Almost all applicants have one question concerning the narrative memo: “Where can I find a template for the memo?”
The short answer is: “There isn’t one.”
The narrative memo is supposed to show the interview board and, more important, the selection board how you write and (indirectly) how you think. Because you can’t always explain your views or findings to decision-makers in person, a big part of being an officer is writing: everything from e-mails to messages to memos to position papers to massive reports.
But even if that weren’t the case, members of the selection board have nothing else that comes from you directly to use in making their decision. That being the case, the narrative memo is your only way to talk directly to them and sell them on the idea that you – of the hundreds of applicants – should be chosen. You not only want to be able to explain yourself clearly and concisely, but (optimally) in an engaging manner. You want to hook them when they read your first sentence, make each succeeding sentence matter to them, give them such a good idea of who you are that they’ll be thinking, as they finish reading, “That’s somebody I’d want in my wardroom!”
How do you write a 1½-page memo that does that? First off, I recommend you read the "The Writing Process: Drafting, Revising and Editing". Don't moan or roll your eyes. This is the kind of stuff junior officers have to do – research a topic or process thoroughly before diving in to the task she's been assigned to do.
Also, check out the short article from Psychology Today entitled, “5 Freewriting Secrets for Being a ‘Genius’”.
And at least consider taking a course on writing creative nonfiction, especially if writing in anything other than bureaucratese is not your strong suit. This will help you both now and after you've been commissioned.
What’s creative nonfiction? It’s a form of writing which “uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives”. Check out the following references for good explanations of just what creative nonfiction is and to read examples of it.
A number of reputable schools offer distance learning courses on creative nonfiction, which can be applied toward a degree (making TA available to pay for them). Examples are those offered by the University of Wisconsin and Empire State College in New York.
If taking a course seems like overkill, keep in mind your goal and what serving as an officer will entail. A course that will help you improve your writing will pay off in both the short-run (making you more competitive in the selection process) and in the long-run (making it easier for you to write throughout your career).
Still, if you decide you absolutely don’t want to take a course, at least get a good book, read it thoroughly, and apply what you learned to your memo.
Finally, here are some tips on the actual process of writing the memo.
Spend a lot of time on it. As noted above, this is your only way to directly address the members of the selection board. You want it to be the best product you can turn out.
Don't just write one draft and leave it at that. At the beginning, you should write at least two or three different versions of your memo, each started at a different time – preferably some days (if not weeks) apart.
Let each version of your memo sit for a week or two before looking at it again.
Edit each version as if it were the only version.
After a couple of months, you should have two or three pretty good but different memos. Pretend you've never seen them before and read each with a critical eye, as if you were on an interview or selection board. Do any of them jump out as markedly better or worse than the others? Throw out those that are really bad: topics badly organized, bad grammar or syntax, difficult to read, etc. Polish the ones that are left.
Let each remaining version of the memo sit for a week or so before looking at it again, then once more try to look at each with an unbiased eye. By now, one should stand out from the rest as the one you're going to be using. Tinker with it over the course of a few more weeks, replacing words here and there, reorganizing sentences or clauses, etc.
Put the final version aside until a couple weeks before your interview, then look at it again and make final changes (if any).
Ask an English teacher at a local high school or college (someone who knows nothing of the Coast Guard) to review it for grammar, syntax, usage, readability, concision, and flow.
Find an officer who's sat on a selection board and ask him/her to read your narrative and give you his/her impressions of it from the perspective of a selection board member. Make sure the officer knows you only want his/her impression as a selection board member. You do not want him/her to edit it. Every officer has his/her own ideas as to how it should be written. That means if you let three different officers edit it, you'll almost certainly get three different versions. How will you know which to use? Worse yet: none of them will be in your voice.
Check out the "Strategies for Essay Writing" resources available from the Harvard College Writing Program.