This chapter applies to all Navy personnel who prepare, approve, and manage correspondence. Additional information on any of the topics discussed here may be found in the references listed at the end of this chapter.
In the Navy we rarely write to just one person. Even our most routine work is likely to receive many readingsfrom typists, secretaries, supervisors, and addressees. The quality of writing in a single letter, for example, can help the productivity of dozens of readers or slow it down.
Poor writing hurts not only your readers; at its worst, poor writing leads to lives lost and programs rejected. When your writing is ineffective, it hurts both your credibility and your organization.
Plan what to say. Your writing will be clear only if your thinking is clear. So before you start to write, think about what you are going to say. If you have many points to make, list them on a piece of paper and then rearrange them in the best order. Next write a draft and revise it ruthlessly.
Group related information into paragraphs. Cover one topic completely before starting another, and let a topic take several paragraphs if necessary. Divide long paragraphs where your thinking takes a turn.
Start with your main point. Put requests before justifications, answers before explanations, solutions before problems, and conclusions before evidence. You might delay the main point to soften bad news, for example, but avoid delaying too long. Readers, like listeners, are put off by people who take forever to get to the point.
Stick to what your reader needs to know. Anticipate the main concerns your reader may have and address them in advance, but do not say more than is necessary.
Use more parallelism. Make sentence elements that are similar in thought similar in form. Parallelism saves words, clarifies ideas, and provides balance.
Make your writing as formal or informal as the situation requires, but do so with language you might use in speaking. The most readable writing sounds like people talking to people.
Use personal pronouns. Speak of the activity, command, or office as we, us, our. Use I, me, my less often, usually in correspondence signed by the commanding officer and then only to show special concern or warmth.
If the choice is between two words that convey your meaning equally well, one short and familiar and the other long and unusual, prefer the short and familiar one. Use the long and unusual word only if it is more apt in meaning.
Keep your sentences short. Although short sentences wont guarantee clarity, they are usually less confusing than long ones. Mix short and long sentences for variety.
Avoid passive verbs. They make your writing wordy, roundabout, and sometimes confusing. Learn to spot passive verbs and make them active. Most of your sentences should use a who-does-what order. Write passively only if you have good reason to avoid saying who or what has done the verbs action. This situation may occur when the doer is unknown, unimportant, obvious, or better left unsaid.
Use no more words than are necessary to do the job. The longer you take to say things, the weaker you come across and the more you risk blurring important ideas.
When you revise, tighten paragraphs to sentences, sentences to clauses, clauses to phrases, phrases to wordsor strike ideas entirely.