NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—Brush up on your English, enlisted airmen. You’ll soon need to write in complete sentences.
The Air Force is preparing to return to narrative-style writing on enlisted performance reports instead of the bullet lists that have proved more cryptic than clear.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass announced the forthcoming change at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space, Cyber conference Monday. Airmen could save time if they aren’t trying to whittle down their responses into the “perfect bullet,” she told reporters Wednesday.
“Some of our maintainers might be truly bummed out because you all love bullets, and you love fitting as much stuff in [as you can], and you don’t want to do white space. We’re about to change that culture,” she said during a question-and-answer session with airmen. “It needs to be plain language everybody can understand it.”
EPRs try to capture how well airmen perform their jobs and the positive traits that help them succeed. Active-duty enlisted airmen must be evaluated each year after serving in the Air Force for three years, though active-duty airmen first class (E-3) and those in lower ranks, and Air Force Reserve senior airmen (E-4) and below, are exempt.
Airmen are asked to suggest what language to put in their EPR, which their supervisor edits and completes. The supervisor’s boss can offer input as well. But now this information will be in narrative descriptions rather than individually tailored bullets.
Though some airmen may be wary of atrophied writing muscles, Air Force leaders don’t anticipate the new system will require much training to sharpen their prose.
“We’ve always written in narrative style,” Bass said. “We have different documents that we write throughout the Air Force, our emails are narrative-style, and … if you go look back at where we came from on our evaluations, we used to write in narrative style.”
Someone reviewing an EPR shouldn’t need a decoder ring to decipher what an airman means, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown. That can ultimately work against an airman if their accomplishments aren’t easily understood.
“I think airmen are making a bigger deal of this than it needs to be,” Brown said. “We do write, it’s just we’ve got to write in this style when you put it on a performance report. I think it’ll actually make it easier for us to talk about the great work that our airmen are doing.”
A team is now fleshing out the guidance for how airmen should handle narrative EPRs, Bass said. The shift is slated for next calendar year, as the Air Force’s enlisted corps reimagines what its talent management system could be.
“There is nothing that we’re not looking at,” Bass added.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.