Tips For Writing Nigerian Military Service Papers

How to Write Service Papers For Nigerian Military


The writing of ‘Service Papers’ is one of the important aspects of a staff officer’s work. Service papers are widely used to record and present facts, opinions and arguments leading to recommendations on which  staff decisions are based

Tips For Writing Nigerian Military Service Papers

Within the Services, there are many different requirements for the preparation of Service papers but all follow the same general rules. Service papers may be divided broadly into the following types:

  • Those that examine a current or future problem and present a solution.
  • Those that survey and analyse past events.

The first type is based on estimate process or problem solving, and the papers tend to follow a fairly standard pattern. The second type covers more than simply past events; they are much wider in scope and more flexible in layout. The notes in this chapter are intended as basic introduction for the writing of any type of Service paper.

  • Examples of different layouts for Service papers are at Annexes  A – C. An example of a Service paper based on NAF problem solving is  at Annex B to Chapter 10.
  • Superscription and Subscription. The examples at Annexes A and B show the conventional layout of the superscription.


  • The headings ‘INTRODUCTION’ and ‘AIM’ are always used for the first 2 sections of a Service paper.
  • The third section, the discussion, is normally written in several distinct parts and the reader is helped if each of these parts is given a separate main or group headings indicating the content. A section
  • headed ‘CONCLUSION’ is always included after the discussion section.
  • When recommendations are required, they are set out under a separate heading ‘RECOMMENDATION(S)’ following the conclusion.
  • In short or simple papers, group headings will be appropriate to differentiate between the distinctive parts of a Service paper. An example of this layout is at Annex A. In long or complex papers, main headings, as well as, group headings may be required to permit a more elaborate breakdown of material. An example is at Annex B. If main headings are used, they should be used consistently throughout the paper, ie, for INTRODUCTION, AIM, CONCLUSION, and RECOMMENDATION(S), and for the headings of the major divisions of the discussion section.
  • Analytical Service papers may demand the use of main, group and paragraph headings, but the use of all these 3 headings is not obligatory, and their excessive use can break the flow of the argument. An example of an analytical Service paper is at Annex C.
  • Use of Annexes. Detailed information or illustrations should be shown in annexes to the Service paper. However, the reader should not find it necessary to study an annex in order to make sense of the argument; all material essential to the argument must be included in the body of the paper. In a Service paper, reserve the annexes for supporting information such as calculations, maps, graphs, detailed information on targets or weapons, forces available, sortie rates and outline plans.
  • Reference Material. It may be necessary to refer to a number of documents in the paper. This can be done by listing them under the title of the paper and identifying them by a reference letter, as is done in the example at Annex B. Alternatively, when there are many reference documents, it may be more convenient to show the references as footnotes at the end of each page. For example, if in Paragraph 3 of the paper, reference is made to a statement in another paper/document, the reference could be written as follows:

3. ‘AHQ policy on the individual training of infantry men states that……..’ (1)

Then at the bottom of the page, you write the source as: Note:

AHQ/783/Trg dated 12 Sep 11.

  • Tips of Writing Nigerian Military Service Papers
  • Distribution. The distribution should be listed at the end of the Service paper as shown at Annex A to this chapter. However, if the Service paper is sent out as an enclosure or an annex to a covering letter, the letter may include the distribution instead.


A Service paper should be written in a style suited to the subject and the reader. The choice of style is a matter of judgment. It will be influenced by the normal practice of the writer’s Service, the level of the paper and the extent to which he knows the person for whom the paper is being written. Service papers are written in the third person.

The writer must aim to convince his reader by ensuring that his facts are accurate and that his conclusions are sound. He should use a crisp, lucid style and express himself unequivocally. It is the writer’s opinion and conclusions that are wanted and he should be prepared to state them and to take responsibility. Phrases such as ‘It might well be considered, therefore, that the best course is……’ are not only bad style but also an attempt to throw off responsibility; do not use them.

The writer should use sentences of simple construction, words of common usage but not slang, and concrete rather than abstract words. SW should avoid using metaphors and rhetorical questions and be sparing in the use of adjectives.

Some subjects lend themselves to the use of sub-paragraphs for the presentation of facts but as a general rule, the writer should try to avoid their over-use because they detract from a fluent style.

In a Service paper which presents an argument, distinguish between what is fact and what is supposition by choosing carefully the correct tenses of verbs. Keep the past, present or future tenses for statements of fact; use the conditional tense (ie, would, could, should) for what may or may not come true or what will come true if certain conditions were fulfilled

Words should be chosen carefully to ensure that the writer says exactly what is intended. Many solutions are not strait jacketed; eg, it would be wrong to say that a course of action ‘would’ achieve something if the writer was not certain that it would do so. In this case, qualifying expressions such as ‘would probably’, ‘would possibly’ or ‘might’, should be used. Similarly, ‘should’ is never used when referring to essential features or ‘must’ when referring to desirable features.


Every Service paper must have a subject heading which describes, aptly and concisely, what the paper is about; eg, ‘EFFECTIVE USE OF MANPOWER IN THE SERVICES’. Note that the Service paper’s subject heading never begins with ‘A PAPER ON ……’. Subject headings may be qualified by time, especially if their subject is a recurring event such as an annual exercise, and by place and method where appropriate.


The introduction should tell the reader why the paper has been written and give him the background essential to an understanding of the discussion. The writer should include any definitions or assumptions that he has been given or has used, and his terms of reference or, in their absence, the scope of the paper. If he feels that they are necessary to support or justify any facts he presents, he may also include the titles of any authorities he consulted during the preparation of the paper.

The introduction should be as brief as possible. In deciding how much to include, remember that a reader should be able to get the gist of

a Service paper by reading only the introduction, aim and conclusion, eg, in a paper written for a commander, there would be no need to state the primary function of each major component of the units under his command. Similarly, where the senior officer would be well aware that an authority has been consulted, the authority’s title should not be given. Bear in mind, however, that a Service paper is usually read by staff officers other than the person for whom the paper is written, and these officers may not be so familiar with the background. Moreover, a Service paper usually provides a historical record which will be filed. The introduction should, therefore, be sufficiently comprehensive to fulfill both of these purposes.

The introduction prepares the way for a statement of the aim of the paper. The purpose of the paper should, therefore, be stated. It will tell the reader why the paper has been written; the purpose may be similar to the aim, but not necessarily so. Sometimes, there may be little difference in the wording between the ‘purpose’ and the ‘aim’, but in complex papers the difference is usually considerable. Hence, the ‘purpose’ should be included even though it may differ little from the aim.

If the scope of the paper is not included in the terms of reference, it should be defined separately. The scope outlines the paper’s limitations; it says what the writer is going to write about, and its main value to the reader is that he knows that if certain aspects have been excluded they have been excluded deliberately and not through oversight.


A separate heading is used to highlight the aim. This enables the reader to see immediately whether the paper is designed to meet his requirements and to stop the writer from straying into irrelevancies. The aim should be as short as possible, should follow directly from the setting given in the introduction, and should state whether or not recommendations are to be made. The aim always begins with the words ‘The aim of this paper is to…..’, eg, ‘The aim of this paper is to study recruiting for the Nigerian Army’.

The aim should be single and not multiple; eg, ‘to assess’, and not ‘to state and explain’. The aim should be qualified only by those limitations that have been imposed by superior authority and are completely outside your discretion. Such limitations usually concern time:

eg, ‘….to complete the evacuation by 1 Dec 92’, ‘……to supply the aircraft on their airfields’ and method ‘…….To supply the fuel by submarine’.


The discussion is where the argument is presented, and the writer should develop this section in the most direct, concise, logical and convincing manner. Flexibility of approach is the outstanding feature of the Service paper and, as there is no rigid format for the discussion, the writer must decide for himself on the best way to argue his case.

In a simple paper, which may be a factual survey, the facts may fall naturally into a chronological order or some other easily recognized sequence in which many points can be explained as the argument develops. In a more complex paper, extensive explanations may be required before the main argument can begin. It may also be necessary to outline at the beginning of the paper how the subject will be presented and to summarize the main argument or deductions at the end of each phase of the discussion. The reader should be led from one deduction to another, based on a number of possible complex points, each deduction being tersely summarized.

In a paper which has to present a solution to a problem, the first task must be to determine what are the essential and desirable criteria; ie those factors or requirements against which a solution has to be evaluated. The paper should then show to what extent possible solutions meet or fall short of the criteria by setting out the advantages and disadvantages. Finally, a comparison between the possible solutions be made dealing with the least likely solution first and the most attractive one last.

Time spent on establishing the framework of the paper is seldom wasted. Sometimes the framework initially chosen may not turn out to be the right one. As a paper develops, it may be decided that radical alterations to the paper’s pattern are advisable; if so, the writer should not be afraid to make necessary changes even if major rewriting is required. The first stage in working out a framework is to establish the trend of the argument by itemizing the contents in the most logical order. Constraints, which may be financial, operational or political, set limits to the course of action open to the writer and should be established as the first step in the

body of the paper. Having decided on a sequence, the writer should list under each heading the facts and ideas that will be covered there and the order in which they will be discussed. The sequence should be tested for logical and progressive development, and any repetition in the argument eliminated. If it is necessary to cross-refer to other parts of the paper, the layout is suspect and should be reconsidered. Detail which is not essential to the development of the argument but which is required to support facts used in the discussion should be relegated to the annexes.

Each major part of the discussion should end with a summary or a definitive statement of the writer’s intent or deductions showing precisely how he is fulfilling the aim of the paper. These concluding statements form part of the discussion and must not be confused with the conclusions which summarize the discussion and are described in Paragraph 26.


The conclusion of a Service paper should give a comprehensive but concise summary of the main deductions developed in the discussion section, and in conjunction with the introduction and aim should give the reader the general sense of the paper. It should lead directly to the recommendations where these are given. The conclusion must not contain any information, argument or deduction which has not been covered in the preceding discussion section and should follow the same pattern of development as that used in the discussion. The conclusion, together with any recommendations, must clearly demonstrate to the reader that the aim has been accomplished. At the end of each conclusion, the paragraph(s) from which the deduction was derived in the discussion should be cited.


Recommendations need not be made unless called for in the terms of reference. A well-formed conclusion should enable a superior to make his decision without recommendations. The recommendations give, in outline, the next action which the writer thinks should be taken. The necessity for such action must derive logically from the conclusion; eg, a paper might end with the recommendation that field batteries should be issued with additional 105mm pack howitzers. The conclusion must have shown that these pack howitzers are needed, and that it is practicable to provide them. Recommendations, like the conclusion must contain no new material.

Recommendations should be written in a crisp and clear manner, without any supporting argument, making full use of sub-paragraphs. The paragraph(s) from the conclusion which form the basis of the recommendation should be cited at the end of each recommendation.


The draft Service paper should be subjected to a highly critical examination. The following tests should be applied:

a. Subject Heading. Does the subject heading reflect concisely the aim, content and limitations of the paper?

b. Introduction.

(1) Has sufficient background been given?

(2) Have definitions and assumptions been limited to those necessary for an understanding of the paper?

(3) Have terms of reference and authorities consulted been given?

(4) Have the purpose of the paper and its scope and limitations been defined?

c. Aim. Is the aim correctly worded?

d. Discussion.

(1) Has the aim been kept in mind throughout?

(2) Have all the constraints been established?

(3) Have all the relevant factors to the argument been presented accurately and in the best order?

(4) Are there any details in the discussion which could be relegated to annexes?

(5) Do the major parts of the paper finish with summary or clear statements of the intent or deductions?

(6) Can anything be deleted without detriment to the sense of the argument?

e. Conclusion.

(1) Does the conclusion summarize the argument in the discussion section without introducing new material or argument?

(2) Would the conclusion, read in conjunction with the introduction and aim, make a coherent whole and give the reader a broad understanding or the paper?

f. Recommendations.

(1) Do the recommendations lead directly from the conclusion without introducing new material?

(2) Are they presented in a crisp and clear manner?

(3) Does the recommendation state who should take action?

g. Service Writing.

(1) Have the conventions of SW been followed?

(2) Are headings correctly used?

(3) Can the English be improved?

(4) Is the whole paper concise, logical, complete and easily understandable?

SUBMISSION A Service paper may be submitted in its own right, in a file, or as an enclosure to a covering letter or minute. If a covering letter or minute is used it should include the following information:

a. Very briefly, the reasons why the paper has been written.

b. The conclusion and recommendations as they actually appear in the paper.

c. Any action required or requested of any recipient.

d. The titles of authorities consulted if they are not included in the introduction to the paper.

Annexes:A. Example of Layout of Service Paper Using Group Headings.
B. Example of Layout of Service Paper Using Main Headings.
C. Example of Analytical Service Paper Arguing Against the Continental General Staff System.
D. Example of Analytical Service Paper Arguing in Favour of the Continental General Staff System

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