employees and Soldiers Informal memorandums – You will use the informal memorandum for internal correspondence within the same headquarters, same command, or similarly identifiable organizational elements. In general, do not use informal memorandums when corresponding with organizations that are not
familiar with your office symbol. Preprinted informal memorandums may be used as form letters. When writing a memorandum, use the modified block style format. This format has three parts: the heading, the body, and the closing.
The heading has five elements: the office symbol, the date, the suspense date (if applicable), the MEMORANDUM FOR line, and the subject line.
Type the office symbol on the second line below the seal. The symbol names the writer’s office (for example, DAPE–PRR). Do not use computer identification codes or word–processing codes as part of the office symbol. Other information may follow the office symbol when needed, if it is not part of the subject line. Some examples of this are the name of an individual, social security number, rank, primary military occupational specialty, contract number, or bill of lading number. Do not crowd the office or reference symbol line. If the additional information is lengthy, write it on a second line, flush with the left margin.
Put the date on the same line as the office symbol. End the date so that it is approximately even with the right margin. Express the date using the day, month, and year order.
Day – Express in numerals.
Month – Spell out if the year is not abbreviated; abbreviate if the year is abbreviated (15 January 1999 or 15 Jan 99 but not 15 January 99 or 15 Jan 1999).
Year – Express either with two or four digits, depending on whether the month is abbreviated or spelled out. The only exception to this rule is if the date stamp uses the abbreviated month and the four–digit year. The date may be typed or stamped.
Type MEMORANDUM FOR on the third line below the office symbol. Write to the office that you expect to complete the action. Do not simply address an
action to a headquarters if it is known which element of that headquarters will receive the action. If you send the memorandum to someone’s attention, place the person’s name in parentheses after the office symbol.
The exception to this is when you use a produce “Exclusive For” correspondence, appreciation and commendation. The memorandum will be addressed to name and title of the addressee.
Type the subject line on the second line, below the last line of the address. Use only one subject and write the subject in 10 words or less, if possible. If the subject needs more than 10 words, limit the number of words and use authorized abbreviations. If the subject is more than one line, begin the second line flush with the left margin (see fig 2–13). Type the word “SUBJECT:” in uppercase letters.
Next is the body––or text––of the memorandum. The body has four parts of formatting: beginning, spacing, indenting, and paragraph numbering.
Begin the text on the third line below the last subject line. If your memorandum has references, list these in the first paragraph. Paragraph 1–31 of AR 25–50 lists instructions on how to list references. Begin the memorandum with a short, clear purpose sentence and put the recommendation, conclusion, or most important information (the main point) next. You may combine the purpose and the main point if it is effective to do so. Clearly separate each major section using paragraphs, headings, or sections. When appropriate, you can use a point of contact (POC) line. This will be the last paragraph of the body of the correspondence.
Single–space the text with double–spacing between paragraphs and subparagraphs. On occasion, one–paragraph correspondence requires sub–paragraphing. The spacing for sub–paragraphing is the same as for major paragraphs.
When a memorandum has more than one paragraph, you should number the paragraphs consecutively. If you need to subdivide paragraphs, designate the
first subdivision by the letters of the alphabet and indent them.
The sample memorandum displays the correct way to indent paragraph subdivisions. Notice how the second line of a paragraph subdivision begins at the left margin.
When you subdivide a paragraph, there must be at least two subparagraphs. If there is a subparagraph “a,” there must be a “b.” Designate second subdivisions by numbers in parentheses.
Do not subdivide beyond the third subdivision. However, do not indent any further than the second subdivision. This is an example of the proper indentation procedure for a third subdivision.
Do not number a one–paragraph memorandum. If the memorandum has more than one paragraph, number the paragraphs sequentially. Be sure to use the standard number/letter/number/letter format.
The major elements of the closing are the authority line, signature block, and enclosure listing. The memorandum may also contain two sub–elements that you can add, if needed: the DISTRIBUTION listing, and Copies Furnished (CF).
The authority line is used by individuals properly designated as having the authority to sign for the commander or the head of an office. On the second line, type the authority line at the left margin in uppercase letters, below the last line of the text.
On the fifth line, begin the signature block in the center of the page, below the authority line. If there is no authority line, begin it on the fifth line below the last line of the text. Omit the signature block if it is unknown, at the time of writing who will be the authority. The signature block may be added either by typing it, or by using a rubber stamp at the time of signature.
Number and attach enclosures in the same order in which they appear in the
memorandum. When there is only one enclosure, do not precede “Encl” with the number “1.” Use only “Encl.” Begin the enclosure listing at the left margin, on the same line as the signature block.
A distribution listing, if required, begins on the second line after the enclosure listing.
Use the “Copies Furnished” line to inform others of the subject, only if they have a need to know or have an interest in the subject. Type “CF” on the second line below the last line of the signature block, enclosure listing, or distribution listing, whichever is lower. Show whether or not enclosures are included by adding either “w/encls” or “wo/encls” at the end of each CF address. If all copies furnished to addressees will be provided copies of the enclosures or all will not be provided enclosures, type either “w/encls” or “wo/encls” in parentheses after “CF” rather than typing each one separately after each address. For example, CF: (w/encls).
Remember, all this information is regulatory guidance. It is advisable to have a copy of AR 25–50 on hand when creating memorandums to help keep you in compliance with the standards.
This practical exercise will allow you to apply and assess your knowledge and understanding of the Army writing standards. On the following page you will read, review, and edit a memorandum. The information in the memorandum is correct. The formatting of this information may not be correct. You will detect and correct errors in format, passive voice, punctuation, grammar, mechanics, and usage.
Effective writing provides guidelines for the crucial skill of writing different types of military documents targeted at specific audiences. Communicating effectively in writing includes the following: Identifying the standards for effective writing
Establishing uniform, effective writing standards
Preparing Army correspondence
Make no mistake, communicating in writing is an essential leadership skill. As a professional, your writing should be clear, concise, and effective. It should aid efficient communication and decision–making, and be understood in a single rapid reading. Your writing should be generally free of errors in grammar, mechanics and usage, and in the correct format established by Army doctrine.