The Importance of Effective Writing in the NCO Corps

By Crystal Bradshaw, NCO Journal

September 22, 2017

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The Importance of Effective Writing in the NCO Corps

Since 1775, U.S. noncommissioned officers have fulfilled important roles which continue to make them the backbone of the today’s Army. From ensuring the well-being of their Soldiers to writing various types of reports, NCOs’ roles have evolved greatly from the initial instructions provided in Von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops in the United States (1778).1 However, NCOs today may find their responsibilities much more varied, requiring greater efficiency and self-development in writing skills.

Technological and warfare changes, both a result of modernization, have played immense roles in evolving the NCO Corps by creating an increase in ranks and responsibilities and prompting changes in the ways NCOs are educated.2

 In the 1970’s and 1980’s, NCO education underwent a complex and technical change with the establishment of the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy and the mandated “Primary Leadership Development Course, which as a mandatory prerequisite for promotion to staff sergeant was the first Noncommissioned Officer Education System course required for advancement.”3 With these new teaching function developments, “NCO students and instructors alike found an increased emphasis on professionalism,” as well as an increased workload requiring writing (i.e., evaluations, reports, memorandums, Standard Operating Procedures, recommendations, etc.).4 Never before has the importance of effectively communicating through professional writing been more important for NCOs.

Although current leadership development courses provide lectures such as how to write bulletin reports, memorandums, Standard Operation Procedures, and more, writing can still be a time-consuming endeavor even with professional training or an English degree. Writing is not a simple task in itself, especially when creating complex reports or articulating the concerns of subordinates. When feeling uncertain or stressed, it can be easy to lose faith in your writing skills and become skeptical of improving your ability to communicate more efficiently. Other aspects such as grammar, comma usage, spelling, or similar sounding words, such as to, too, and two, can also be intimidating. It can be easy to question how necessary it is to develop advanced writing abilities, but remember, as you seek promotion, awards, higher education, and employment, your writing skills play an increasingly large role in your success. In the end, these skills really do matter.

Retired Master Sgt. Gary Qualls, former noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the NCO Journal and founder of the NCO Writing Excellence Program, stated that “the ability to write clearly and succinctly is a critical skill for soldiers. The evolving nature of war and technology is a requirement [for NCOs] to operate more effectively in a complex situation, therefore increasing the need to be adept in verbal and writtenskills.”5

Writing is now, more than ever, a core component in NCOs’ weekly responsibilities. The ability to effectively articulate your thoughts and verbal words into writing can ensure that you are able to establish your professionalism and may help you advance through the ranks.

Developing your writing skills may seem like more effort than it is worth, but your work will not go unnoticed. As Qualls said, “[…N]COs have a lot to offer and if we come off looking unprofessional and unskilled, then that’s a reflection on the NCO Corps. I think it’s important for that reason that we sharpen our skills and be as professional as we can.”6

Master Sgt. Alex Licea and Sgt. 1st Class Harlan Kefalas are fine examples of writing success. As co-authors of the From the Green Notebook blog, they provide insight to NCOs about the impact that writing can have on their lives. “[W]hat better way to demonstrate your professionalism than contributing to professional discourse?” said Licea and Kefalas, “Writing displays your critical thinking abilities and communication skills to the world.”7

These skills are especially important when pursuing promotion. They are also important for writing cover letters when seeking employment opportunities outside of the Army. By gradually improving your writing skills, you reduce the stress of catching up in your current NCO duties or any future responsibilities outside of service. With a few published articles under your belt, you gain experience, professionalism, and career attractiveness, making you valuable to your superiors and/or potential employers alike.8

If you are still in need of a little inspiration, below are a few writing tips, free writing resources, and examples of NCOs who have made a career out of writing.

Practice

Just as you must train to become fit and combat ready, you must also practice your writing to really develop your skills. In an article submitted to the Military Review, retired Col. Dean A. Nowowiejski, PhD., wrote, “The demands of high level thinking and writing are too high to be achieved only in short episodes of institutional education. Lifelong learning is instead a marathon component of each [Soldier’s] professional development, critical to the entire process, but most effective when consistently practiced throughout [a Soldier’s] career to hone writing, reading, and thinking skills.”9 In other words, practice makes perfect.

Editing

As Licea and Kefalas suggest, “We also became better writers through the editing process. Pieces that we thought were solid came back full of track changes from the editor. Or, we got the dreaded ‘rewrite’ in big, bold red ink. Our writing is far from perfect, but with each piece we learn and improve as writers and as communicators.”10

Editing is a very crucial part in learning how to improve your writing skills. It can be a bit overwhelming, but maintaining an open mind is the key to successfully improving your writing. As you continue learning, you will find the number of edits being made to your work decreasing as your writing skills increase.

Learn by Example

Reading written samples can help you learn about various types of writing styles, expand your vocabulary, and give you a better understanding of grammar, all of which are valuable skills to develop. For example, if you are struggling with writing Standard Operating Procedures, try finding a few samples you can read. Use excellent examples as a guide to help you navigate your own words into a similar format.

Mentality

Approach writing with the same mentality you have for physical training or combat. Tackle it head on after some tactical studying. Pull all your training, every last bit of it, together to best see where and how you can approach the task at hand. Don’t be afraid to use your resources and ask for help. Drive and passion keep Soldiers in the Army, even inspiring their children to enlist. Apply this same motivation to develop your writing. Remember, strong writing skills are a vital asset to your leadership skills and only you can push yourself to improve.

Constructive Criticism

Being open to constructive criticism is the most important part of writing. It can be nerve-wracking to let someone read your work. Will they like it or will they hate it? Did I format it correctly? Should I have put a comma there? These are all reasonable questions to ask and show you are participating as an active writer. Don’t be afraid to have a second pair of eyes provide feedback on your writing. Constructive criticism may seem hard to swallow at times, but it helps polish up your work, so it can be a step closer to submission.

Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Sharkey

Full Time NCOs, Part Time Writers

  • Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler. Mostly known for his famous song, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” and the Casca book series.
  • Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel K. Elder. Author of The Sergeants Major of the Army 2010 and Educating Noncommissioned Officers. His other publications include the Non-Commissioned Officer Induction Ceremony (Field Manual 7-22.7) and multiple periodical articles.11
  • J.D. Salinger. Author of the famous novel, Catcher in the Rye. He served as an NCO during World War II.
  • Master Sgt. Alex Licea and Sgt. 1st Class Harlan Kefalas (U.S. Army). Writers of the From the Green Notebook blog, which provides writing resources specifically for NCOs.
  • Master Sgt. Brian Sharkey (U.S. Air Force). Author of two horror novels: Based on Real Life Events and Nocturnal Awakenings.

Free Writing Resources

Notes

  1. L.R. Arms, A History of the NCO, ed. Melissa Cooper (El Paso, TX: US Army Museum of the Noncommissioned Officer, 2007), 30.
  2. L.R. Arms, A History of the NCO, ed. Melissa Cooper (El Paso, TX: US Army Museum of the Noncommissioned Officer, 2007), 30.
  3. The Story of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps: The Backbone of Army, eds. David Hogan, J., Arnold G. Fisch, Jr., and Robert K. Wright, Jr. (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 2003) 190-191.
  4. The Story of the Noncommissioned Officer Corps: The Backbone of Army, eds. David Hogan, J., Arnold G. Fisch, Jr., and Robert K. Wright, Jr. (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 2003) 191.
  5. Michelle Tan, “Army Launches New NCO Writing Program to Boost Soldier Skills,” Army Times website, 14 June 2016, accessed 18 August 2017, http://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2016/06/14/army-launches-new-nco-writing-program-to-boost-soldier-skills/.
  6. Michelle Tan, “Army Launches New NCO Writing Program to Boost Soldier Skills,” Army Times website, 14 June 2016, accessed 18 August 2017, http://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2016/06/14/army-launches-new-nco-writing-program-to-boost-soldier-skills/.
  7. Alex Licea and Harlan Kefalas, “8 Reasons Why NCOs Should Write and Publish,” From the Green Notebook (blog), February 8, 2017 (2:56 p.m.), https://fromthegreennotebook.com/2017/02/08/8-reasons-why-ncos-should-write-and-publish/.
  8. Alex Licea and Harlan Kefalas, “8 Reasons Why NCOs Should Write and Publish,” From the Green Notebook (blog), February 8 ,2017 (2:56 p.m.), https://fromthegreennotebook.com/2017/02/08/8-reasons-why-ncos-should-write-and-publish/.
  9. Col. Dean A. Nowowiesjski, “The Importance of a Long- Term Self-Development Concept to Army Officers, Military Review, 97, no. 2 (March-April 2017): 65.
  10. Alex Licea and Harlan Kefalas, “8 Reasons Why NCOs Should Write and Publish,” From the Green Notebook (blog), February 8, 2017 (2:56 p.m.), https://fromthegreennotebook.com/2017/02/08/8-reasons-why-ncos-should-write-and-publish/.
  11. “CSM Dan Elder,” U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy website, accessed 31 August 2017, http://usasma.armylive.dodlive.mil/csm-dan-elder/.