Co-Authored By Doris Blanton
Faculty Director, School of Business, American Public University
Writing for various audiences is a skill that takes practice, practice, practice. But writing must also be adapted to the needs of an organization and its intended audience.
Intelligence and Law Enforcement Writing
Have you ever seen a James Bond movie in which he writes a report or summarizes any mission he’s completed? Of course not. Bond is not in the espionage business to convey information, but to execute actions.
Unlike Bond, intelligence agents and analysts must be able to write about an incident with clarity and conciseness. This type of writing must be quickly understood by national decision makers, who must then act on the information provided in the intelligence documents.
Similarly, law enforcement officials and counterintelligence agents must be able to write clearly about an incident because their documents are used in court. Clarity is especially important when incidents that take place in one country must be reported and translated into the language of another country.
Managers have to write assessments of business performance and personnel actions. As most managers learn, when it comes to employee discipline or termination, a strong written history of the employee’s problems provides a human resources department with written proof of wrongdoing. Without this proof, personnel actions are somewhat limited.
If a manager does not take the time to document each employee incident in writing, incidents of wrongdoing can be dismissed as unimportant or non-existent. For dutiful managers, it is critical that documenting all employee incidents become second nature at all times.
On the flip side of personnel management, managers and supervisors must also think about writing award justifications. They need to acknowledge when employees perform above and beyond the job description.
Managers must make time to make these rewards because they inspire other employees to pursue excellence. Managers who fail to acknowledge the positive performances of their employees might discover their high-performing employees looking elsewhere for employment.
In management and business, staffing actions from one level to another must be through the written word. The action must be conveyed in a manner that gets across a specific point.
Managers should develop good writing skills because communication is a key skillset good managers possess.
There is a school of thought that says the more information that is written down, the better the document. That is, the weight of the document reflects how hard you worked on it.
This philosophy of many words on many pages might be fine for middle-level analysts conducting assessments that need to be clearly conveyed. However, a gigantic document with many pages is not useful for an executive-level manager who has 20 other projects to read and respond to in the same day.
Senior leadership needs concise, well-written executive summaries. These summaries must be to the point, reflecting a well-designed synopsis that quickly transmits information. Well-written executive summaries save time, especially in situations with minimal turn-around time for action.
Writing for Internal Job Openings
Suppose there is an opening in your department and there are two equally qualified candidates. But one applicant has a history of writing for various publications within the industry or as a representative of his employer.
The applicant with the greater writing experience will often win the job because she already has displayed a capability to write clearly and concisely and can prove it with her published work.
Employers often seek candidates who are excellent communicators by asking them about their education. A university degree suggests that a candidate has already earned some proficiency as a good writer. In addition, college is a great place to improve your writing without company leaders seeing your mistakes.
Potential Employees Should Have a Writing Track Record
In addition to a degree, job candidates are often asked about any writing projects they have successfully completed or examples of their writing. In this era of the Internet, employers will often do a search to find any writing you have posted. Finding some of your work online can be a decisive factor when the employer chooses which candidate to hire. Although we all believe we can write and clearly express our intentions, we often get bogged down trying to assess and contribute to various daily reports. The biggest asset an employee can possess is the ability to accurately proofread while also respecting an audience or a reader.
Employers tend to subconsciously evaluate an employee’s worth by how the employee writes emails, report analyses or executive summaries. Sadly, many employees are not given the tools to improve their writing for a variety of reasons:
- An employer might expect employees to be proficient writers without actually contributing to their writing development.
- Some employees might never have received effective or appropriate critiques regarding their writing abilities. They are left to presume that their written documents are fine as submitted because their employers are too busy with other issues.
- Employees often are involved in job-related tasks, leaving little time to focus on writing, proofreading and editing skills. Many employers and employees are pressured by job-related deadlines, which further minimizes their time to perfect their writing abilities.
Why Is Writing So Important?
There are people who debunk the notion that writing well is important. They think writing comes naturally and that readers will automatically understand what’s on the printed page.
That is not true. If you cannot express yourself clearly, your reader will not understand you. Writing well is fundamentally important to every career.
Good writing could even get you a pay increase. Your employer will want to know the whys and what-fors in your request. Your case will be stronger if you provide clearly written documentation why you deserve a raise. Writing accurately and concisely — and including specific, logical examples of why you merit the increase — will support your request for a pay raise.
To improve your writing skills, consider contributing to your company’s magazine or newsletter. It’s an opportunity to practice your writing and demonstrate your commitment to your organization.
Finally, writing to communicate to outside stakeholders further highlights to your colleagues that you can clearly express your organization’s position in the marketplace. This practice also will gain external exposure for you and your career.
Places to Publish Your Writing
There are many opportunities for publishing your writing. If you regularly read specific publications, contact the editors of those publications. Send query emails or letters about the possibility of becoming a contributor.
University alumni organizations have publications and often turn to alumni for input. This might be an easy place to start your professional writing.
Similarly, veterans have many outlets for writing, such as RallyPoint, American Legion Magazine, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Association of the US Army Magazine. Each branch of military service has organizations that publish and share ideas. All of these publications provide upwardly moving people with an opportunity to publish their writing.
There are also venues for self-publishing, which have no editors to review and correct your work. Many self-publishing services have controversial content which is often used to gain attention for an author. Some services seek content that encourages search engine optimization (SEO) and clicks from readers to show how many readers visit the site. The biggest and most respectable sites are WordPress, Blogger and Medium.
Being Ready To Write
Writing well can make you a leader within your organization, a critical thinker, an employee worth further development and an overall asset to the company’s bottom line. Isn’t this the type of person you’re striving to be?
About the Authors
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in South Korea, supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 43rd scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 “Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job”.
Dr. Doris Blanton is a faculty director and full-time professor in the School of Business at American Public University. Her research focuses on the retention of adjunct faculty, examining their experience of the online and on-ground adjunct life. Doris mentors her peers, students and professionals through job transitioning and in personal development, highlighting writing, proofreading and editing strategies.
In addition to Dr. Blanton’s professional responsibilities, she has contributed to the creation of various intervention strategies focused on the retention and persistence of new college students, specifically those with zero to 24 credits. She is active with the Roots Church and volunteers with various local non-profits, Volunteers of America and the Snohomish Historical Society. Doris also participates in local back-to-school functions, providing free haircuts, backpacks and school supplies.