If there is one big issue in the military that very few people ever discuss, it would be the poor writing skills that most Soldiers, NCOs and Officers have. Evaluate most Officers, NCOs and young Soldiers and you will quickly discover that very few of them are good at writing and writing comprehension. This is by no means exclusive to the military. Writing is an issue that MANY people struggle with, inside and outside of the military.
I’m not sure if schools are doing a bad job at teaching people how to write effectively, or if social media, texting and email have negatively influenced us. Whatever the case, most people could use a refresher course on “writing 101.”
If you want to excel your military career, one of the best things you can do is improve your writing skills. In other words, learn how to write awards, how to write OPORDs, how to write NCOERs and OERs, etc. This one thing can help you launch your career and stand out in the crowd.
Let’s face it, whether you are a Field Grade Officer or junior NCO, you have lots of paperwork to handle. You have to put Soldiers in for awards. You have to write evaluation reports. You have to write briefs and OPORDs. You have to write risk assessments. And on and on and on.
And if you’re like most military leaders, you DO NOT excel in this area. For you, writing is a struggle. You don’t know how to express your thoughts into words on paper.
To be quite frank with you, I used to be the same way. Writing was not one of my skills. For many years I HATED to read and write. But fortunately, I learned a few lessons early in my officer career that helped me improve my military writing skills.
What I want to do in the rest of this post is share some tips with you that I’ve learned in my career, to help you be a better military writer.
# 1 Write More
Without a doubt, the single greatest thing I did to become a better military writer was to write more. One of the simplest things you can do is write more awards. Write more evaluation reports. Write more briefs. The more you do, the better you will get. I have evolved significantly, in just a few short years. You too can do the same thing. Whatever you do, don’t avoid writing. Writing is a perishable skill. The less you do the worse you will get.
# 2 Take a Class on Writing
If you’re like most folks, you haven’t had a class on writing since your freshman year of college (if you went to college) or in high school. Most of these skills (just like anything else) are perishable. One of the best things you can do is enroll in a local community college and take a class or two on writing. I know this will help you a lot. You will get remedial and refresher training and get plenty of homework and assignments to do, which will give you plenty of practice and help you improve.
# 3 Teach an OPD/NCODP on Military Writing
Another great tip to improve your military writing skills is to teach an OPD or NCODP on effective military writing. The major benefit of teaching a class on this subject is that you will have to do your research and prepare for the class. I’ve found that the teacher normally learns more than the students. By teaching others, you will improve your own skills in the process.
# 4 Read Books on Military Writing
There are several books on Amazon that you should buy, read and add to your reading list. A few titles include:
- Army Writing Guide: How to Write NCOERs and Awards
- Guide to Effective Military Writing, 3rd Edition
- Military Writing: The New Leader’s Guide
You can own all three of these books for about $50. I consider it a smart investment in your military education. Read each book, take notes, and share what you learn with others.
There you have it folks. These are four simple things you can do to improve your military writing skills. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to improve your own writing skills. Knowing how to write effectively can make a big difference in your military career, especially as you move up through the enlisted or Officer ranks. The bottom line is to take responsibility and develop your writing skills. It won’t happen by accident.
What are your thoughts? What would you suggest someone do to improve their military writing skills? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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4 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Military Writing Skills”
In sports, coaches and trainers preach that it takes 1,500 repetitions of something to be able to reproduce it perfectly every time. I played baseball in college and I went through my pitching motion again and again and again every practice in the bullpen until I got to the point where it was exactly the same every time and I could get the results I wanted. The same is true of writing or any other practice. If you want to write well, you need to study writing well and practice writing well. Seek out help from people who you know are great writers. Read books written by people who are great writers. If your goal to excel in military writing, repeat the process of writing military paperwork until you (and your superiors) are completely satisfied with what your pen sets down on the paper.
I've seen a lot of bad writing in my military career. Bad writing and bad formatting. Do yourself a favor and write lots of reports, but also find someone in your unit that has military writing locked down. A good place to look normally is in an administration area of your unit. There will be a handful of people who know how to write not only good military writing, but you will know exactly what your peers and superiors are looking for.
Writing is like public speaking. The longer time you leave in between doing it the harder it can seem to get back into it. Trust me, you still have the tools to write, you just need to take them out, dust them off and put a little oil on them.
I wrote a book not long ago and the only skills I had were high school English classes, the military and my own work ethic. It was called The Dawn of Mars if you're interested; it's on Amazon.
The best way to get good at something is to do it often. I write every day and my writing improves every day.
Just about anyone would benefit from working on their writing skills. Being able to put a thought into coherent words is such a valuable life skill. I cannot begin to count how many emails I have received from higher-ups that just made me wince when reading them because of poor quality. I am not talking about the occasional misplaced comma, but atrocious grammar, and sentences that make no sense.
In addition to practicing your writing, read all that you can. When you get used to reading quality writing by other people, it is bound to rub off on you.
Also, it is difficult to get your message across, no matter how important it is, if your readers start giggling at your spelling errors or worse. It just makes you look lazy if you cannot hit the “spelling and grammar” button on your computer.