PA Glossary of Terms

Article 19 min
Refresh your knowledge of essential terms within a DoD public affairs context.

Whether you are new to the DoD Public Affairs community or a seasoned pro, it helps to have a glossary of terms and their meanings as a go-to guide. This glossary defines general ideas like "goal" in a public affairs context and pulls from JP 3-61 and others sources to define highly specific terms, like "measure of effectiveness." This glossary defines terms as relevant to public affairs operations.

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Glossary of PA Terms
Term Definition
active posture A PA posture that uses various communication tactics to stimulate public and media interest, such as distributing press releases and inviting media to cover the event, exercise or operation (DoDI 5405.03).
adversary A party acknowledged as potentially hostile to a friendly party and against which the use of force may be envisaged (considered as a possibility) (JP 3-0).
  1. A continuous process that measures the overall effectiveness of employing capabilities during military operations (JP 3-0).
  2. Determination of the progress toward accomplishing a task, creating a condition or achieving an objective (JP 3-0).
  3. Analysis of the security, effectiveness and potential of an existing or planned intelligence activity (JP 3-0).
  4. Judgment of the motives, qualifications and characteristics of present or prospective employees, or “agents” (JP 3-0).
audience In public affairs, a broadly-defined group that contains stakeholders and/or publics relevant to military operations (JP 3-61).
background In media terms, reporters may use background material, provided it is attributed to a general source, such as “an Air Force official” or “a high-ranking base official.” In some cases, interviewees may prefer no attribution at all. If the reporter agrees, this material can be used as if it were the result of independent research or personal knowledge (Public Affairs Craftsman: Volume 1).
backgrounder A backgrounder provides basic information as an aid to reporters, editors, executives, employees and spokespersons. The purpose of a backgrounder is to give a brief history of an issue or an event, going beyond the information included in a press release or press advisory to provide useful context. Writers and reporters use backgrounders to flesh out stories (PAVILION, 2021).
battle rhythm A deliberate, daily schedule of command, staff and unit activities intended to maximize use of time and synchronize staff actions (JP 3-33).
call to action A common portion of persuasive communication intended to elicit a response from the people listening. It gives the audience a reason to make a change. In Public Affairs, this translates to what you want your audience to feel or how you want them to act or behave. Also known as KAB (knowledge, attitude, behavior) (JP 5-0).
campaign A series of related operations aimed at achieving strategic and operational objectives within a given time and space (JP 5-0).
campaign plan A joint operation plan for a series of related major operations aimed at achieving strategic or operational objectives within a given time and space (JP 5-0).
classification The determination that official information requires, in the interests of national security, a specific degree of protection against unauthorized disclosure, coupled with a designation signifying that such a determination has been made (JP 2-01.2).
classified information Official information that has been determined to require, in the interests of national security, protection against unauthorized disclosure and which has been so designated (JP 2-01.2).
clearance decontamination The final level of decontamination that provides the decontamination of equipment and personnel to a level that allows unrestricted transportation, maintenance, employment and disposal (JP 3-11).
combatant command (CCMD) A unified or specified command with a broad continuing mission under a single commander established and so designated by the President, through the Secretary of Defense and with the advice and assistance of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JP 1).
combat camera Specially-trained expeditionary forces from service-designated units capable of providing high-quality directed visual information during military operations (JP 3-61).
commander's communication synchronization (CCS) A process to coordinate and synchronize narratives, themes, messages, images, operations and actions to ensure their integrity and consistency to the lowest tactical level across all relevant communication activities (JP 3-61).
commander's intent A clear and concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired military end state that supports mission command, provides focus to the staff and helps subordinate and supporting commanders act to achieve the commander’s desired results without further orders, even when the operation does not unfold as planned (JP 3-0).
communications network (COMNET) An organization of stations capable of intercommunication; not necessarily on the same channel (JP 6-0).
communication security (COMSEC) Actions designed to deny unauthorized persons information of value by safeguarding access to, or observation of, equipment, material and documents with regard to the possession and study of telecommunications or to purposely mislead unauthorized persons in their interpretation of the results of such possession and study (JP 6-0).
community engagement Public affairs activities that support the relationship between military and civilian communities (JP 3-61).
concept of operations (CONOPS) A verbal or graphic statement that clearly and concisely expresses what the commander intends to accomplish and how it will be done using available resources (JP 5-0).
​Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) Information that requires safeguarding or dissemination controls consistent with applicable laws, regulations and Government-wide policies, but is not classified under Executive Order 13526 “Classified National Security Information” or the Atomic Energy Act, as amended (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2021).
course of action (COA)
  1. Any sequence of activities that an individual or unit may follow (JP 5-0).
  2. A scheme developed to accomplish a mission (JP 5-0).
crisis An incident or situation involving a threat to United States citizens, military forces or vital interests that develops rapidly and creates a condition of such diplomatic, economic or military importance that commitment of military forces and resources is contemplated to achieve national objectives (JP 3-0).
critical information Specific facts about friendly intentions, capabilities and activities that adversaries need to plan and act effectively so as to guarantee failure or unacceptable consequences for friendly mission accomplishment (JP 2-0).
deep background Information available for verbatim use. It may not identify the individual, the source’s title or place of duty. This is only general attribution, such as, “sources said..." (Public Affairs Craftsman: Volume 1).
disinformation Intentionally disseminated false information. Disinformation can be most powerful when coming from news sources. It’s designed to manipulate the audience by either discrediting conflicting information or supporting false conclusions. Contrast with misinformation, which is the action of misinforming, giving erroneous or incorrect information (Wayne State University Library System, 2021).
editorial Also known as opinion piece, op-ed or commentary, an editorial strictly reflects the writer's opinion. Publishing locations include newsletters, house publications, trade publications, consumer publications or general-circulation newspapers. These publications can be internal or external; know the process for submitting in either circumstance (PAVILION, 2021).
  1. The physical or behavioral state of a system that results from an action, a set of actions or another effect (JP 3-0).
  2. The result, outcome or consequence of an action (JP 3-0).
  3. A change to a condition, behavior or degree of freedom (JP 3-0).
end state The set of required conditions that defines achievement of the commander’s objectives (JP 3-0).
evaluation Assessment* of the progress and results of a plan (PAVILION, 2021).

*As defined in a PA context – see definition under "A."
executive writing

Management-oriented, strategic communication, most likely to be persuasive in nature. Executive writing must:

  • Command a knowledge of publics and their cultures.
  • Know international communication networks and media systems and how they operate.
  • Know the organization itself — what it does, where it is, whom it serves, the regulations affecting it and criticisms of the institution's policies, actions or consequences of how it conducts itself.
  • Know which words will work, and why, regarding the message, the audiences you communicate with and which media you use to reach those audiences (Newsom, D. & Haynes, J., 2015).
external audience In public affairs, all people who are not United States military members, Department of Defense civilian employees and their immediate families (JP 3-61).
fact sheet Also referred to as a fact file or one-sheet, a fact sheet presents data in a format that emphasizes key points concisely on a single page, usually using tables, bullet points and/or headings. Facts sheets sometimes summarize a longer document. They often contain product information, technical data, lists, pictures, graphics, statistics, answers to common questions, educational material or how to "do it yourself" advice. Fact sheets often describe unclassified capabilities of military equipment or units, as at Navy Fact Files, provide histories or list and describe subordinate units of larger commands, as at U.S. Army Fort Riley 1st Infantry Division. They might provide simple timelines of complete operations (PAVILION, 2021).
For Official Use Only (FOUO) Unclassified information that may be exempt from mandatory release to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (DODD 5400.7).
fragmentary proposed public affairs guidance (FRAGPPAG) Streamlined PPAG that allows commands to rapidly respond using an aligned communication document. FRAGPPAG contains at least the minimum amount of necessary information to quickly respond to immediate media queries, and is developed, coordinated and approved through an expedited process (DODI 5405.03).
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Grants the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions that protect interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement (
goal A one-sentence solution that solves the core problem or seizes an opportunity. Goals re-frame the problem into a broad, positive statement relevant to command goals but specific to communication strategy (PAVILION, 2021).
No terms to define.
imagery A likeness or presentation of any natural or man-made feature or related object or activity, and the positional data acquired at the same time the likeness or representation was acquired, including: products produced by space-based national intelligence reconnaissance systems; and likeness and presentations produced by satellites, airborne platforms, unmanned aerial vehicles or other similar means (except that such term does not include handheld or clandestine photography taken by or on behalf of human intelligence collection organizations) (JP 2-03).
  1. The strategic act of putting a decision or plan into place that takes into account stakeholder management, content management and organizational considerations to carry out the plan. Implementation is about communicating with impact at the speed of relevance. Should include the five w's of the communication plan (PAVILION, 2021).
  2. Procedures governing the mobilization of the force and the deploying, employing and sustaining military operations in response to orders issued by the Secretary of Defense (JP 5-0).
incident An occurrence, caused by either human action or natural phenomena, that requires action to prevent or minimize loss of life or damage to, loss of or other risks to property, information and/or natural resources (JP 3-28).
incident management A national comprehensive approach to preventing, preparing for, responding to and recovering from terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies (JP 3-28).
information environment The aggregate of individuals, organizations and systems that collect, process, disseminate or act on information (JP 3-13).
information management (IM) The function of managing an organization’s information resources for the handling of data and information acquired by one or many different systems, individuals and organizations in a way that optimizes access by all who have a share in that data or a right to that information (JP 3-0).
information operations (IO) The integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own (JP 3-13).
information-related capability (IRC) A tool, technique or activity employed within a dimension of the information environment that can be used to create effects and operationally desirable conditions (JP 3-13).
internal audience In public affairs, United States military members and Department of Defense civilian employees and their immediate families, in addition to local nationals and retirees (JP 3-61).
joint operations Military actions conducted by joint forces and those Service forces employed in specified command relationships with each other, which, of themselves, do not establish joint forces (JP 3-0).
Joint Public Affairs Support Element (JPASE) A deployable unit assigned to assist a joint force commander in developing and training public affairs forces in joint, inter-agency and multinational environments (JP 3-61).
No terms to define.
limiting factor A factor or condition that, either temporarily or permanently, impedes mission accomplishment (JP 5-0).
measure of effectiveness (MOE) An indicator used to measure a current system state, with change indicated by comparing multiple observations over time. Each SMART objective should have a MOE. Measures the change in your stakeholder's knowledge, attitude, or behavior (JP 5-0).
measure of performance (MOP) An indicator used to measure a friendly action that is tied to measuring task accomplishment. Each tactic should have a MOP in your communication plan (JP 5-0).
media advisory Also called a media alert, a media advisory invites the media to an organization’s event, such as a news conference, grand opening or presentation. It's an invitation to attend an event that might or might not be open to the public (PAVILION, 2021).
media kit Also called a press kit; provides information about a person, company, organization or cause and is distributed to members of the media, often at news conferences. Media kit materials can include brochures, pamphlets, flyers or direct marketing pieces (PAVILION, 2021).
media operations center (MOC) A facility established by the commander to serve as the focal point for the interface between the military and the media during the conduct of military operations (JP 3-61).
media pool A limited number of news media who represent a larger number of news media organizations for purposes of news gathering and sharing material during a specified activity (JP 3-61).
message (MSG)
  1. Any thought or idea expressed briefly in a plain or secret language and prepared in a form suitable for transmission by any means of communication (JP 6-0).
  2. A narrowly-focused communication directed at a specific audience to support a specific theme (JP 3-61).
  3. Information tailored to a specific stakeholder or public. Can also be tailored for delivery at a specific time, place and communication method (PAVILION, 2021).
  4. Should not be longer than 12 words.
minimize A condition wherein normal message and telephone traffic is drastically reduced so messages connected with an actual or simulated emergency shall not be delayed (JP 6-0).
misinformation The action of misinforming, giving erroneous or incorrect information. It is false or inaccurate information that is spread unintentionally, which is in direct contrast to disinformation, which is an act of deception to convince an audience of something (Wayne State University Library System, 2021).
  1. The task, together with the purpose, that clearly indicates the action to be taken and the reason therefore (JP 3-0).
  2. In common usage, especially when applied to lower military units, a duty assigned to an individual or unit; a task (JP 3-0).
  3. The dispatching of one or more aircraft to accomplish one particular task (JP 3-30).
need to know A criterion used in security procedures that requires the custodians of classified information to establish, prior to disclosure, that the intended recipient must have access to the information to perform his or her official duties (JP 2-01.2).
news brief A short news release, normally only a few sentences long, used for breaking or developing news. In an emergency or crisis, news briefs can take the form of daily updates. They can be delivered by email or on the web, and they can be used to begin news conferences (PAVILION, 2021).
news release A written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something newsworthy. Disseminates information and can be sent to every possible medium from newspapers to radio stations to internet sites. Also called a press release, media release, press statement or video release (PAVILION, 2021).
nongovernmental organization (NGO) A private, self-governing, not-for-profit organization dedicated to alleviating human suffering, promoting education, health care, economic development, environmental protection, human rights and conflict resolution or encouraging the establishment of democratic institutions and civil society (Decker, C. & White, K., n.d.); (JP 3-08).
not for attribution Information that’s not attributed to any individual or establishment. For example, “It was learned today that...” (Public Affairs Craftsman: Volume 1).
  1. The clearly defined, decisive and attainable goal toward which an operation is directed (JP 5-0).
  2. The specific goal of the action taken which is essential to the commander’s plan (JP 5-0).
  3. Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART) criteria that guide your strategy, tactics, themes and messages and allow planners to define the end-state in advance. SMART objectives should change or maintain a stakeholder's knowledge, attitude, or behavior (PAVILION, 2021).
official information Information that is owned by, produced for or by, or is subject to the control of the United States Government (JP 3-61).
off the record Information held in complete confidence and not used in any form, under any circumstances. This means it cannot even be discussed, except among those who received it. Statements off the record help orient reporters to future events that may require special handling. Anything off the record also helps reporters avoid inaccurate statements and recognize false or unfounded reports. A reporter is under no obligation to discount a fact or a statement not identified as off the record until it is spoken. Use off-the-record interviews with extreme discretion and rarity (Public Affairs Craftsman: Volume 1).
on the record Whenever possible, interviews should be on the record. Nothing should be discussed that would be embarrassing if it appeared in print. On-the-record remarks can be quoted verbatim and attributed directly to the identified source (Public Affairs Craftsman: Volume 1).
open-source information Information that any member of the public could lawfully obtain by request or observation, as well as other unclassified information that has limited public distribution or access (JP 2-0).
operation plan (OPLAN) A complete and detailed plan containing a full description of the concept of operations, all annexes applicable to the plan and a time-phased force and deployment list (JP 5-0).
owned media News media that is owned by, produced for or by, or is subject to the control of a government or organization. Also known as internal media (DODI 5405.03).
personnel Individuals required in either a military or civilian capacity to accomplish the assigned mission (JP 1-0).
planning Making decisions about goals, relevant actors, publics, stakeholders, objectives, strategies, tactics, activities, relationships and messages (PAVILION, 2021).
point of contact (POC) The person to contact about a specific program or assignment (Military ONESOURCE, 2021).
propaganda The systematic propagation of information or ideas by an interested party, specifically, in a tendentious (expressing or intending to promote a particular cause or point of view, especially a controversial one) way, in order to encourage or instill a certain attitude or response (Wayne State University Library System, 2021).
proposed public affairs guidance (PPAG) The constraints and restraints established by the proper authority regarding public communication activities. PPAGS are created for military training exercises, multinational activities, contingencies and events that attract U.S. national and international media. They are never given to reporters and should be marked protected (DODI 5405.03).
public(s) In public affairs, a segment or segments of the population with common attributes to which a military force can tailor its communication (JP 3-61).
public affairs (PA) Communication activities with external and internal audiences (JP 3-61).
public affairs assessment An analysis of the news media and public environments to evaluate the degree of understanding about strategic and operational objectives and military activities and to identify levels of public support (JP 3-61).
public affairs guidance (PAG)
  1. Communication activities with external and internal audiences (JP 3-61).
  2. Constraints and restraints established by proper authority regarding public communication activities (JP 3-61).
public information Within public affairs, information of a military nature, the dissemination of which is consistent with security and approved for public release (JP 3-61).
public service announcement (PSA) A message considered to be in the public interest that is disseminated for free. The purpose of a PSA is to raise awareness and change public attitudes and behavior towards a social issue. PSAs are often disseminated through broadcast outlets and social media for non-profit organizations (PAVILION, 2021).
No terms to define.
readiness The ability of military forces to fight and meet the demands of assigned missions (JP 1).
research Provides the foundation for all the other steps in the problem-solving process. Helps to define the problem or opportunity (PAVILION, 2021).
research, planning, implementation and evaluation (RPIE) The official DINFOS communication planning process (JP 1).
resources The forces, material and other assets or capabilities apportioned or allocated to the commander of a unified or specified command (JP 1).
response to query (RTQ) posture A PA posture that doesn’t take action to generate media or public interest and only responds to media queries. When using an RTQ posture, authorities must be prepared to respond to news media inquiries about the issue or activity and to make brief statements to avoid confusion, speculation, misunderstanding or false information that may prevail if news media queries go unanswered (DODI 5405.03).
risk assessment The identification and assessment of hazards (first two steps of the risk management process) (PAVILION, 2021).
security review The process of reviewing information and products prior to public release to ensure the material will not jeopardize ongoing or future operations (JP 3-61).
sensitive An agency, installation, person, position, document, material or activity requiring special protection from disclosure that could cause embarrassment, compromise or threat to the security of the sponsoring power (JP 2-01).
sensitive site A geographically limited area that contains, but is not limited to, adversary information systems, war crimes sites, critical government facilities and areas suspected of containing high-value targets (JP 3-31).
site exploitation (SE) A series of activities to recognize, collect, process, preserve and analyze information, personnel and/or materiel found during the conduct of operations. SE implements strategy from PA perspective (JP 3-31).
situation report (SITREP) A report giving the situation in the area of a reporting unit or formation (JP 3-50).
  1. A person, thing or activity from which information is obtained (JP 2-01.2).
  2. In clandestine activities, a person (agent), normally a foreign national, in the employ of an intelligence activity for intelligence purposes (JP 2-01.2).
  3. In interrogation activities, any person who furnishes information, either with or without the knowledge that the information is being used for intelligence purposes (JP 2-01.2).
specialization An arrangement within an alliance wherein a member or group of members most suited by virtue of technical skills, location or other qualifications assume(s) greater responsibility for a specific task or significant portion thereof for one or more other members (JP 3-61).
stakeholder In public affairs, an individual or group that is directly impacted by military operations, actions and/or outcomes, and whose interests positively or negatively motivate them toward action (JP 3-61).
  1. A prudent idea or set of ideas for employing the instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national and/or multinational objectives (JP 3-0).
  2. An action plan for achieving goals and objectives (PAVILION, 2021).
subject matter expert (SME) An individual with qualifications and experience in a particular field or work process; an individual who, by education, training and/or experience is a recognized expert on a particular subject, topic or system (U.S. Department of Energy, 2011).
  1. The employment and ordered arrangement of forces in relation to each other. (CJCSM 5120.01).
  2. The concrete action steps to take along the way; the tools, tasks and resources that allow strategies to be implemented (PAVILION, 2021).
talking points Concise, releasable statements of fact within the limits of a command’s authority that provide support for the message and are relevant to stakeholders (PAVILION, 2021).
target audience (TA) An individual or group selected for influence (JP 3-13).
theme A unifying idea or intention that supports the narrative and is designed to provide guidance and continuity for messaging and related products. Themes link groups of messages together and are generally one-to-two words (PAVILION, 2021).
No terms to define.
visual information (VI) Various visual media with or without sound that generally includes still and motion photography, audio video recording, graphic arts and visual presentations (JP 3-61).
No terms to define.
No terms to define.
No terms to define.
No terms to define.



CJCSM 5120.01 (2020). Joint doctrine development process.

Department of Defense. (2017). DoD directive 5400.7 DOD freedom of information act (FOIA) program.

Department of Defense. (2016). DoD issuance 5405.03 development, submission, and approval of proposed public affairs guidance (PPAG). (n.d.). What is the foia?

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2020). JP 1-0 joint personnel support.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2013). JP 1 doctrine for the armed forces of the United States.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2013). JP 2-0 joint intelligence.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2017). JP 2-01 joint and national intelligence support to military operations.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2016). JP 2-01.2 counterintelligence and human intelligence in joint operations.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2017). JP 2-03 geospatial intelligence in joint operations.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2017). JP 3-0 joint operations.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2020). JP 3-11 operations in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear environments.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2014). JP 3-26 counterterrorism.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2018). JP 3-28 defense support of civil authorities.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2016). JP 3-08 interorganizational cooperation.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2014). JP 3-13 information operations.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2021). JP 3-30 joint air operations.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2019). JP 3-31 joint land operations.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2018). JP 3-33 joint task force headquarters.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2015). JP 3-50 personnel recovery.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2016). JP 3-61 public affairs.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2020). JP 5-0 joint planning.

Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2019). JP 6-0 joint communications system.

PAVILION. (2021). Build a strategy that holds up.

PAVILION. (2021). Communication planning as a process.

PAVILION. (2021). Communication planning using smart objectives.

PAVILION. (2021). Roles and responsibilities of the pa writer.

PAVILION. (2021). Support your strategy with themes messages and talking points.

PAVILION. (2021). Writing goals that solve the problem.

PAVILION. (2021). Writing quality tactics.

Public Affairs Craftsman: Volume 1. (n.d.). Supervising public affairs activities.

Military ONESOURCE. (2021, June 2). Common military acronyms.

Newsom, D., & Haynes, J. (2015). Public relations writing: strategies and structure. Cenage Learning.

U.S. Department of Energy. (2011, April 8). DOE O 210.2A, DOE corporate operating experience program.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2021, March 17). Controlled unclassified information (CUI) program frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Wayne State University Library System. (2021, September 1). Propaganda, misinformation, disinformation & fact finding resources.

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