So, You Think You Can Write About National Security?

August 1, 2016
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Last month I had the great opportunity lead a seminar in Cdr Mike Flynn’s Naval Academy summer school course on professional writing. We talked a little bit about speechwriting and the kinds of writing officers do in the Pentagon. Having heard a fair share of speeches from high-powered guests at Forrestal Lectures, graduations, and other Naval Academy events, the midshipmen had great opinions and observations about the art and science of keeping an audience’s attention. We also spent some time reflecting on Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Richardson’s recent op-ed in Proceedings, written with his speechwriter Lt Ashley O’Keefe, telling us that publishing our thoughts on naval affairs is a professional responsibility.

Admiral Richardson’s call to action is not something that is particularly new. It rises and falls in cycles throughout our history. However, his voice has joined a rising chorus and his argument shares many aspects with the innovation dialogue currently going on inside the U.S. military. Talking with the midshipmen about how they might approach their engagement with  professional writing, as very junior personnel with only limited experience, helped bring together some of my observations on the nuts and bolts of how a military officer, or a national security professional in civies, gets started writing a professional article.

The result was three short essays which ran at the Naval Institute’s blog and on the Military Writer’s Guild’s website last week under the title #RTSW or read, think, speak, and write. They are an effort to look at the process and offer some hints for those considering taking up the call to join the debates and discussions of military and security affairs. While written in response to Admiral Richardson’s op-ed, and with a clear navy blue hue, the posts are meant to help members of the joint force and national security community widely. Drawn mostly from personal experience, they are meant only to serve as a few waypoints on the chart that can help mark the reefs and dangers and suggest a clear course.

Charting a Course for our Professional Writing: This article examines how to get started, suggesting a process that might help get a potential author through the first draft of their article.

This Isn’t Magic — Manuscript to Article: The next installment discusses the process of finding a publication and working with an editor to get the article into print or online.

Act Like a Professional: In the final article, I offer some quick hints and suggestions to protect against missteps or common mistakes when military or security professionals seek entry into the publishing world.

The thoughts I have shared should help those who are interested in publishing with us here at War on the Rocks. But the observations about the publishing and defense media world are applicable to many other publications. Yes, there’s even a GI Joe video linked in there somewhere. Hopefully readers and potential contributors, across the entire range of national security interests, will find these helpful.

 

BJ Armstrong is a senior editor at War on the Rocks and naval officer who is reading for his PhD in War Studies with King’s College, London. He is the series editor of the “21st Century Foundations” books from the Naval Institute Press. This article represents his own opinions, which are not necessarily those of the Navy, the Department of Defence, or the U.S. government.

Image: U.S. Navy

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2 thoughts on “So, You Think You Can Write About National Security?

  1. The best advice I can imagine for anybody writing about strategy and defence issues is to find a mapping tool which will allow the author to draw on overlays of maps, add comments where relevant and to publish the images as part of their article.

    There is a gotcha, in polar latitudes normal (Mercator) projection maps dangerously distort the geography and distances, use a mapping tool that recognises this, ideally switch to Polar projection.

    I have seen NATO briefings which used Mercator projection maps to discus the situation in Northern Europe. It was a fundamental error. As was the NATO theatre map that omitted to mark the Kaliningrad oblast.

    So with mapping capability goes an even greater responsibility to get it right.