Some materials contained in this product were borrowed from writing guides published by the 347th MSS, Moody AFB, Ga., 65th Communications Squadron, Lajes Field, Portugal, and the 86th Communications Squadron, Lackland AFB, Texas. Thanks to Public Affairs professionals CMSgt Darla Ernst, CMSgt Janice Conner, SMSgt Paula Paige and SMSgt Chris Beckwith for their coordination and editing assistance.
It’s all in the writing
Energetic wording with a focus on achievement and impact is the key to writing evaluations that stand out.
alk through some of the world’s community markets and you’re likely to hear merchants boisterously calling patrons to their wares. Which merchant among the many will catch your ear?
You may latch on to the loudest or most unusual voice. Or, like many, you’re drawn to the one who offers the lowest prices and/or highest quality. In any case, the merchant who makes his voice stand out among the chorus wins your business.
s a writer of EPRs and decorations, you have a job similar to that of the merchant; you’re challenged to make your best troops stand out among hundreds of their peers. Ultimately, your subordinates’ EPRs should send a message to any reviewer that your folks are worth a long, hard look for promotion, special duties or other honors. To do this, you must employ creative, energetic writing that articulately and enthusiastically paints a strong, positive picture of your ratee.
It’s an art form all supervisors should strive to master. Our ability to articulate subordinates’ achievements can increase or lessen their chances for advancement.
Effective communication starts with planning, research and organization. Collect your material on the subject using notes you kept during the evaluation period. Hopefully, you’ve kept a good record of your subordinates’ achievements so you don’t have to scramble and fish for material as a suspense draws near.
Encourage your subordinates to keep track of their accomplishments as well. Explain to them how important it is to quantify and provide details. In other words, they should provide more than just a basic “shell” of what they did; they need to keep track of the numbers, times, level of involvement (squadron, wing, community, etc) and the accomplishment’s overall impact.
Remember, it’s much easier to glean from excess material than to try and “fluff out” sketchy material. If you lack detail (i.e. numbers, hours, money amounts), talk with the subject in-depth.
Ask probing questions, such as:
How long did it take?
Did you use personal time?
How much research or preparation did it take to get the task accomplished?
Are you the first to accomplish this type of task?
What innovative methods did you use?
How did you overcome problems?
After you’ve gathered material, and before you start writing, draft an outline of your product to help establish an organized, thoughtful approach. For example, on an EPR, you have 19 to 24 lines to create in two to three blocks (rater, additional rater, and reviewer). Begin by listing your accomplishments in rough form and then assign them to a specific place within the EPR blocks. For example, if you have a major deployment achievement, assign it to line #2 in the reviewer’s block. That way, you know what achievements you will use and in what order they’ll appear on the document.
The process for writing effective bullets is simple. State the accomplishment (and how well accomplished), the impact, and the resulting recognition.
In other words, think AIR.
Describe what the person or organization did and how well they did it. Remember, you’re a salesperson, so use energetic, creative adjectives to describe performance.
Articulate if the person overcame challenges in time, equipment, mission limitations, austere working conditions or long hours. Also, describe what makes the subject stand out among his or her peers. For some, it’s the quality of work, quantity of work, organizational skills and/or ability to lead people.
Finally, on an individual report or 1206, specify what the individual’s role was in any group effort. Don’t give one person entire credit for a team accomplishment or give the impression the person led a project when he or she really didn’t. Tell what the person did and how it contributed to the final result.
How did the person’s achievement affect the mission? Never leave out or minimize the impact. Even the most routine duties ultimately have an important part in mission success. Strive to articulate the impact at the highest level possible (wing, AF, etc.).
Include unit and individual awards, letters of appreciation, being “coined,” favorable verbal comments from leadership and achievement medals for special acts. You can even include nominations for annual awards, such as 12 Outstanding Airman. Always mention the level of the award, especially if it’s base level or higher. If you can get figures on how many people he or she competed against for the award, even better. You cannot mention STEP or decoration nominations.
Don’t leave questions in the mind of a reviewer. Be clear, precise and always answer the question “So what?” implicity/clarity
rite bullets that people with only a moderate understanding of your career field can grasp. Don’t assume that reviewers will understand job-specific acronyms, jargon and “techno speak” well enough to adequately assess performance. Do assume reviewers understand general AF terminology and acronyms, such as PCS and TDY. Spelling out certain acronyms may take up much valuable space. To adjust, use generic, shorter terms in place of long, technical identifiers (i.e. Standard Facility Equipment Listing could be referred to as simply an “equipment listing” or, shorter yet, “inventory.”
Equally important, ensure your bullets answer the “So What?” question. If I’m a reviewer, your statements should quickly relate to me why each achievement is important or how it makes the subject stand out among peers. Ask yourself these questions:
What is the purpose of my bullet?
What do I want the reader to get from it?
If it’s leadership, stay focused on scope of responsibilities, cost of assets managed, number of people led, level of impact
For management bullets, quantify improvements in processes or programs in terms of speed, efficiency, effectiveness or volume
If it’s technical, emphasize difficulty of task, performing duties above current skill level, intricacy of accomplishment, speed of task
If it’s training, brag about graduation awards, place in class, or GPA; indicate how training was finished ahead of schedule or above standards; show how training improved ability to accomplish the mission
Use words such as: superb, stellar, brilliant, innovative, superior, incredible andhand-pickedspeak loudly about the subject’s capabilities. Use words such as led, spearheadedandpoint-person to describe level of responsibility.
Remember, you’re trying to “sell” a reviewer on your troop’s achievements. Use a short set of bold words up front in the bullet to grab the reader’s attention. They’re only effective, however, if you use them wisely, so don’t lead off every bullet with a hook statement. I recommend using one per five bullets. Here are some samples (the hooks are the first one to four words):
Dynamic SNCO! Created first-ever…
My #1 trainer! Spearheaded restructure of…
Brilliant writer—coauthored USAFE’s….
News section’s top broadcaster! Hand-picked to anchor…
On-target outreach! We championed…
Exceptional leader—first-shirt mentality
Pro PA team exerts global influence! Launched campaign to…
Never exaggerate or attempt to deceive…most board members can detect untruths or exaggerations. For example, don’t make it appear an individual was solely responsible for an achievement that was a group effort. Also, don’t exaggerate the impact or level of responsibility. Be truthful and clearly indicate how a person supported an operation or group effort. Don’t give board members a reason to doubt your credibility.
Use figures whenever possible. Figures are especially useful to convey level of impact. Ensure they are well researched, comparative and relative. In other words, ensure you can back them up with proof, and when applicable, they show before-and-after comparisons or relate to a standard (i.e. success rate of 95 percent exceeded MAJCOM standard of 90 percent). Use “K” to represent thousands and M to represent millions to save space.
Self-improvement…The strongest indicators of self-improvement are off-duty college education, duty-related courses and training, and Professional Military Education success. Successfully passing CLEP and DANTES tests also add weight in this category. For education, tell how many semester hours the subject completed during the reporting period, what courses were taken, what degree is being pursued, a favorable GPA, and, space permitting, how many hours to degree completion. Also effective is linking education with job enhancement.
Current Air Force policy prohibits referencing PME directly on the EPR, unless the bullet refers to PME awards.
Initiatives…Turn the spotlight on accomplishments that demonstrate an individual is a “self-starter.” Examples are: creating or improving continuity books, researching and solving equipment challenges, or volunteering to lead projects or community events.
Community Involvement…This could be church-related activities, committee positions, coaching or playing unit sports, scout leader, school volunteer, narrator, or speaker at career day. It’s not enough to say, “serves as vice president of the PTA.” You need to state the level of involvement and what the impact was on the community. Highly important is to demonstrate a commitment to professional development and esprit de corps. Examples include active membership in enlisted organizations and on event committees, as well as teaching First Term Airmen’s Center or local PDS classes.
Cut the fluff…Few things can diminish the value of a bullet like fluff. Fluff is wording that can sound dramatic, important or exciting, yet is void of any real meaning, clarity or depth. Fluff also includes use of clichés. Here are some examples of great-sounding, yet ineffective “fluffy” bullets.
- This SSgt thinks like a chief—can nail Jell-O to the wall—handles toughest jobs! - A cool, skilled broadcaster; ensures CC’s messages gets to troops every time!
Do these bullets describe achievement and impact without clichés or exaggerations? Do they clearly indicate the individual’s role? Remember, clearly articulating achievement with impact is the key.
SINGLE BULLET PHILOSOPHY
The current Air Force trend is toward using single-line bullets on EPRs. In essence, one bullet per achievement, particularly in the rater’s rater and additional rater blocks. Try to use sub-bullets only for achievements that absolutely require them.
There are several ways to condense words to save space, but the extent to which you can use these methods depends on your reviewing chain’s policies.
Condensing words…Squeezing achievements, particularly substantial ones, into single-line bullets or even two-liners can be tough. Some folks resort to condensing words by taking out letters. For example, program becomes pgrm; training becomes trng; and savings becomes svgs. You can also resort to using figures instead of spelling out numbers, or use & in place of “and.” There are other ways to save space, but authorization to use any of these techniques will depend on your reviewing chain’s policies. The principle rule is to ensure you retain clear meaning and don’t force a reviewer to have to work at understanding what you’ve written. The following are examples of condensed words:
Group similar topics…Ensure bullets describing closely related projects or achievements are grouped together in a package, particularly on 1206s. For example, if a person has five or six bullets related to Internet management, then list them consecutively and try to build a link among all six. This is better than separating the Internet bullets and scattering them in different portions of the 1206.
Action! The best way to emphasize the ratee’s action is to write in active voice. In an active voice sentence, the subject performs the action. Active voice allows you to squeeze maximum information into short phrases. It eliminates the need for extra clarifying words and uses the simplest past tense forms of verbs. Example:
Active: Single-handedly processed 350 claims in 3 weeks to resettle Homestead AFB evacuees quickly
Passive: In excess of 350 claims were processed by Airman Sharp single-handedly in three-week period, helping Homestead evacuees to resettle quickly
2. DUI rates dropped 25% over duration of campaign; effort earned 1st place in AF
3. 35 reenlistments--30% increase in 6 months--attributed to greater base awareness;
CAA retention queries up 40%; coined and praised by NAF/CC
Compile the bullet information from the pieces created in step 3. 1. Seized chance to develop unit’s Operating Instructions… Completed upgrade of 15 OIs in just 2 weeks, oversaw staff of 8’s writing efforts…OIs earned outstanding ratings from WG/IG, established standards for all PA ops and used as templates for base’s OI production guidelines.
2. Spearheaded broadcast campaign on base DUI rates… Worked personally with WG/CV, conducted 3 interviews, produced 6 TV & radio spots… DUI rates dropped 25% during duration of campaign; effort earned 1st place in AF Media Contest
3. Conducted internal information project in attempt to enhance base retention stats… Drafted 3 newspaper articles, coordinated superb retention fair, coordinated AFN
interviews with career advisor…Base retention rates improved by 30% in six months with 35 reenlistments and 40% rise in queries to career advisor attributed to greater base awareness; coined by WG/CC and praised by NAF/CC
Refine the material into quick-hit,
on-target bullet statements. 1a) Led staff of 8 in rewrite of 15 unit OIs—WG/IG called docs outstanding—adopted as templates for entire base
1b) Spearheaded rewrite of 15 OIs—standardized PA approach to major mission areas—WG/IG: “Base’s best OIs!”
-- Led 5 in airing 6 TV ads, 8 radio interviews, 5 TV news items-- #1 broadcast campaign in ’04 AF Media Contest
2b) Spearheaded WG/CC’s radio/TV anti-DUI push--#1 broadcast campaign in ’04 AF Media Contest--DUIs down 35%
NOTE:Both the main and sub-bullet in 2a contain the AIR elements of achievement and impact 3a) Innovative! His 6-month retention info campaign netted 35 reenlistments--30% rise--NAF/CC: “Best rates in AOR!”
3b) Increased retention rates 30% w/6-month news focus on AF benefits--visits to CAA up 40%--coined by WG/CC
Notice all these bullets contain quantified mission impact!
Before & After
Using the guidelines you’ve learned to this point, you can turn ho-hum bullets into winners. Take a look at these examples:
- Actively engineered and instituted det’s first use of hi-tech digital Global Stream video production capability
This means virtually nothing to someone who doesn’t understand the broadcast business
Where’s the impact on the mission? Where’s quantification of achievement?
- Led team of 6 in integration of advanced video editing system--cut unit’s TV news production time by 20%
Individual leadership role is better defined and substantial mission impact is stated
Accomplishment is clearer…even a non-broadcaster should understand video editing
Added further impact with man hours saved…you can translate man hours into dollars saved
using a chart provided by base Manpower agencies.
Again, leadership stands out…took charge of 6 maintainers in integrating new capability.
- Created contingency communication plan! Prepped PA staff for 24/7 ops during war or crisis--incredible!
Impact is present, but weak; an effective plan should effect the entire base.
Needs more energy. Also, using exclamations, such as “incredible,” in a weak bullet only
damages your credibility.
- Created contingency comm plan! Prepped PA staff for 24/7 ops--links WG/CC to public during crisis
Impact on community and support to WG/CC is better defined. Remember, a PA staff exists to
serve the CC and accomplish his or her information objectives.
- Crafted comm plan detailing 24/7 PA support to WG during crises--MAJCOM adopted for use command-wide
Always strive to articulate impact beyond the unit. MAJCOM- and AF-level impact says much!
Though WG/CC not mentioned, support to WG is retained in bullet.
The EPR is the most important document in a bluesuiter’s career. It determines promotability and significantly affects certain assignments and personnel actions. All well-performing airmen and NCOs deserve an accurate and articulate evaluation of their accomplishments and promotion potential. Take the time to make EPRs works of art.