The Ins and Outs of Executive Writing

Article 3 min
Review what executive writing is and how to plan and write executive products.

What is Executive Writing?

Executive writing is specific and concise informational writing that is focused on supporting the commander's intent, achieving goodwill with all stakeholders and achieving mission objectives. Executive writing is one of many tools that communication professionals use.

Product Characteristics

Executive products can be written to inform, persuade, motivate or direct. Depending on the nature of the product, they can be formal or informal. They may be formatted as memos, emails, proposals, papers or reports.

Executive products should:

  • Initiate, sustain or develop positive relationships
  • Contribute to helping command meet mission objectives
  • Support the commander's intent and DoD guidance
  • Be clear, concise and specific
  • Implement plain language with the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)

The Planning and Writing Process

All effective executive writing products follow this general process:

  1. Determine purpose and audience
  2. Research the topic to determine needs, interests and concerns
  3. Support ideas with evidence and examples
  4. Outline product
  5. Draft product
  6. Edit for accuracy, brevity and clarity
  7. Receive feedback from appropriate reviewers
  8. Revise based on feedback to get approval

Different Types of Executive Writing Products

Use the table to understand the ins and outs of each executive product. This includes its purpose, primary audience and approvers. What is it? When is it used? What is its format? Who reviews it? Who relies on it?

Table accordion caption text
Purpose Primary Audience Use & Format Approvers
  • Integrates into the operation order
  • Outlines PA activities in support of an operation or exercise
  • Ensures that the PAO is provided with admin, logistics and other support
  • Responsible parties at all command levels
  • Internal use
  • Document
  • Operations Officer (e.g., S3, N3, J3)
  • Summarizes issue
  • Assesses media interest in it
  • Indicates desired end state
  • Provides themes and messages
  • Includes responses to likely questions
  • Desk and duty officers
  • Subject-matter experts (SMEs)
  • High-level spokespersons
  • Higher and adjacent commands
  • Members of the media
  • Internal use
  • Document with responses written in AP style
  • Affected operators and policy staffs
  • PAOs from higher or adjacent commands, occasionally
  • Examines issue
  • Defines command and communication problems
  • Lays out strategy and tactics for solution
  • Includes evaluation plan
  • Public affairs practitioners at all levels
  • Internal use
  • Document or slides
  • Command PAO>
  • Possibly PAOs from higher HQ and adjacent commands
  • Supplements news release
  • Goes into a media kit to help members of the media with in-depth reporting
  • Members of the media
  • Internal and external use
  • Document written entirely in AP style
  • Affected operators and policy staffs
  • Senior leaders, whenever quoted
  • Includes latest news release or releases on a topic, plus fact sheets and relevant supporting documents
  • Members of the media
  • Internal and external use
  • Hard copy included in a folder or digital PDF document
  • Affected operators and policy staffs
  • Senior leaders, whenever quoted
  • Provides who, what, when and where of an event
  • Includes the why, often in the form of command messages
  • In lengths beyond news briefs, can detail the how
  • Editors of internal publications
  • Members of the media
  • Internal and external use
  • Document written entirely in AP style
  • Affected operators and policy staffs
  • Senior leaders, whenever quoted
  • Provides feedback following media engagement
  • Commander
  • Subject-matter experts (SMEs) as appropriate
  • Internal use
  • Email
  • PAO
  • Possibly Chief of staff
  • Constraints and restraints established by proper authority regarding public communication activities
  • Source document for responses to media and public inquiries
  • Operational commanders
  • PAOs at all levels of the DoD
  • Internal use
  • Document in DoD-specific format
  • Approved PAG, OSD PAO
  • Preliminary PAG
  • Command PAO
  • Possibly PAOs from higher HQ and adjacent commands
  • Outlines plan to educate members on command narrative and train them on media engagement techniques, including use of themes and messages
  • Often, but not necessarily, in context of an operation or exercise
  • Command group
  • Chief of staff
  • Internal use
  • Document or slides
  • Unit leaders at affected levels
  • Public affairs trainers
  • Should be taken from briefing card/PAG, then supplemented as appropriate
  • Responses to new queries should be coordinated with the same staffs that approved the briefing card
  • Desk or duty officer
  • Members of the media
  • External use
  • Document written entirely in AP style except for salutation; queries and responses have corresponding numbers for clarity and ease of reference
  • Affected operators and policy staffs
  • PAOs from higher or adjacent commands, occasionally
  • Boils down narrative, themes, messages and/or talking points
  • Provides left and right limits for troops
  • Includes contact information for PAO
  • All ranks
  • Participating unit members
  • Internal use
  • Wallet-sized document
  • PAO
  • Chief of staff