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8 Conclusion At the beginning of this book, we indicated that our intention was to outline a rigorous process of research and writing. We aimed to introduce you to the academic environment by using examples from military personnel who have themselves published in academic journals and books. We also meant to present you with some of the basic knowledge and tools that you will need 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 in their careers and begin to operate at the strategic level more regularly. The one aspect of the military writing process that we have not yet covered is how to translate your professional expertise into credible academic research. Specifically, how can military officers utilize their personal experiences in the field to support an academic argument or, just as importantly, to test the practical application of an academic theory associated with a particular argument? This is a common challenge for our students in a staff college environment. We strongly encourage you to make academic use of your professional experiences—it would be foolish not to take advantage of relevant, first-hand (and therefore primary source) knowledge— but we urge you to do so in a way that will be academically credible. This means linking your experiences to other available evidence (when possible) and documenting them as clearly as possible. Be specific about places and dates, and verify your recollections whenever you can. We have found that explanatory footnotes can be helpful in this context. In a 2006 paper for our National Security Studies Programme, Colonel Mike Kampman described common criticisms of Canada’s 2005 Defence Policy Statement, noting that 121 8-ConclusionMilitary:08-Conclusion 19/10/09 08:32 Page 121 the statement appeared to have been more of a strategy than a policy . Instead of providing a series of references to contemporary newspapers or other potential sources of evidence, he then added a footnote: “As a member of the DPS 2005 writing team, the author has relied on personal knowledge and experience related to reactions to the document.”1 More recently, Captain (N) E. M. St-Jean noted in a course paper that health and safety issues had caused a number of work stoppages at RealityAssets in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He described the reasons for both the stoppages and their increasing frequency. Again, instead of citing a company report, he added a footnote: “Based on personal/professional experiences and observations of the author during his appointment as the Base Commander CFB Halifax, and many conversations with his counterpart the Base Commander CFB Esquimalt, during the period 2005–2007.”2 In both examples, the authors used their professional experience as a source of primary evidence. Although there are potential drawbacks to personal recollections—particularly if they cannot be verified—first-hand experience is nonetheless a significant and positive addition to an academic argument that often provides insights that standard academic research cannot. With this positive sentiment comes a note of caution. Always keep in mind the difference between explanation and advocacy. Both have a place in academic writing, but they are not the same. The most significant difference can be found in your research question . Consider the following: What motivated the Canadian government to publish a national security policy in 2004? Did the Canadian government publish a useful national security policy in 2004? The first question calls for explanation. The goal of the author should be to determine all the possible reasons that might have 122 Conclusion 8-ConclusionMilitary:08-Conclusion 19/10/09 08:32 Page 122 led to the policy’s release and then to determine which one(s) is (are) the most convincing. The second question asks the author to pass specific judgment on the policy. Was it useful or not? Writers answering the first question must avoid producing an expository: if they are not careful, they might end up listing all the government’s possible motivations without reaching a conclusion as to their relative importance. Writers answering the second question must avoid producing a rant. If they have strong opinions on the question before they begin their research, it is possible that they might overlook evidence that contradicts their preconceived ideas. Both traps can be avoided by staying focused on a few key themes stressed throughout this book: • Academic essays must include a clear argument. • That argument must be supported by well-documented, credible...


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