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Effective Writing Tips

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Phil Poole
  • 43rd Operations Group
It has been said "the pen is mightier than the sword." Throughout all ranks, the ability to communicate through effective writing is essential to the Air Force mission. Having said that, I offer the following 12 effective writing tips. 

1. Everything measurable matters. Measurable items require little, if any, explanation and are understood by the largest majority of Airmen. Metrics, inspection ratings and test scores are but a few of the items that are measurable. 

2. A package written to win at the squadron level will win at the squadron and...stop. Write every package as though it were competing to win at the highest level of competition. Misspelled words, grammatical errors, fragmented bullets, missing data, questionable information and weak impact statements leave me wondering just how much time was spent on a product. 

3. Use strong action words. Your lead-in or the start of a bullet is most effective when it contains a single strong action word such as "created, developed, lead, led, formulated, devised, crafted." 

4. Fluff says nothing. Great flowery prose with no specific impact sends the message that this person didn't really accomplish anything, and the supervisor had to resort to inflated, empty bullet statements to fill the empty space. Examples of a fluffy, noncompetitive bullets: "The epitome of leadership", "quickly and efficiently registered" and "expertly and consistently identified". 

5. Research the Office of Primary Responsibility. You can request prior copies of submissions for review from the OPR. You can direct questions to the OPR concerning your submission. The OPR can aid you in the correct formatting of your submission. The OPR is the office that determines the additional items for an award. 

6. Know timelines and be prepared. No award should ever sneak up on you. Late submissions and submissions turned in without all of the required items speak volumes to any individual reviewing the submission. 

7. Exhaust all energy, both physically and mentally, to give the best possible product the first time. It will eliminate excessive rewrites, give more time for additional reviewers to add their inputs and allow for the product to be delivered on time. 

8. Write your impact first. We write left to right. Therefore, we tend to place more emphasis on the start of a bullet rather than at the end of the bullet where it counts the most. To gain maximum impact, always write the impact first. You'll devote more attention to the area that any reviewer expects to have the most punch. If you are unable to write a strong impact first, you probably don't have a very strong bullet and more emphasis will likely be placed on the what/how sub-bullets with fluff to cover up the weak impact. 

9. Use factual data. Incorrect, exaggerated or incomplete data will cause the reviewer to question other areas of the EPR, award or decoration package. Always have the calculations used in a bullet readily available and be able to realistically explain the formula you used. Always verify questionable information. 

10. Save all data during the reporting period of an EPR, award or decoration. When I was a squadron superintendent, I used the My Journal portion of the My Enlisted Development Plan on the Air Force Portal. This Web site allows the journal owner the ability to give viewing permissions to more than one person. For example, a ratee could allow the rater and additional rater the ability to review their journal. Supervisors can review journals in real-time allowing them the opportunity to make rapid decisions on events such as quarterly awards and Below-the-Zone submissions. It is highly recommended that you keep a journal and always document your efforts. 

11. The smaller the scope the larger the understanding, and the larger the scope the smaller the understanding. Small scope awards are usually Air Force Specialty Code specific while examples of large scope awards would be annual and quarterly awards. It is absolutely critical you have researched your audience and you are prepared to write your awards package based on the individuals that will be reviewing it. 

12. Be brave and allow the experts the opportunity to critique your work. This was the best piece of advice I have ever received on effective writing. Leave your ego at the door and hand your work to the toughest critics.
Effective writing requires practice and determination. These 12 effective writing tips are but a few of the multitude of tips you'll acquire over the years. I suggest you start learning the art of effective writing as soon as you arrive at your first work section.
You must master effective writing because you will spend a majority of time convincing others how great your Airmen are through the use of an 8.5-by-11 inch sheet of paper.