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Introduction: Why Read This Book? Academic writing has a terrible reputation outside the walls of the so-called Ivory Tower. It’s long-winded, incomprehensible, and elitist, critics are bound to say. Moreover, there’s no denying that successful journalists and popular writers sell far more copies of their books than do most academics, and popular magazines have far greater circulations than scholarly journals. So why, then, should military officers bother learning this skill? Why not spend the time and effort on improving staff writing?At least staff documents reach a guaranteed audience of interested readers. Why bother conquering the academic style when no one will read what you’ve written anyway? There are actually a number of reasons to be able to write academically , all of which only become clear once you accept that this approach to writing and research is a style. Like any style, it can be used effectively, or its results can be disastrous.At times— for example, as we explain below, in efforts to infuse a military perspective into discussions among the state’s political leadership— it can serve as a military official’s most effective form of communication.At others—for example, in communicating a commander ’s intent to his or her subordinates—it is entirely inappropriate. Furthermore, we (a civilian academic who has written books, journal articles, newspaper commentaries, and popular reports and a former artillery officer with 29 years of service and a PhD in War Studies) contend that most readers outside the academy have been exposed primarily to poor academic writing. When those same people see the best of what we can do, they are much more open to considering our opinions. The fact that academic writing doesn’t have to be dull, boring, and long winded is not enough on its own to justify the time you will have to spend to acquire the skills described in this book. There are other, more important reasons to consider: 1 00b-IntroMilitary:00b-Introduction 19/10/09 08:51 Page 1 Good academic writing can serve as an effective form of communication with the policy elite both nationally and around the world. It is true that academic work might not be read as widely as more popular material, but the quality of the audience for it is unusually high. The best academic journals are read by the most influential policy analysts and practitioners. The ideas in them can often shape a government’s strategic thinking. Canada’s International Policy Statement (2005), for example, reflects many of the ideas inAndrew Cohen’s While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World, the Canadian Defence and ForeignAffairs Institute’s In the National Interest: Canadian Foreign Policy in an Insecure World, and Jennifer Welsh’s At Home in the World: Canada’s Global Vision for the 21st Century. Much of the thought behind Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper’s initial foreign policy decisions can be found in Roy Rempel’s book, Dreamland: How Canada’s Pretend Foreign Policy Has Undermined Sovereignty. So we see that military personnel who can contribute to the policy dialogue at the academic level can integrate their perspectives into what has typically been an almost exclusively civilian domain. And in an era that celebrates, for better or for worse, the democratization of foreign and security policy, it is crucial that the military does not exclude itself from these discussions. Good academic writing is more than just writing. It is a process of critical thinking, research, and analysis that can only enhance an officer’s ability to do his or her job effectively. This book outlines a rigorous process of research and writing. It challenges practitioners to question unfounded assumptions, to differentiate between evidence and assertions, and to argue comprehensively and logically. These are transferable skills that become increasingly important as military personnel progress 2 Introduction: Why Read This Book? 00b-IntroMilitary:00b-Introduction 19/10/09 08:51 Page 2 in their careers and begin to operate at the strategic level more regularly. We envision a companion to this book devoted specifically to critical thinking in the military context—a text that emphasizes the transition from linear to non-linear thinking , explores the differences between the “verifiably true” and the “simply convincing,” and embraces the unknown as one of the keys to the learning process. That book, however, is a project for our successors. In the modern era, good academic writing skills have become an implicit requirement for senior...


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