Writing as a Means of Learning_Franklin Annis post_3x5 Leadership

Guest post by Franklin C. Annis, EdD

When you think about learning, the act of writing typically isn’t one of the first thoughts that come to mind, but maybe it should be. There is a lot of aspects about writing for military self-development that makes it an extremely useful tool. The act of writing forces you to organize your thoughts, it develops a critical communication skill, it can be used to demonstrate expertise, it can be used to seek help in defining a problem, and test proposed solutions in front of a wider audience. For these reasons and more, every service member should consider publishing to build both their personal capabilities and expand the knowledge of the larger community.

In this article, I provide several justifications for service members to engage in writing and publishing. Hopefully this might start you on the path of writing for personal development and to contribute to our community of practice.

Write to Organize

How many times have you heard someone say “I know the subject, but I just can’t write about it”? Every time I hear this type of comment I always respond by saying you in fact don’t know the subject. One of the most beautiful things about the process of writing is that it forces an individual to organize their thoughts. This is one of the major reasons why colleges and universities utilize writing assignments. Having to write about a subject focuses you to gain enough knowledge to come to some understanding of a rational means of explaining the subject. The more we work on writing about a specific subject, the better we become at developing an approach that is precise and well-structured. After having written about a subject, you will likely find it is easier to give lectures or present a class on the subject.

Develop Written Communication Skills

We should write because it is a skill that is becoming increasingly important as a service member and leader. Military leaders are constantly called to communicate in a written form. While this may vary from operation orders to emails, writing is a critical skill for military members. The U.S. Army has even increased the amount of writing assignments in the Non-Commissioned Officer Education System (NCOES) courses because they have recognized the importance and need to improve this skill. There is no way around it; if you want to be a better leader, start writing and develop your writing communication skills as much as possible.

Demonstrate Expertise

Writing is one of the best ways to establish your expertise in a field. You might be exceptionally skilled and gifted in a specific area or activity, but if no one knows it, no one will ever seek your advice. Writing and publishing in areas that you are knowledgeable about will increase your notoriety. This in turn may cause you to engage with a larger community concerning this topic. The more individuals seek your help, the more likely you are to also gain further information to only increase your expertise in the area.

Define a Problem

Many believe that writing and publishing is about knowing an answer to the problem. However, it is also possible to utilize writing as a means to define a problem to shed light on an issue and allow others to help you present a solution. Many of the best military scholars began their careers attempting to correctly define a problem in the U.S. Army long before they suggested a solution. If you have a complicated and difficult problem to solve, consider writing about it as a means to seek help. Take your time and try to define the problem as much as possible in your writing. This will help others either tell you where you may misunderstand the problem at hand or start a larger conversation within the military community about resolving your issue.

Present a Solution

I would encourage anyone suggesting a change to the norm or a solution to a problem to first ensure they have a good understanding of the problem. Before you jump into your solution, take some time in defining and explain the problem and why you believe it exists. Ensure you fully explain your solution and how you believe your solution directly relates to the cause of your problem. This may require careful writing to ensure your audience can follow your train of thought and understand the connections between the problem and your suggested solution. Unlike articles simply stating a problem seeking help in finding solutions, an article that presents a solution is likely to receive significantly more feedback.


Writing is as much of a process of learning as it is a process of sharing your knowledge. If you have identified a problem in the military that you feel is not being addressed or, better yet, if you have found a possible solution to a pressing issue, I strongly encourage you to start writing. If you keep a positive outlook and take the criticism in a constructive manor, you will find yourself improving your communication skills as you help to advance the knowledge and abilities of the larger community. If you have reached a level of mastery in the military, we need you to start sharing your knowledge and letting the community know you are a possible resource for other similar problems out there. As we continue to write and share our knowledge, we can truly establish a community of learning and critically examining our profession to optimize our military as much as possible. You have a chance to prove that the “pen is mightier than the sword” by influencing the military in a positive way that could help save lives or win the next war.

Find out more about writing to learn in Franklin’s video, “Write to Learn: Reasons to Write for Military Self Development” on his The Evolving Warfighter YouTube channel.

Franklin C. Annis holds a Doctorate in Education (EdD) from Northcentral University. He has been studying military educational theory for the last seven years and runs “The Evolving Warfighter” YouTube channel to share his research and advice on military self-development. He is a veteran of Operational Iraqi Freedom and is the Deputy State Surgeon for the Nebraska Army National Guard. Franklin’s thoughts are his own and do not reflect that of the US Army or Department of Defense.

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  1. Your ideas are for me what I would call a paradigm shift that goes against not just what I have been taught in the past but also my experience in life. This is not to say you are wrong, it is to say that your have presented a completely new way of thinking about what is the best way to learn. Thank you for laying out your ideas and allowing others to consider them.

    1. I appreciate your feedback, Mark. I tend to think more like a generalist (polymath) instead of a specialist (monomath). I am planning on writing the topic on how these two approaches to learning differ and how they can used well together to understand a subject and “think outside the box.”

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