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The Army Writing Style

Source: The Army Writing Style

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Writing Guide #1: Writing Effectively

Writing Guide #2: Steps in the Writing Process

Writing Guide #4: Writing simply

Writing Guide #5: Active and Passive Voice

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Hints and Helpful Guidance for the Army Writer
Writing Guide #1

The Army is effective only if information and directions are clearly communicated. In carrying out your military duties, you will write various types of correspondence. This student guide will help you become an effective Army writer.

General Summary

Following the components of the Army writing style will lead you to write to Army standard. The Army standard is stated as "transmits a clear message in a single rapid reading and is generally free of errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage." A general summary of the Army writing style is below:

1. Put the recommendation, conclusion or reason for writing -- the bottom line" -- in the first or second paragraph, not at the end.

2. Use the active voice.

3. Use short sentences (an average of 15 or fewer words).

4. Use short words (three syllables or fewer).

5. Write paragraphs that average 6 to 7 sentences in length.

6. Use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

7. Use "I," "you," and "we" as subjects of sentences instead of "this office," "this headquarters," "all individuals," and so forth for most kinds of writing.

8. Retype correspondence only when pen and ink changes are not allowed, when the changes make the final product look sloppy, or when the correspondence is going outside DA or to the general public. In general, do not retype correspondence to make minor corrections.

Learning to accurately use the various components of the Army writing style correctly will help you learn to write using the Army writing standard

Writing Guide #2
All writing follows the same basic steps regardless of whether you are writing for the Army or writing a research paper. The following steps will help you develop a well-thought out and well-written product.


Step 2. PLAN



Step 5. PROOF

1. STEP 1: RESEARCH. Research is the gathering of ideas and information. This is the step where you answer the "who, when, where, what, and how of the issue". Since we gather information in different ways, you must find the system which best suits you and your task. This means that as you gather ideas, you must keep in mind both your purpose and your audience. Gather as many ideas as you can. Use all possible sources. It is easier to throw out ideas that you don’t need than it is to go back and do more research. Once you have the ideas you need, you will continue to the planning stage.
Suggested Actions

a. Collect as much information as possible about the subject.
(1) Record the information you collect about the subject.
(2) Sources of information include
(a) The library.
(b) People who are subject matter experts.
(c) Regulations, journals, etc.
b. Make detailed notes.
c. Determine your audience.
d. Organize your notes into a system that works for you. (color code or number, etc.)
e. Clarify the purpose of your writing.
f. Produce a trial controlling idea.


2. STEP 2: PLAN. The planning step is where you take all the information you’ve gathered and put it into a logical order. Start by placing your ideas into groups. Then order your groups in the way that best supports your task. The product that results is the outline. From this ordering, develop a controlling idea. A controlling idea is a single declarative sentence which presents both your topic and your position about that topic. An example of a controlling idea is presented below:

This year’s majors
are better prepared than last year’s.

Once you have developed the controlling idea, add your supporting paragraphs. What you have is a rough plan or outline. Now you’re ready to write your first draft.
Suggested Actions
a. Develop your outline

(1) Develop your controlling idea.
(2) Develop the major parts/ideas.
(3) Develop minor parts/ideas.
(4) Write out an introduction
(5) Write a draft conclusion
b. Determine the format

3. STEP 3. DEVELOP A DRAFT. The draft is the bridge between your idea and the expression of it. Write your draft quickly and concentrate only on getting your ideas down on paper. Don’t worry about punctuation and spelling. Use your outline to develop your draft. State your controlling idea (the bottom line) early and follow the order you’ve already developed. When you have the ideas down and you’re satisfied with the sequence, you need to put the product into the correct Army writing format. This may result in your rewriting sections of your draft so that it fits the appropriate Army format. After you complete the formatting of your draft, put it aside. It is a good idea to get away from the paper for a while before you start to revise.

Suggested Actions
a. Use your outline to write your first draft
b. Put the draft into the correct Army writing format. (You may have to rewrite sections to fit the format.)
c. Put the paper aside before you begin the revision.

4. STEP 4. REVISE THE DRAFT. Revising is looking at the material through the eyes of your audience. Read the paper as if you have never seen it before. Find where you need to put in transitions; look for places that need more evidence. This will help you decide if you need to add enclosures or add information depending on the type of written product you are developing. You now revise your draft making the changes you’ve noted.
Suggested Actions

a. Make sure that your material is correct and stated accurately.
b. Make sure that your paper can be easily understood in a "single rapid reading" and is written in the Army style. (see additional segments in your readings handouts for style and correctness guidance.)
c. Make sure that the paper follows the correct format.

5. STEP 5. PROOF. Now you are ready to proof your draft. At this point concentrate on the format, grammar, mechanics, and usage. You may want to have someone else read it. Sometimes others can find errors you can’t because you are too close to the product. When you finish, write the final version, making the corrections. Your product is now complete.
Suggested Actions

a. Make corrections.
b. Ask another person to proof-read it.
c. Write the final version.

Writing Guide #4

Too much writing doesn't do what it's supposed to communicate. Writers often have other agendas which supersede communicating: they want to impress their readers with their vocabulary, or they believe they must follow some "official" style.


Good writing transmits a clear message in a single, rapid reading and is generally free of errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage. This is also the Army writing standard.

If you want to meet this standard, write simply. Adopt a conversational style.


There are three ways to do this--use personal pronouns, use contractions, and use the active voice.

Personal pronouns make writing personal. Look at the two samples below.

1. I'm responsible.

2. The undersigned official assumes responsibility.

The first version is conversational and communicates rapidly. Do you know anyone who talks like the second version? Neither do we.

When you're referring to yourself, use "I" or "me." When referring to your group or company, use "we" or "us." Use "you" for the person you're talking to--just like you do in conversation. Also you should use the other personal pronouns such as "my," your," "yours," "they," etc.

Contractions are part of our everyday language. Use them when you write. Don't force them in your writing, let them happen naturally. Negative contractions can be especially useful in softening commands and making it harder for the reader to miss your meaning.

Use the active voice when you write rather than the passive. If you want more information on active and passive voice, see Writer's Guide Number 5.


Use jargon, including acronyms, carefully. Jargon and acronyms communicate only to those who understand them. Everyone else is lost.

If you're in doubt, use everyday words (even if this means using more words), and spell out acronyms on first use. It's better to use more words than confuse your reader.

Use simpler language. Why say "at this point in time" when you could say "now"? Is "utilize" really better than "use."

Simpler is better.


Ask your co-workers. Show your material to someone who hasn't seen it before. Ask them if the material is easy to understand. Ask them if you left anything out. The danger here is that friends and co-workers are sometimes reluctant to tell you what they really think. They don't want to hurt your feelings.

Search out honest feedback and use it to improve your writing. Don't take offense at what someone tells you because you'll not get honest feedback anymore.

Another way to review your work is to set it aside for a while. Work on something else, and let your brain "cool off" on that subject. You'll break the mindset you've been working with and be able to take a fresh look at the paper



Writing Guide #5
Active Voice occurs when the subject of the sentence does the action.
John will load the trailer.
actor action

Passive Voice occurs when the subject of the sentence receives the action.

The trailer will be loaded by John.
receiver action actor


The style of writing which the Army adopted in 1984, requires writers to use active voice whenever possible.

1. Passive voice obscures or loses part of the substance (the actor) of a sentence. When you use passive voice, the receiver of the action becomes the subject of the sentence; and the actor appears in a prepositional phrase after the verb.

Worse yet, you can leave the actor out completely and still have a good English sentence. This means you have eliminated part of the substance.

Calisthenics were conducted by the Coach.   (Calisthenics is not the actor.)
subject verb actor

Your pay records were lost. (No actor.)
subject verb

2. Passive voice is less conversational than active voice. Therefore, it is less natural when someone reads it.

Passive: A drink of water is required by me.
Active: I need a drink of water.

3. Passive voice is less efficient than active voice. Active writing usually requires fewer words to get the same message to your audience. The number of words saved per sentence may seem small, but when you multiply that savings by the number of sentences in a paper, the difference is much more significant.

Passive: The letter was typed by Cheryl. (6 words)
Active: Cheryl typed the letter. (4 words - a 33 percent reduction)

You can locate passive voice in your writing in much the same way a computer would. Look for a form of the verb "to be" (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, or been) followed by a past participle verb (a verb ending in ed, en, or t). Passive voice requires BOTH!
Your leave was approved by the commander.

A "to be" verb by itself is simply an inactive verb (shows no action). A verb ending in ed, en, or t by itself is a past tense verb and not passive voice.

The rifle is loaded.
(No physical action taking place.)
The Eagle landed on the Moon.
(An action in the past.)

Once you have found the passive voice in your (or someone else's writing), you have to decide whether you want to change it to active or not.

That's right. There are times when passive voice is appropriate.

1. Use passive voice when you want to emphasize the receiver of the action.

Passive: Your mother was taken to the hospital.
Active: An ambulance took your mother to the hospital.

2. Use passive voice when you don't know who did the action.  

Passive: The rifle was stolen.
Active: A person or persons stole the rifle.

If you decide to change the passive voice to active voice, the process is really quite simple. First, find out who did, is doing, or will do the action--the actor. Next, use the actor as the subject of the sentence. Finally, use the right tense active verb to express the action. BINGO!
Present Tense
Past Tense
ActiveJohn wrecks the car.John wrecked the car.
PassiveThe car is being wrecked by John.The car was wrecked by John
Fig 1: A voice/tense matrix

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Page Added on: 08 December 2004