Week 4 – Background Paper

The background paper outline should mirror your briefing outline exactly.  When I was tackling the paper/briefing task I spent the majority of my time doing my research.  Like I said keep your sources short and only use each source to make a point.  Once you make your point, move on to your next point with your next source.  This is the best way to keep the length of your briefing or paper where it needs to be.  Instead of having one/two slides per source, you will have one paragraph per source.  Once you add in a paragraph for the intro/conclusion you will have five paragraphs.  When I put mine together I may have been able to split a paragraph into two paragraphs, but I chose to keep them as one to clearly define when I was addressing my next point.  I recommend you do the same.

Some people started with the paper and then did the slides, and others did the slides then did the paper.  Because of the nature of PowerPoint, I chose the latter because it helped me collect my thoughts.  I did my research on my first point and put the main idea on the first slide.  After I got most of my ideas on the first slide, I would do my research on the next point and draft the second slide.  I did the same for the third then I begin adding in the pictures and making all three of the slides “pretty.”  This method prevented me from having to make an outline because my outline was in the slides.  I tell you this because once I finished my three slides, I had everything I needed to knock out the paper.  I had the research in my head so all I needed to do is put all of my points on paper in paragraph format.  Since I am a fairly quick writer I did just that.  I actually knocked out my paper in about 30 minutes and scored high 90’s but I don’t recommend that approach.  I mis-prioritized my time but thankfully it didn’t effect me more than a few points from my overall grade.  I essentially knocked out my three paragraphs then I went back and added in the intro and conclusion.  I did my in-text citations as I went so I didn’t have to go back and add them later.  Luckily when I was done I was at about 1.5 pages.

The requirements for the paper are defined on OTS Form 9.  The majority of what is on the Form 9 are requirements from the Tongue and Quill and the AU Style Guide.  The Tongue and Quill is also known as “Air Force Handbook (AFH) 33-337” and can be found on the Air Force E-Publishing site.  I just found the AU Style Guide on Google.  I lost the majority of my points for the paper and briefing from requirements out of the Style Guide.  I was unable to adequately read the style guide due to my graded leadership position, so I winged it.  Again, luckily it didn’t effect my score more than a few points.  Off the top of my head, I didn’t format my superscripts correctly for my references in relation to the period, I didn’t use the correct abbreviation for USAF or US Air Force (I still can’t remember how the guide wanted it), and I put my identification line all pages instead of the first page only.

We had to upload the paper into Blackboard the night before so the system could do the plagiarism check with SafeAssign.  My college did not use Blackboard or SafeAssign, so I had no idea what it was.  If you are like me, it is an automated process which compares the text in your paper with some sort of probably massive online database.  It will then highlight text which may have been plagiarized and tell you what percentage may not be authentic.  The process takes 15 minutes or so, but all I needed to know that night was that when I uploaded my paper it time-stamped it with the time the system accepted the upload, not the time SafeAssign was complete.  This was great for me because I uploaded with only three minutes to spare.  Since we uploaded to Blackboard no hard-copy was required for us, but we did have to turn in our OTS Form 9’s right before we started our briefing, right along with our OTS Form 6.  It took our instructor about a week to grade our stuff.

Final Thoughts

A background paper is NOT a fully researched academic article.  You of course have to do research and talk intelligently about a topic, but the purpose of the exercise is “Can you write a background paper?”, not “Can you write an academic article which gives me all the information I want to know about this topic?”  It is honestly more about following instructions that producing a quality product.  The people who got caught up in providing the best info or having the best academic sources were the ones who had trouble.  Start your paper by learning the requirements established by the Tongue and Quill and Style Guide.  Read every line of the OTS Form 9, and knock out your paper.  After you get your first draft, go through every line of the Form 9 again and correct as necessary.  Since you are reading this blog I assume you have time, so I recommend you start with Chapter 16 of the Tongue and Quill.  After that read the AU Style Guide so you don’t end up like I did!