Air Force Handbook (AFH) 33-337 - The Tongue and Quill

This handbook is a valuable communication resource

Air force Pilot
••• Eric Raptosh Photography/Getty Images 

The need for clear and effective communications among the Air Force, other Department of Defense (DoD) service branches and civilian authorities is so vital that it was actually written into law. 

Ineffective communications can lead to gray areas or confusion during mission critical times.  In an era of rapid personal and mass communication that was barely imagined just a few years ago, the military still requires face-to-face briefings, background papers, and staff packages to keep the mission moving forward.  

In addition, voice communications over radio during high-stress situations must be clear and concise in order to promulgate mission essential orders and details.

Plain Writing Act of 2010

The use of military jargon, constant acronyms, and poor written and speaking skills by members of all military branches and government departments, prompted the U.S. government to create a law to enhance communication efforts within the system of conducting government business. 

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 focuses on eliminating unclear language in government documents. It's implemented as part of the Department of Defense's Plain Language Program, which “promotes the use of clear, concise, and well-organized language in documents to effectively communicate with intended audiences.”

Military Speaking and Writing Skills 

Being a good writer and speaker are skill sets that must be taught, learned, and practiced on a near-daily basis. When people ask how they can prepare for a military career while in school, the best advice is to tell them they will need to communicate clearly.  

Military members will either communicate via email, have face to face meetings, or other written or spoken presentations with commanding officers and subordinates up and down the chain of command. The ability to communicate effectively can determine whether or not you getting a promotion or a future position in the government.

Air Force Handbook 33-337

The Air Force Handbook (AFH) 33-337 is this branch of the military's guideline for speakers, writers, and presenters.  The Tongue and Quill, as it's known, is widely used by Air Force military and civilian members, professional military school educators and students, and civilian corporations around the U.S.

Although the members of the Air Force are technically skilled to communicate using a wide variety of methods, the ability to write and speak concisely and clearly is a military requirement. 

Everything written in official capacity as an Air Force member must comply with the Plain Writing Act It should also comply with the specifics of Air Force Instruction (AFI) 33-360, Publications and Forms Management, for any Air Force publications.

Other Branches Using Tongue and Quill

Although it was designed by and for the Air Force originally, The Tongue and Quill is also used by Army, Navy and Marine personnel, to encourage the same kind of clear written and spoken communication among its members.

One important note: The Tongue and Quill is not an official military document and its guidelines on how to write documents aren't official, even for Air Force personnel. Your commanding officer may have a style or way of writing he or she prefers, and of course, you should adhere to whatever those rules are.

But at least whenever they're preparing to write or speak, and before putting pen to paper for a report or publication, members of the U.S. military have a solid reference to consult for guidance.