Regular Coaching Appointment Hours
1200-1600 (starting 5 Feb 2017)
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.
2017 CNO Naval History Essay Contest: The scope is "a naval historical topic" that relates "in some way to establishing and maintaining maritime superiority in today's environment." The essay should provide readers with "a lesson learned from history that can be applied to today." This is a serious contest with $5000 top prizes in both the Professional and Rising Historians categories. The maximum word-count is 3,500 (excluding references). The submission deadline is 30 June 2017. See the U.S. Naval Institute web page for further details.
Sunday coaching hours have changed to 1200-1600, as of 5 February 2017.
Citation formatting survey...help! Graduating Students: Help Dudley Knox Library determine which citation formatting tools to recommend and support by completing a short survey about how you formatted the references in your Thesis, MBA Report, Capstone, Dissertation, etc., and your level of satisfaction with the tool or method you used. Please respond to the survey even if you formatted your references manually. Thank you! Survey link.Guidance on how to create a high-impact poster is now available on the Writing Resources page.
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!
GWC Writing Tip
The Mulligan Rule
An agonizing moment in the writing process occurs when, after working for countless hours on a draft of your paper, you pass it by your advisor or writing coach, only to see your words become entwined with slashing penciled notes and arrows of every dimension drawn in every direction. Shoulders slumped, you return to your computer, and stare at the screen, outwardly calm, while inwardly screaming, “No! It cannot BE!! All that cursed writing—down the tube!!!”
In golf—at least among the unpaid players of the gentility—there’s an unofficial rule called “taking a Mulligan,” named after the legendary golfer who took the very first Mulligan. A golfer, having shanked the tee shot, to great embarrassment, retakes the shot while quietly leaving the shank off the scorecard.
Assuming that a golfer taking a Mulligan learns from the experience and improves on the second try, we can apply the analogy to the poor student above. All that cursed writing was not down the tube. There’s nothing sacred about a first draft; many times, it’s a necessary rite of passage that forces the mind to organize its thoughts. Often, the first draft, while being inadequate, gives clarity, a deeper understanding of the problem. It doesn’t matter that you started out arguing the wrong research question, or arguing the right question from the wrong perspective. While writing the first draft, you figure out a better way to approach your paper, focus your thesis, define your topic, or strengthen your counterargument. You achieve a perspective that only the first draft could reveal.
So, turn off that self-critical voice, pat yourself on the back, and take that Mulligan. Look once again at the computer screen with hopeful eyes. Rewrite your paper, knowing that this is how discovery works. Award yourself that “free shot.” And keep your eye on the ball.