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Communicating in the Age of Technology

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Everton
  • 43rd Contracting Squadron, Commander
Winston Churchill once wrote to a colleague that he didn't have time to write a short letter, so he wrote a long one instead. The irony is that we take less time to write brief, well-written statements and instead choose to write long rambling prose. It is all too easy to hit the send button without contemplating the effectiveness of what one has written -- the Air Force culture is susceptible to this phenomenon.

The Culture: We have lost the art of brevity and value in the written word when faced with the convenience of modern tools like e-mail. Form, content and meaning have been lost to expedience, convenience and speed. Dare it be said that we communicate less with more words in the age of information than in any other time in our human history? It is essential to revisit the art of effective writing in our Air Force environment as the speed and criticality of information continues to transform military operations. Your words have meaning and power if conveyed with clarity.

The Tools: The "Tongue and Quill" defines written communication as the process of sharing ideas, information and messages whether written or spoken. This document has tutored many Air Force leaders over the years. It continues to be a benchmark of effective communication and is even more critical as technology continues to erode writing skills. Periodic review of this document is a must and should be applied daily to avert falling into complacency.

Some Simple Rules: The author George Orwell is best known for his prophetic novel, "1984," but some of his most telling words come from his 1946 essay on Politics and the English Language. He outlines five simple points to consider. The simple rules are: 1) Never use a metaphor when simple language will work. Tell the reader what you want them to know, not stories or long examples. 2) Never use a long word when a short one will work. Performance evaluations are awash with creative expressions. 3) If it is possible to edit and reduce word count - do it. There is only so much your boss can read on a Blackberry screen. 4) Never use passive words where you can use active; "to do is better than going to do." Finally; 5) never use jargon if common language can be used. The Air Force is littered with buzz words and jargon that only Airmen appreciate. Orwell's simple rules are enduring and provide simple eloquence to the meaning and precision of words.

The End Goal: Meaning, precision and effectiveness should be the end goal of your written communications. Be careful not to dilute your intentions with imprecise thought and language. Our culture is resplendent with soft language which seeks not to offend. Use of this language permeates into the effectiveness of our daily communications. Seek to use precise language precisely when communicating.
Leverage the "Tongue and Quill" - focus on organization, clarity, understanding and logic in support of your communications. Say what you mean and mean what you say, state in brevity what you could in volumes, and remember -- your words have meaning and power.