Regular Coaching Appointment Hours
(hours reduced during breaks and library closures)
To develop the writing and critical thinking skills of NPS students for success in graduate school and as military and civilian leaders.
Scroll down for announcements and sage advice.
Welcome to the Graduate Writing Center
Being a good writer will empower you. In a world where careful analysis of security challenges is sincerely needed, writing well takes on increasing importance, not only as a means of communication but as a reflection of one's ability to think analytically and critically.
Becoming a strong writer takes practice, patience, constructive feedback, and a thorough understanding of writing technique. Our coaches and instructors support you through this educational process, providing guidance as you write course papers and thesis chapters. While our coaches do not edit your work, they help you develop your grammar, structure, and logic skills.
Spring workshop schedule: download pdf.
Thesis award! The picture shows graduating NPS student Lieutenant Commander Ehren J. Bittner receiving a congratulatory letter from Larry Reeves, President of the Northern California Chapter of the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association (AFCEA). The letter is from former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Admiral Mike Mullen. Quoting from Javier Chagoya's article: "Bittner offers a bit of advice for future electrical engineering students as a take away on the learning and discovery process in thesis writing. 'Find a good advisor. A good one is like bumpers in bowling – they keep you going in the right direction without getting a gutter ball.' "
Frequent consultation of the dictionary is a fundamental technique of writing. Two of our favorite online dictionaries are Wiktionary (nice and detailed) and Dictionary.com (too much junk on the screen). Google may be trying to put both of them out of the click business. Now, if you type a single word into Google—try "prolepsis"—a dictionary entry comes up in a box. Click the "show more" arrow at the bottom of the box to see the amazing feature that no other dictionary can match: a graph of the word's usage for the past two centuries! New toy! How current is your vocabulary? One anomaly of Google's dictionary is that a word like "tesla," which is more popular as the name of the carmaker than the unit of magnetic flux density, will not invoke the dictionary feature without "dictionary tesla." One long-term trend in English is the merging of common phrases into a single word, like "percent." It used to be "per cent," i.e. "for every hundred." Google's usage graphs don't graph phrases (are you listening, Google?), so "per cent" can't be charted with the tool. However, by looking at "percent's" popularity, we can see when the single-word version came into vogue.
GWC Writing Tip
Measure Twice, Cut Twice
Most people know the "Measure twice, cut once" rule. Besides being sage advice for carpenters, it also encourages accuracy and confidence in other areas of life. However, writing can be a little different.
Although good writing does require accuracy and confidence, it usually takes more than one cut. Sure, writers should always "measure twice" by constructing a thorough and organized outline, but one cut does not create a finished product. Clear, concise writing requires multiple "cuts," also known as edits, to be ready for submission or publication.
Balance is crucial when making cuts for concision. You don't want to eliminate information for the sake of making a paper shorter; instead, you should know the key elements of your argument and delete the off-topic or redundant information. Having accurate measurements (aka a clear argument and outline) makes this process much easier. Often, reverse outlining, which is creating an outline from the draft text, helps you see what’s unnecessary.
When in doubt, turn your paper over to a peer or writing coach, or perhaps someone who is familiar enough with your topic to recognize what needs to go. Remember, your goal is clarity and brevity, especially when communicating complex issues to your audience.
Adhering to this rule will make you a more disciplined and focused writer. When you use proper measurements and cut accordingly, you can produce a well-crafted final paper—there should be no mistaking your argument or your evidence to support it. The more often you practice, the better you will become at this, so keep measuring, and keep cutting!
Why write? A message from the CNO, Admiral John Richardson
Admiral Richardson has published an impassioned plea to all Navy personnel to make a rigorous habit of reading and writing, to benefit the Navy's mission (“Now Hear This – Read. Write. Fight” [with LT Ashley O'Keefe, USN], Proceedings Magazine, June 2016). He opens:
I want to revitalize the intellectual debate in our Navy. We all—officers, enlisted, and civilians—need to develop sound and long-term habits for reading and writing during the entire course of our careers. We must challenge our own assumptions, be informed by the facts, and be aware of the current context. We must commit to self-improvement, through formal schools and courses, and especially through self-education. I strongly encourage you to read, think, and write about our naval profession. Our Navy benefits from a vigorous intellectual debate.
His words work just as well as a justification for your presence, as students, at NPS. The Navy is a large, complex, and technologically-advanced organization. It cannot function well unless all hands stay abreast of the issues related to their mission and think creatively and critically about the challenges our nation faces.
As the CNO suggests, strong writing for its own sake is not the point:
As reading leads to broader thinking, writing leads to clearer thinking. If you have not written much, I urge you to get started. A sharp pen reflects a sharp mind. But writing is not for the weak. The writer must form and then expose his or her ideas to public scrutiny. That takes confidence. But an argument properly conceived and defended can be of great value to our profession.
Admiral Richardson added sage comments that echo the philosophy we teach in the Graduate Writing Center:
Understand that you are accountable for your writing. You own what you write. So know your subject and the context surrounding your topic—do your research. Speak in your own voice. Be ready to defend your position. When you write, your ideas are going to be challenged and maybe harshly criticized. That is acceptable. Learn from it, and come back better.
For additional thoughts, Dmitry Filipoff, writing for the Center for International Maritime Security (“Operationalizing the CNO’s Call to Read and Write,” June 27, 2016), expands in detail on the CNO's article.
We encourage you to read both articles at the above links.
GWC Book Review
Zachary Shore, Grad School Essentials: A Crash Course in Scholarly Skills (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016).
Rare is the how-to book that exemplifies its own instructions! NPS Professor Zachary Shore’s Grad School Essentials: A Crash Course in Scholarly Skills does exactly that, providing professional clarity and an engaging, conversational writing style. “The tips you are about to read,” he promises in the introduction, “and the skills you are about to learn, are seldom taught.” Not only does Professor Shore—a historian and Fulbright scholar who applied public school education toward success at Harvard and Oxford—share real-world insights, he also models two essential, practical strategies for excelling in graduate school. While bringing the “passion to the page” that he recommends, Professor Shore gets straight to the point and advises that you do likewise.
The book dissects and lays bare the fundamentals likely to make or break your ability to thrive in any graduate program: reading, writing, speaking, behavior, and research. Professor Shore gives explicit guidance for success; he presents each topic in a clear, readable way, suggesting solutions before expanding and synthesizing, not unlike a solid persuasive essay. Crucially, he guides without being obnoxious, long-winded, or making readers search for the point. For example, he advises reading a journal article’s last paragraph early since it’s likely to contain the most succinct statement of the author’s thesis. Take Professor Shore’s advice and read his last paragraph, a lively celebration of the joys of scholarly research which will entice you to review all of the book’s strategies.
If there’s one thing I am tempted to tattoo on my forehead so as to ensure writing student attention, it’s the wisdom of clearly expressing the main point right off the bat. Rather than baiting your reader as if you’re Sherlock Holmes, making them wait until the end for the big reveal, Professor Shore suggests bottom-line-up-front (BLUF) strategies. While our inner mystery writers often reveal themselves in a first draft, Professor Shore advises letting the narrative suspense instead arise from revealing your thought process point by point. Grad School Essentials explains several strategies for good writing, including how to “laser in on a topic” and “spring-load your sentences,” and several more for strategic thinking, including what to do “if you cannot say why your investigation really matters, if you cannot link your question to a larger puzzle.”
Shore goes beyond writing and research to acknowledge the realities of grad school. He may be the first professor I’ve seen to put the reading reality on paper: “you will not have enough time to read everything.” Even if you do, his tips on how to read strategically will save you substantial time. Read for the thesis, he emphasizes. Then, armed with the thesis, you’ll know quickly how well the reading applies to your research interests. Additionally, he addresses an often overlooked aspect of student life: grad students are rarely prepared for how to act. Too often, even savvy students end up trapped in unnecessary ego debates that distract from the mission at hand. Throughout, Professor Shore’s passion for keeping things both real and lighthearted shines through, including his guidance on avoiding common threats like becoming a Book Zombie or a Bartender’s Burden.
Rather than treating grad school as a burden, Professor Shore threads useful content with engaging writing, reminding readers of the inherent adventures of scholarly research. He has employed his theory of strategic empathy to produce a “little book with a lot of power” that any reader will likely find a fast read and want to keep close on their reference shelf. Thanks, Professor Shore, for reminding us how to show and tell in our writing and also for teaching us how to save ourselves from becoming Book Zombies!