Leadership Communication Skills Center

Marine Corps University Communications Style Guide


Because writing is an extension of thinking, you will need to examine your topic thoroughly before you write a complete first draft. This process of thinking about your topic is referred to as invention, though you may hear the process referred to as prewriting. Through invention, you can explore your topic and discover what you want to say about it. That is, writing becomes not only a vehicle for expressing thought, but also a process through which you may come to fully understand what it is you want to write about and the perspective you will take on the topic. Organizing arguments and supporting information before you sit down to draft is a component of invention. Though many students think of the traditional outline as the primary means for organizing ideas, this chapter includes several other techniques for putting your thoughts in order before you begin to draft. Chapter 2 focuses on understanding the rhetorical situation, analyzing your audience, identifying key words and understanding academic writing tasks, and creating invention strategies.


CSG 2.1 Understanding the Rhetorical Situation

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the purpose of your writing and the audience you are writing for will often determine the length, scope, tone, and focus of your writing. The first step in the writing process is to understand the rhetorical situation you are encountering.   

The term rhetorical situation can be used to describe any scenario in which a speaker or writer attempts to convey a particular argument or claim to another person. We encounter rhetorical situations on a daily basis: we see advertisements on social media attempting to sell us products, we argue with a friend about where to go to lunch, we read an editorial about why our favorite sports team lost last week, and we see a commercial endorsing a candidate in a local election. All of these examples are born out of a specific situation in which a person or organization attempts to change the perspective of another individual or group of individuals.  Essentially, rhetoric may be thought of as the art of persuasion. Greek philosopherAristotle, who provided many of the foundational concepts on which modern rhetoric rests, claimed that the effectiveness of communication often results from the interaction of three forces: ethoslogos, and pathos. Taken together, these forces form what is commonly referred to as Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle.

Ethos may refer to a writer or speaker’s reputation or credibility and is often translated to mean “character.” For instance, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist would likely have more credibility when speaking on matters of environmental policy than would a college sophomore. A writer may also demonstrate ethos by showing consideration for other points of view, even though the writer may ultimately debunk the opposing side’s claims.

Logos, which is often translated as “logic,” actually means “discourse” or “reason.” It refers to the rationale that is used to support the argument: logos considers the types of examples that are used to support the argument and the way the argument is organized. 

Pathos refers to emotional appeals that are used to influence the audience. Pathos considers how the audience might react to the message the speaker communicates. Figure 3 presents an image of the relationship between these three rhetorical forces.

Thinking critically about the interactions between these three forces may help you to develop stronger arguments in your writing. For example, consider the argument that a new type of recruiting and promotion system is needed for the Marine Corps to attract and retain creative officers. What might the interaction between ethos, logos, and pathos look like in this context?

Claim: a new type of recruiting and promotion system is needed for the Marine Corps to attract and retain a creative officer corps.


Ethos considerations: What is your perspective on this topic in relation to your character, and what pressures drive the argument? That is, what makes it relevant at this time? What makes the current system of recruitment and promotion ineffective for attracting creative officers? What aspects of recruitment and promotion can be feasibly changed? Specifically, what types of changes will allow for a more creative officer corps? Why do you see this as a problem that can be solved through recruitment and retention rather than through other systemic means?

Logos considerations: What types of evidence will you use to support your argument? Will you use statistics, a vignette, or interviews with senior officers? The types of evidence you use will depend on the other two factors: ethos and pathos. If your argument rests on the idea that current recruitment and promotion practices are failing, the evidence you would use might be different than if you were trying to prove that current recruitment and promotion practices are sufficient for today’s fight but will fail in the future when the Marine Corps will need a different type of officer.

Pathos considerations: Who is your audience? What types of appeals will inspire this audience? What types of appeals might the audience find alienating? If writing for a military audience, the writer would likely want to avoid suggesting that the entire officer corps lacks creativity. By the same token, the writer might be able to assume more familiarity with issues of retention and promotion that may plague the armed forces (and that might not be familiar to a civilian audience). The following section includes more information about strategies for analyzing your audience.


Figure 3. Rhetorical triangle


CSG 2.2 Analyzing Your Audience

While attending Marine Corps University, your instructor will most likely be your audience, which means you will begin a writing assignment by analyzing the guidelines your instructor provides (See the next two sections for more information about writing for an MCU audience). However, when you leave the university, you may need to spend more time thinking about your intended audience and its needs, interests, and biases. When writing for a like-minded audience, the purpose of your communication may be to facilitate group cohesion and solidify group beliefs; when writing for a hostile audience, your purpose may be to persuade your audience to adopt a new point of view. You can use the audience analysis worksheet (worksheet 1) below to help you determine your audience’s interests so that you can decide which strategies would be most effective.


Worksheet 1. Audience analysis

1. What audience do you want to reach? What expectations do they have from you? What is your relationship with them, and how does it affect your tone?

2. What is your audience’s background—their education and life experiences?

3. What are their interests? What motivates them? Do they have any political attitudes or interests that may affect the way they read your piece?

4. Is there any demographic information about your audience that you should keep in mind, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or economic status?

5. What does your audience already know—or believe—about your topic? What do you need to tell them?

6. What kind of response do you want from your audience? Do you want them to do or believe something?

7. How can you best appeal to your audience? What kind of information will they find interesting or persuasive? Are there any design elements that will appeal to them?

Source: Richard Bullock, Michal Brody, and Francine Weinberg, The Little Seagull Handbook, 3d ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2017), 3.


These are all questions that will influence the choices you make about style, diction, tone, development, and organization of your communication. For instance, if you are writing a policy memorandum that is going to be used only within your unit, you might use more jargon and terms that are specific to your line of work than you would if you were writing the document for an external reader. You would not feel the need to provide as much background information on the policy as you would if you were briefing an outsider. Figure 4 depicts how the focus of an essay might change to address a different target audience.


CSG 2.2.1 Audience at Marine Corps University

Your intended audience for written assignments at Marine Corps University will likely be your instructor and/or your fellow students. If your audience is your professor, why has he or she assigned this topic? What might he or she expect you to do?

If you are attending the Expeditionary Warfare School or the Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy, most of the writing you do may be for your Marines. Bear in mind, however, that these Marines may still have different military occupational specialties (MOS) and may not be familiar with the jargon and terminology you use within your specific MOS. If you are attending one of the degree-granting schools, you will likely need to be even more conscious of the terminology and language you use, since these schoolhouses have students from all branches of the U.S. military, from many different government agencies, and from international military organizations around the globe. Should you choose to submit a paper for publication, your intended audience may change, and so will the tone, organization, and word choice you use to convey your message. As you think about redefining your writing based on audience, think too about the changes you may need to make depending on the assignment guidelines.


Figure 4. Tailoring writing to the needs of the intended audience


CSG 2.3 Identifying Key Words and Understanding Common Academic Writing Tasks

Sometimes it is necessary to think deeply about the purpose of your writing; however, in an academic environment, the purpose of your writing is usually predetermined—that is, your instructor asks you to write about your course material from a particular angle or with a particular goal in mind. To ensure you are meeting the intent of every assignment, read each prompt carefully and make sure you fully understand the task at hand before you begin writing. Below are three key steps you can take to ensure you meet the assignment requirements.

1. Identify key words.

2. Keep the essay requirements in mind (i.e., length, outside research, and type of paper).

3. Give yourself enough time to complete the assignment well.


CSG 2.3.1 Key Words

First, look for the key words in the assignment. Key words will tell you how to approach the assignment and will indicate the type of paper the instructor wants you to develop. For instance, is the instructor asking you to analyze, interpret, compare and contrast, summarize, argue, or perform a combination of these tasks? Below are examples of some common key words as well as academic assignments and personal or professional tasks that might require you to use the described approaches.

1. Summarize: to briefly provide the key concepts and main points

2. Apply: to use a learned concept, model, or idea in a new situation

3. Argue: to take a position and to justify that position with evidence

4. Compare and contrast: to examine aspects of similarity and difference

5. Evaluate: to weigh the advantages and limitations, to assess

6. Synthesize: to combine existing elements to create something original

7. Explain: to show the meaning of something, to clarify

8. Discuss: to consider a subject from multiple points of view

9. Analyze: to break content into its components to understand the whole


You will often have to perform more than one cognitive task when you answer a test question or respond to a writing prompt. In fact, graduate-level work may require you to answer multiple subquestions, even if the prompt proposes only one question. Below are examples of the subquestions you may need to address to fully answer a test question or essay prompt.

1. Is the Marine Corps Planning Process (MCPP) still a useful tool for planners, or does it require revision?

a. Is the MCPP still a useful tool for planners?

b. If so, what are the specific characteristics that make the MCPP a useful tool for planners?

c. If not, what aspects of the MCPP need to be changed? Why? How?

2. Assess the concept of “people’s war” as it affected the course of the American Revolution. How did this concept affect American military strategy?

a. What is “people’s war?”

b. What was the American military strategy during the American Revolution?

c. How did “people’s war” affect the course of the American Revolution?

3. Evaluate the United States’ policy toward China.

a. What is the current U.S. policy toward China? What type of policy will the paper analyze (e.g., economic, military, diplomatic)?

b. What factors could be used to evaluate the policy?

c. Is the current policy effective according to these factors? Why or why not?

4. Analyze the outcome of the Battle of Belleau Wood.

a. What were the objectives of the Battle of Belleau Wood?

b. What was the outcome of the Battle of Belleau Wood?

c. What factors led to this outcome?


Understanding these tasks and key words will allow you to fully comprehend and answer assignment questions at Marine Corps University. While a student at MCU, you will complete several different types of assignments: bullet papers, summaries, short essays, and research papers, among others. The type of paper you are asked to write will influence how you plan your approach. On the pages that follow, you will find analyses of the most common types of papers you are likely to write while a student at MCU.


CSG 2.3.2 Common Academic Writing Tasks

Summary: A summary is a condensed version of a longer text. Though a summary will give the reader an overview of the main themes and ideas expressed in the original text, it does not need to follow the same organizational pattern, nor should it copy the tone and word choice used in the original source. You can use summaries to accomplish the communication tasks listed below.

1. To briefly cover the main points of another author’s idea, theory, or claim

2. To present an overview of a longer document

3. To provide a “recap” of a specific event (e.g., staff meeting minutes)


Below are strategies for writing a summary.

1. Include a signal phrase that indicates you are summarizing someone else’s work.

Example: In his article “The Interagency Problem,” Max Hamilton claims that government agencies are often unable to share information with one another due to technological barriers.

Note: an endnote is used to cite the summarized source, even though the writer is not using a direct quotation. See chapter 8 for more information on how to cite summarized material.

2. When summarizing a full document (e.g., an entire book or chapter), break the text into its component parts.

Example: If you are summarizing a chapter that is broken into three sections, you may want to focus on presenting the main point of each of these sections.

3. When summarizing a part of a work (e.g., a few pages or paragraphs), try writing a one-sentence summary of each paragraph, and then combine all of the sentences.

Note: you may find some of the sentences cover the same idea, since many writers will develop one main idea in the course of several paragraphs. You do not need to repeat this idea in the same way that the original source does. Further, you will need to add transitions to connect these summary sentences so your paragraph reads as a unified, coherent unit as opposed to a collection of standalone sentences.

4. Attempt to put the text’s concepts and ideas into your own words.

5. Put the text away while summarizing, and then reread the summarized text to check for accuracy.

6. Concentrate on presenting main themes; do not get caught up in the details.


While many different types of summaries exist, the internal summary is one of the most basic components of an academic research paper. An internal summary provides an overview of another author’s work or ideas within a larger piece of writing. For instance, in a 30-page research paper, you will likely include several internal summaries of others’ work, which you will use to show where your ideas fit in the broader critical conversation about your topic. You will likely not have enough space to provide direct quotations from all of your supporting sources; therefore, you will need to summarize some of the ideas these researchers present to capture the essence of their arguments without necessarily quoting their ideas word for word—this approach will allow you more space to fully develop your supporting arguments.

Argumentative essay: Argumentative essays require you to take a position on a specific issue and to support that position with examples that serve as evidence for your position. These essays may vary widely in length and focus; however, they must present a central argument (usually referred to as a thesis statement or claim) and must support that argument with evidence. You may choose to think of each piece of evidence as a new supporting example; the more specific your examples are, the stronger your case will be.

Argumentative essays may include summaries of outside source material; however, they place far greater emphasis on the position taken by you, the author. The main component of an argumentative essay is the thesis statement (known as the central “claim” in the paper), which not only tells the reader what your paper will do but also presents a specific argument that establishes your position on your topic. For example, you might write the following:

The U.S. Marine Corps will not have the capability to support theater operational plans for forcible entry by the year 2025 due to limited numbers of amphibious assault ships.


This statement makes a claim that can be opposed; thus, it can form the foundation of a truly argumentative essay. For more information about drafting an effective thesis statement, see chapter 3.


The Importance of Argument

Most essays you write at Marine Corps University will require you to present some type of argument, even if the assignment itself is not necessarily asking you to write an “argumentative” paper. For instance, compare and contrast essays, analytical essays, and critical reviews will all require you to develop some type of arguable thesis statement and to persuade your reader of your argument’s viability. That is, these papers require you to take a stance on the ideas you are comparing, analyzing, or reviewing and to support that stance with an evidence-based argument. Chapters 3 and 7 provide more detailed information about writing thesis statements.


Compare and contrast essay: A compare and contrast essay requires you to focus on the similarities and differences between two or more elements. Most of the compare and contrast essays you will write as a student at MCU will require you to compare two events (e.g., campaigns) or theories to reach a particular insight, but you may use the same strategies to approach any comparative paper. When writing a compare and contrast paper, you will first want to think about some of the main similarities and differences between the elements you are comparing. You may do this by developing a list, chart, or mind map. You will then want to focus on some of the most important points of difference or similarity, as you likely will not be able to address every element you have listed in the space allotted.

Much like the argumentative essay, the compare and contrast paper must have a thesis statement that tells the reader not only what the paper will cover and why it is important, but also the position you will take on your topic. Consider the thesis statement below:

The writings of Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, David Galula, and Roger Trinquier have many similarities and differences.


This thesis is ineffective because it does not provide a rationale for the claim. What are the specific similarities and differences between the writings of these four theorists on insurgency and counterinsurgency? Why is this important today? A more effective thesis statement for a compare and contrast paper might read as follows:

Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, David Galula, and Roger Trinquier all advocate a form of war that focuses on the population and integrates political strategy with military force, though there are differences between Mao’s On Protracted War and Che Guevara’s Focoist strategy, and between Galula’s population-centric approach and Triniquier’s insurgent-centric approach. The differences in approach between revolutionaries and counterinsurgents highlight the importance of adjusting broad strategies for revolutionary war and counterinsurgency to a specific local context.


This revised thesis statement is two sentences, which is sometimes necessary to respond adequately to a complex assignment. The first sentence shows the author’s purpose is to compare and contrast specific characteristics of the four theorists’ writings, while the second sentence demonstrates the significance or “so what” factor of the argument.

Analytical essay: The analytical essays you will write while a student at MCU will usually require you to examine an event or theory and break that event or theory into its component parts to better understand its significance. Much like the argumentative essay and the compare/contrast paper, the analytical paper will need to contain a thesis statement that presents your specific position on your topic. That is, even though the paper is referred to as an “analytical” paper, it still needs to contain a thesis statement that is arguable or persuasive in nature. For instance, consider the following statement:

Numerous factors led to Russian success during the Russo-Finnish War.


While this may be true, it is not a claim that another researcher or writer could contest since the Russians won the war, and there was likely more than one reason for their victory. The paper requires a more specific, arguable statement in this case. A revised thesis statement might look like the example below.

In the Russo-Finnish War, Finnish tactical failure ultimately factored into Finland’s strategic demise; this demise occurred once the Soviets implemented vast campaign plan improvements including better intelligence processes, effective combined arms application, and enhanced logistics and combat service support efforts.


This statement proposes specific criteria for analysis and presents a claim that can be debated.


CSG 2.3.3 Scope

Once you have determined what the assignment is asking you to do, you need to determine its scope—that is, what information you will cover and what you will leave out. When deciding on what information to include in your assignment, make sure to consider the following:

1. Keep the essay length in mind, and strive to cover a specific topic in detail rather than providing an overview of a broad topic.

Note: when instructors assign a short paper on a broad topic, they are often checking to see if you recognize the most important elements in the material. Keep this in mind when deciding what details you can afford to leave out.

2. Unless the assignment requires only a strict summary of a particular work, make sure you are analyzing, evaluating, and applying the concepts you learned in class as opposed to merely describing or rehashing course material.

Example: if your instructor assigns a three-page paper evaluating the civilian government’s role in the Vietnam War, you will not want to detail every action the government took throughout the conflict. Instead, focus on presenting the most important actions the government took during the Vietnam War and analyzing the effects of those actions.

3. Think about the information that will be most important to your audience.

Example: if you are analyzing the costs of replacing aging aircraft, it may not be necessary to write about the aircraft’s capabilities.


Having considered the scope of the assignment, it will be easier for you to come up with specific, concrete ideas as you prepare to draft.


CSG 2.4 Invention Strategies

Unless your instructor requires you to turn in a specific type of “invention” document, such as an outline or a paper proposal, the inventing you do does not need to take on any specific form or structure. Rather, you can think of invention as preparation for the writing you do. Some individuals may even prefer to talk through their topics with a classmate or faculty member instead of doing preliminary writing. The more time you spend thinking about your topic before you begin to draft, the less time you will need to spend writing and revising.


CSG 2.4.1 Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a form of outlining or note-taking in which you literally map out your ideas. Mind maps can be useful, not only for helping you to organize information before you begin to draft but also in helping you to determine the scope and focus of your paper. You can create mind maps by hand, on paper, or using graphic design platforms and presentation tools like Canva, Prezi, and Adobe Spark. In figure 5, you will see a mind map that depicts the reconstruction of Japan. As you can see, the boxes that branch off from the main topic present the type of reforms (political, social, and economic) that Japan implemented. The “political reforms” branch is further developed to include specific types of political reforms. In the case of figure 5, the author’s specific examples concentrate primarily on the political reforms implemented in Japan; therefore, the author may decide political reconstruction should be the primary focus of the paper. Conversely, if the assignment requires you to discuss political, economic, and social reforms, you may want to think about adding specific examples to the mind map’s other two components before drafting to improve balance in the paper.


Figure 5. Reconstruction of the Japan mind map example


Sometimes you may begin mind mapping to see the component parts of the topic you plan to write about. This approach may help you to develop your central argument (thesis statement). At times, you may create a mind map after developing a working thesis statement to determine how you might support that thesis statement in the paper. Figure 6 presents an example of this process.


CSG 2.4.2 Traditional Outline

The mind maps pictured in figures 5 and 6 comprise only one method for thinking about your topic. While some writers may be more comfortable with this free-flowing invention method, others may prefer to develop their ideas in a more linear fashion, such as a traditional outline.


Figure 6. Sicily campaign mind map example


An outline allows you to see your main points on paper and to organize them strategically before you begin to write. This strategy may be particularly important when writing a research paper that requires you to use multiple sources to support your ideas. By outlining your research and grouping similar sources together, you can more easily see where you need additional research or evidence to support your argument. Outlining gives you the chance to read and evaluate the ideas you have already generated.

Below are some common methods for organizing the main points of your outline.

1. Chronological order: organizes elements in the outline into major stages. You can use this type of organization when describing a process or event.

2. Classification: divides material into major categories and distinguishes between those categories. You may use this type of organization when discussing the main factors that gave rise to a particular conflict or event.

3. Order of importance: arranges supporting items so the most important point comes first. You may use this type of organization when writing for an audience who may not have time to read your entire document or when writing for an audience who may not agree with your argument.

4. Compare and contrast: organizes items in terms of similarities and differences. You might use this type of outline to prepare for a paper that compares and contrasts two campaigns or theories.


Outlines may follow a variety of formats, though traditional outlines typically use the following levels of organization:

1. Roman numerals (I, II, III)

2. Capital letters (A, B, C)

3. Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3)

4. Lowercase letters (a, b, c)


Figures 7 and 8 display examples of two- and three-level outlines. The levels of organization you decide to include in your outline may depend on your instructor’s guidelines (if you are turning in the outline for a grade) or on your desired level of detail. While some writers may feel comfortable writing a first draft after making a list of two or three key supporting points, others may feel more confident and ready to write after developing a detailed outline. Keep in mind that a highly structured, detailed outline may make the writing process faster and easier since you will have already thought through and developed your main supporting examples. At the same time, you should not feel you have to adhere to the structure of your outline if your ideas about your topic begin to shift as you write. If this happens, it may be useful to outline your paper again after you draft so that your second outline can serve as a tool to help you in your revision. For more information on reverse outlining, see chapter 4. Remember that an outline is a guide and should not restrict the development of ideas.


Figure 7. Two-level traditional outline example


Figure 8. Three-level traditional outline example


CSG 2.4.3 Listing

Another less-structured form of invention is to list everything that comes to mind about your topic. This strategy may be particularly useful if you are attempting to narrow a topic or if you do not have a clear idea of the specific question you want your paper to address. Figure 9 is an example of a list you might use before starting to draft a paper about “principles of good writing.”


Figure 9. Listing approach example


Listing is an approach that will help you to think about your subject, but you will often need to go back and make a more structured outline or mind map before you begin to write in order to get a sense of where each supporting idea might fit in your paper. For instance, though all of the items in the list above relate to principles of good writing, the individual items in the list are not arranged in any particular order. Below are a few strategies you may use when thinking about how to make a structured outline from a list.


Outlining Strategies

  • Look for trends and connections between listed elements.
  • Identify “outliers” (items that do not seem to have anything in common with the other listed elements).
  • Think about specificity: Do some of the items belong to a larger category? (In the list above, the thesis, purpose, and original thought might be “big picture” characteristics of good writing, while conciseness and proper grammar focus on surface-level elements.)
  • Think about how the elements fit within the scope of the paper. Which items are most important? Which items will you have enough time and space to cover, considering the assignment length and amount of time you have to complete your paper?


CSG 2.4.4 Matrix

Another tool you may use to organize ideas in your writing and research is a matrix. A matrix allows you to compare multiple elements or see the progression of a particular idea or concept. For this reason, matrices may be useful when you are attempting to show trends or patterns in the data you collect. Matrices may also be helpful when you are attempting to synthesize or compare several texts, events, or theories. For instance, you might use table 1 to organize your thoughts if your instructor asked you to determine the relevance of On War, The Art of War, and Warfighting (MCDP 1). Table 2 might help you consider trends in twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy.


Table 1: Textual relevance matrix


Source 1:
On War

Source 2:
The Art of War

Source 3:
(MCDP 1)

Main idea text presents




Examples/arguments author uses to support main idea




Source relevance to current military operations





Table 2: U.S. foreign policy trends and shifts since 1914 matrix




Cold War:


Characteristics of U.S. foreign policy during this period






The Venn diagram in figure 10 may help you to think about similarities and differences between two events, systems, or theories.


Figure 10. Venn diagram model



CSG 2.4.5 Freewriting

Freewriting is a strategy writers use to help them get started with a writing project. In an interview with the Media Education Foundation, Peter Elbow, who is often credited with introducing the concept of freewriting, defines the process as follows:

The idea is simply to write for ten minutes (later on, perhaps fifteen or twenty). Don’t stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. . . . The only requirement is that you never stop.

Many students find freewriting helps them to overcome writer’s block and to generate new ideas about a topic. You may do this at any stage of the writing process—you may use it to help you determine a topic, to generate ideas about a topic you have already selected, or to further develop a particular paragraph or section when you feel stuck. Some students may find they need to write freely before they can sit down and construct an outline, since the process of writing often helps learners to think through their topics. Other students may freewrite to generate a topic and construct an outline, and then do so again to further develop supporting points. There are no rules as to how or when to do this activity; the only requirement is to keep writing.

To begin a freewriting exercise, you will want to write—by hand or on your computer or tablet—for at least 10 minutes. Write at a steady pace, and allow your thoughts to flow. Keep writing, and let the words fill up the paper. Do not worry about spelling, grammar, or logic; your goal with freewriting is simply to get your ideas into words and onto paper. If you are stuck, Elbow advises you to write the same word repeatedly until your mind takes you somewhere else. When you stop writing, read over what you have written. You are bound to find you have generated some interesting ideas that may turn into new lines of inquiry.


Freewriting Strategies

1. Write down anything that comes to mind about your topic.

2. Do not worry about grammar, mechanics, or organization of ideas.

3. Set a time limit.

Be aware your freewriting will likely not become a first draft. You will need to reorganize your ideas, and you will probably decide to discard parts of the writing completely. Therefore, it is important not to become too attached to any of the products you develop during your freewriting sessions.


CSG 2.4.6 Talking Outline

Though some writers may graphically map out or outline their papers before they begin drafting, others begin the invention phase by talking through their thoughts with a friend, colleague, or instructor. If you find it is easier for you to have a conversation about your topic than it is for you to put your ideas on paper, then you may want to consider using phone, computer, tablet, or any other device that has an audio recording capability to capture your ideas about your topic. You can then play back the recording and write down what you believe to be the most important points—this information may eventually take the form of a written outline, list, or mind map.


CSG 2.4.7 Elevator Speech

Regardless of whether you prefer to work from a talking outline, mind map, or written outline, practicing an elevator speech about your topic will often help you to focus your writing.


Elevator Speech Strategies

An elevator speech is a short statement that tells your reader specifically what your paper is about and what it will prove—something you would be able to communicate in the amount of time spent on a short elevator ride.

Draft elevator speech: “My paper will focus on tactics the Finnish army used during the Russo-Finnish War and how they were successful at first, but then the Finns could not get the support they needed from Britain and France. The Finns were eventually overwhelmed by the Russian troops.”

This statement would likely leave your faculty member puzzled about the central purpose of your paper and what you wish to prove by writing it.

Revised elevator speech: “The Soviets’ use of intelligence, effective combined arms, and logistics efforts led them to win the Russo-Finnish War.”

This statement tells the reader precisely what the paper will prove and what supporting factors you will consider.


CSG 2.4.8 Invention Templates for MMS, Future War, and IRP Papers

When writing a paper with an open topic, it may be difficult to decide where to begin. As a professional who has a great deal of practical experience in your field, you may want to begin the process of selecting a topic by reflecting on your experience as a military officer or government agency official. For instance, you may wish to investigate a particular problem or phenomenon you experienced in the field or to learn more about a particular technological system a sister service is using. The next few invention templates may help you think about your prior experience and how it might lead to a topic for your Master of Military Studies (MMS), independent research project (IRP), future war paper (FWP), or argumentative research (AR) paper.

While table 3 focuses on using specific personal experience to discover a topic, worksheet 2 provides a template that may help you determine your purpose and further develop your topic.


Table 3. Sample invention template

Assignment location

Duty assignment

Major duties or projects

Possible topic areas

Frankfurt, Germany

Chief, Intelligence Division, V Corps G2 Commander, Special Security Detachment

  • Contingency plans
  • Threat briefings
  • IC support to U.S. commands
  • All-source intelligence analysis
  • Targeting
  • Intelligence writing and briefing

Fort Gordon, Georgia

Special Security Office, U.S. Army Signal School

  • Security of SCI
  • Physical security
  • “Black book”
  • Improving SCI document security
  • Improving physical security in SCIFs
  • Intelligence support to TRADOC schools


Intelligence Support Coordinator, NATO and SHAPE

  • Intel support to HQ NATO, SHAPE, and EUCOM
  • Products and briefings
  • Improving intelligence support to NATO
  • Facilitating intelligence release to allies
  • Better IC support to a unified command

Source: adapted from Donald M. Murray’s Write to Learn, 2d edition.


Worksheet 2. Blank invention template


1.  Name your topic:

     I am studying _________________________________________


2.  Imply your question:

     because I want to find out who/how/why/



3.  So what?

     so that ________________________________________________


As you transition from the invention stage to the drafting stage, remember to be flexible. Do not be afraid to deviate from your outline—many writers find once they begin drafting, their ideas shift. Be aware, however, if you decide to take the paper in a new direction, you will need to make sure all of the components in the paper still support one central argument. You may even want to create a new outline that better suits your new purpose and focus. Chapter 3 provides more information about the process of drafting and useful drafting techniques.

Marine Corps University