Diverse Forms of Military Writing
Why don’t military officers write? U.S. Army Strategist Matt Cavanaugh decided to answer this question and published a thesis devoted to this issue. Being a Wizard of Oz fan, he divided army officers into three categories: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. This is a fun and interesting idea, however, Cavanaugh thinks that military officers can express their thoughts only in the form of official publications, which is certainly not true.
On the other hand, Cavanaugh has several great thoughts about how writing helps us develop and express ideas. When we’ve been to college, some students often attracted our attention for their excellent communicative skills. For some students, for example, football players, their degree was only a sufficient obligation that allowed them to play more and build a career. When we graduated from college and started building our own careers, we all noticed that communication skills are one of the most important things in everyone’s life. The military staff is no exception, especially those who have succeeded in their careers. Their success depends to a large extent on the art of communication, and written communication in particular. We prepared a list of common forms of communication that are used by military officers to contact the higher command who is responsible for taking important decisions.
- The Blackberry.
- The email.
- PowerPoint presentations.
- Information papers.
- The strategy.
- The order.
- The speech.
The truth is that the government still uses the Blackberry hardware for official communications. Everyone from company command to the Chief of Staff has a Blackberry as a necessary part of the official kit. Indeed, you can know that you’re standing in front of the officer if you see a Blackberry on his or her belt. Given small screens of such devices, messages must be short so that you can see it without scrolling down. Thus, if you use a Blackberry, you need to know how to write extremely short phrases that contain all necessary information. This writing format is somewhat similar to the Twitter where you have only 140 characters available, the only difference is that here you can’t use hashtags.
This type of communication is similar to the Blackberry, yet giving you more space to think and write. You still need to be concise though. Your main point and all important information should always come at the beginning. After that, you can write additional data that is important to understand the key point or its details. Given that leaders mostly communicate using mobile devices, you must avoid scrolling, writing your emails for the Blackberry. You can provide any additional information later, anyway.
Yes, they use PowerPoint presentations, believe it or not. This program allows officers to present the most important information in a form of bulleted lists, adding full paragraphs if needed. Senior leaders often don’t like long presentations due to the lack of time. Thus, you need such important skills as an ability to choose informative phrases and an ability to place your phrases in a proper order. This type of communication also benefits from properly chosen images attached to a piece of prose. Imagine that your slide is a Blackberry message — it must be informative, clear, and brief. Remember that you can explain all the details orally.
You can ask any staff officer about the importance of 600-page documents, squeezed and cropped to just two pages of essential information. The same applies to any ideas that would take 600 pages if you weren’t writing military papers. This is what information papers are. These papers help staff officers be heard and transfer important information through the chain of command. Information papers may focus on the analysis of a certain problem or support a certain strategy, concept, or plan. Usually, such documents prepare command for a longer 600-page document, introducing only crucial points from it.
This task is more time-consuming. You need to put considerable efforts in developing a well-constructed plan or strategy. Military officers often work on these 600-page papers with writing teams. Such documents may focus on war plans or not less complex theater campaign plans. In this case, an officer needs to perform two functions, being a writer as well as an editor of materials created by somebody else. Teamwork is a crucial thing when it comes to the military area. This type of communication differs from previous ones, since it’s not sent over email. Moreover, senior leaders often don’t read these documents, delegating this work to special institutions. Papers of this kind are often written for those who participate in the process of their writing: officers provide their fellow officers with recommendations so that the latter can take some actions. The most interesting part of this work is when you suddenly need to describe such a 600-word document in a form of a Blackberry message or a slide.
Long plans and strategies are converted into executable orders. While emails, papers, or Blackberry messages help individuals to communicate with each other, executable orders are means of communication between different units or organizations. There are many types of executable orders, including the Execute Order, the Operations Order, the Warning Order, etc. Orders must be very accurate and brief, turning a strategy into a set of necessary actions or metrics that must be analyzed. Here you need to pay particular attention to the words you choose because such words as “destroy,” “secure,” “hold,” or “clear” mean completely different commands. In addition, you must be able to clearly understand things that a commander says to be able to transfer them onto paper accurately. Indeed, orders require great analytical and writing skills but the most problematic part of this work is when you need to turn an executive order into a Blackberry message…
Many people think that speechwriters are a special sort of humankind with brilliant writing skills. In fact, anyone can learn to write speeches. Brigade or battalion staff officers write speeches as well as 4-star joint staff, having this work as an additional duty. Usually, military speeches are aimed either to motivate the audience to take certain actions or to promote a new strategy. This form of communication differs from any others, since an oral message must be impressive and easy to understand. Writing speeches, you may benefit from using such things as antithesis, anecdotes, repetition, and litany, which are inappropriate when working with other types of military writing. In this case, your goal is to make a speech impressive as well as informative. However, you still need to try to be concise.
Military writing teaches a writer many important things, such as an ability to think and to make smart decisions. Those writers who create articles for journals or newspapers are less concerned about the effect of their prose. As for the military writers, their papers often have a considerable impact on a global policy.