SECDEF Writing Guide

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance on writing for the Secretary of Defense.

General Guidelines:

  • Use clear and concise language; omit needless words and phrases.
  • Avoid acronyms, even common ones. If in doubt, spell it out.
  • Use simple words.
  • Be upfront and answer the question at hand.
  • Respond to letters promptly. If correspondence is late, explain why in the action memo.
  • Whenever possible, distill complex issues into one page, using tabs for details, background information , and any relevant, previously signed correspondence. If the tabbed material is extensive, highlight revelvant sections or provide a separate executive summary; however, three or four tabbed items are sufficient for most topics.
  • When submitting an action memo, explain why it requires the Secretary's decision or signature; likewise, an info memo should explain up front why the topic merits his attention.
  • Double-check the names of the addressees on all correspondence; ensure spelling, titles, addresses, etc., are correct.
  • Respond promptly to any questions or edits the Secretary provides.

Responses to Congressional Members:

  • Answer the question or questions asked in the incoming letter from the Member; if you can't, state why. If the response cannot be provided within 14 days, contact the Member's office by phone or email, and also provide a formal interim response to the Member that states when a complete answer will be available.
  • If a letter refers to a provision of law or Congressional report language, ensure the Department's actions and responses comply with Congressional intent.