03 March 2010

Bad Army Writing (again)

In the past few weeks, I've been trying to improve my writing, with some help from the guys at "On Violence". I think many of my writing woes stem from the fact that I'm forced to use the "Army writing style" all day long. By now, I think it's clear that we've established how bad the Army writing style truly is.

Just open US Army Regulation 25-50, "Preparing and Managing Correspondence", and you'll find rules such as this:
a. Effective Army writing transmits a clear message in a single, rapid reading and is generally free of errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage.
b. Good Army writing is concise, organized, and right to the point. Two essential requirements include putting the main point at the beginning of the correspondence and using the active voice (for example (main point up front), “You are entitled to jump pay for the time you spent in training last year”).
c. The standard English sentence order, subject-verb-object, works best. It speeds communication and helps the reader understand the main point.
d. Active writing—
(1) Emphasizes the doer of the action.
(2) Shows who or what does the action in the sentence, or puts the doer before the verb.
(3) Creates shorter sentences. Eliminating the passive voice reduces the number of words in a sentence.
(a) Passive: The PT test was passed by SGT Jones (eight words).
(b) Active: SGT Jones passed the PT test (six words).
e. The passive voice is easy to recognize. A verb in the passive voice uses any form of “to be” plus the past participle of a main verb (for example, am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been), plus a main verb usually ending in “en”or “ed” (for example, were completed, is requested).
All right, so AR 25-50 establishes that the passive voice is bad. Bad, I say! Yet, you find these gems in the exact...same...chapter:

1–24. Classified and special handling correspondence
a. General. Information that requires protection against unauthorized disclosure in the interest of national security
shall be classified. Correspondence containing classified information will be safeguarded as prescribed in AR 380–5, Department of the Army Information Security Program. The contents of a classified communication will be revealed
only to individuals who have the appropriate security clearance and whose official duties require such information.

1–20. Type fonts and sizes
When creating official correspondence, use type fonts and sizes that make the correspondence easy to read and understand. The following guidelines will provide the best results:
a. A font with a point size smaller than 12 or larger than 14
should be avoided. When possible, a 12-point size will be used.
b. Preferred type fonts are Times Roman and Times New Roman.
c. Unusual type styles, such as script,
should not be used to create official correspondence.

Once these mistakes were found, my confidence was shattered. Comments can be posted below...


Unknown said...

Right, and when people wonder why the strategic level of warfare (http://al-sahwa.blogspot.com/2010/03/devil-is-in-details-revitalizing.html) doesn't enter into the consciousness of junior level leaders, it is partially because they are being bludgeoned with learning this crap instead.

Lily said...

Didn't check the dates, but I guess, Eric must have written his guest post after being frustrated about too many unsuited guest-post-suggestions for onViolence.

Truth is: he does have a point, it's his subject and naturally he knows all about it and does give good advice.

BUT personally I think it's most important that any writer just gets across what he wants to say without wondering too much how to do it.
Because all that consideration and insecurity of wondering "how" and "have I forgotten anything" or "what will the others say" does far too often lead to people not producing anything at all.
And that's real crap.
(Sorry, my vocabulary does still consist of at least 90% swear words. - People usually understand the meaning of those without any problems at all!)