Writing for Proceedings

Feature Submissions

Department Submissions


How to Write for Proceedings (helpful hints from one who has been there)

Ten Commandments for Proceedings Writers


    Proceedings, the flagship magazine of the U.S. Naval Institute, aims to stimulate, illuminate, provoke, and, when appropriate, entertain. We offer an independent forum for discussion and debate (sometimes heated) on professional topics of interest to the Sea Services. We are not an organ of the Navy, Marine Corps, or any other organization or institution, public or private. We are supportive, however, of the Sea Services and their mission.
    Our audience, first and foremost, are the men and women of the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine. But over the 140 years of our existence that audience has swelled to include members of the Army and the Air Force as well as the broader national security community.
    If you have something to say or a story to tell, we want you to write for us. We have no editorial point of view beyond our belief in a strong national defense. We encourage constructive controversy and we will publish articles that take on the conventional wisdom if you can make the case for change. We have two unbending rules: (1) No personal attacks. (2) Don’t bore our readers. There’s a third rule we enforce with a degree of discretion: (3) Avoid acronyms, jargon, buzzwords, and bloated titles.
    We welcome queries and unsolicited manuscripts, preferably as Microsoft Word attachments to emails sent to articlesubmissions@usni.org, as well as suggestions for ways to illustrate your article. Send illustrations and graphics as separate attachments, not embedded in the article. Please provide word counts, counting and not counting footnotes. Our fax number is (410)-295-1049. If using U.S. mail, send submissions to the address below and, if possible, include a compact disk containing the article and any proposed images:

Editor-in-Chief, Proceedings
U.S. Naval Institute,
291 Wood Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5034

   Your submission will be considered by the editorial staff of Proceedings and by the Editorial Board, which reviews articles on a monthly basis. This deliberate peer review process can take up to 8-10 weeks for a publishing decision, depending on where we are in the monthly review cycle when we receive your article. You can expect further communication from us in that time frame accepting or regretfully rejecting the submission. We endeavor to publish accepted articles in a timely fashion. If we are unable to publish a submission within six months of acceptance, we will gladly revert rights to the author so that they may explore other options.
   Here are the guidelines for the types of articles we publish (maximum lengths, strictly adhered to except in special circumstances, are in parentheses):

Feature articles (3,000 words, not including end notes) These pieces deal with major issues facing the Sea Services, are instructive, accessible, offer fresh ways of looking at military matters, or describe situations and circumstances of which military professionals should be aware. Features are aimed at all members of our audience in the belief that, in an era of jointness, Marines need to know what the Navy is doing, etc. As Proceedings is a professional journal, it is expected that proper citation (either within the text or in an end note) will be given, where necessary, to make clear the source of a particular fact, figure, or assertion included in your article.

Now Hear This/Nobody Asked Me, But…(750 words) Both these columns are commentaries, that is, the views of our readers on issues that matter to the national security community. A NHT normally addresses a weighty issue; the latter also takes on an important matter but more often at the level of every day concerns. A NAMB often employs a lighter writing style to make its point. Both often challenge conventional thinking on an issue of consequence.

Comment and Discussion (500 words) The equivalent of Letters to the Editor, C&Ds are commentaries on articles that have run in Proceedings over the previous few months. This department is where our Independent Forum really gets a workout and, fittingly, it has its own email address, commentanddiscussion@usni.org.

Professional Notes (1,500 words) This department, the oldest in the magazine and among the most popular, is the place for tips, advice, and instruction on shiphandling, small unit tactics, organization, training, or other more technical matters. Think of this as the “how-to” section of Proceedings. It is also the place for identifying specific problems or issues, explaining them clearly, and then promoting a solution or urging that one be found.

Book Reviews (700 words) All book reviews are commissioned by the editorial staff to ensure a reviewer is knowledgeable about the subject of the book and has no direct connection to the author. If you would like to review books for Proceedings, send a brief email to Book Review Editor Maura McCarthy,
mmccarthy@usni.org, describing your writing experience and the subjects you feel qualified to write about.

Anecdotes (300 words) Short, amusing, tasteful tales about Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and Merchant Mariners.

Reminder Except in special circumstances word lengths given above are strictly adhered to.

Payment We pay on publication. Fees vary. Nonmembers published in Proceedings receive a complimentary one-year membership in the Naval Institute. Members receive a one-year extended membership.

With all submissions, please supply your home and office phone numbers and emails, your return address, your Social Security number, and a short biography (2-3 sentences). If you mail your submission and would like it returned, please include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

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Tips on Writing

Even the most professional authors rely on simple techniques such as these to make their writing clean, direct, and accurate.

  • Don't overprove your thesis.
  • Make a production schedule. Block out a daily quota of pages to be written. Start writing by getting something down on paper. It may be rough and unorganized, but you can refine it later. The point is, get started.
  • Check all data, particularly dates, figures, and proper names, against the original documents.
  • Keep your sentences short; one independent and one dependent clause are usually enough.
  • Try to use the active, not passive, mode. This may come hard for those who have drafted a lot of official correspondence.
  • Strive for clarity and vigor in every paragraph. If you bore the reader, he may quit reading.
  • Generally, it is best to use a topic sentence for each paragraph.
  • Assume that the reader is intelligent but knows little of your topic.
  • Avoid naval jargon. Many Proceedings readers are civilians or live in foreign countries. If you must use acronyms, define them parenthetically, e.g., sea line of communication (SLOC). You may safely use SLOC in subsequent paragraphs but not too far apart. If you use dates, include the year, e.g., 12 July 1986. Otherwise, your reader will flounder.
  • Add color and readability to your account by weaving in people's quoted remarks. Personalities spark your reader's interest.
  • Document your evidence with footnotes, if necessary. They also allow your readers to follow up on your findings.
  • If possible, send photos, maps, sketches, graphs, or tables to flesh out your article.
  • Avoid abstract concepts; stay with the concrete.
  • Where convenient, use subheadings about every six paragraphs. They give the reader a set of signposts and prevent the boredom of facing page after page of solid print.
  • Smooth any abrupt transitions between paragraphs. Your story should flow evenly.
  • Read your finished article aloud to pick up repetition or awkwardness.
  • Have a friend read it for comprehension and clarity.
  • Before you finish your final draft, you will have sacrificed paragraphs that you are loath to delete. Accept these deletions as part of the game in writing an article.
  • Submit your manuscript double-spaced, with wide margins and mark it clearly with your address and telephone number.

Finally, all seagoing service professionals who have thought of writing an article should rest assured that the Proceedings editors will assist you. They'll see to it that your piece achieves the editorial refinement that your ideas deserve.

Ten Commandments for Proceedings Writers

By Captain John Byron, U.S. Navy (Retired)

  1. Write what you know. Don't waste your reader's time with casual opinion. Stick to subjects in which you have expertise.
  2. Stake out intellectual territory. Put forward a clear, forceful point of view. Leave no doubt of what you think.
  3. Aim your writing at a specific audience. Spanning the interests of the entire Proceedings readership in a single piece is difficult. Focus your writing. Be clear whom you expect to reach with your words.
  4. Learn to write well. Study writing. Find a set of simple writing rules that make sense to you and stick to them. Make the labor of authorship invisible to the reader.
  5. Don't let words mask ideas. Write in a simple style. Avoid cute phrasing that gets between the reader and the point you are making.
  6. Keep it short. Be kind to your readers. Make every word count. When you've made your points, shut up.
  7. Edit ruthlessly. Nobody gets it just right the first time. Keep editing until you can't make the piece better.
  8. Work with your editor. Discuss the piece beforehand. Look at the edited version before it goes to the printer.
  9. Take responsibility for your words. Don't let anyone steer you off what you really believe. Be pleased to have your name on the piece.
  10. Be a purple-suiter. If you can't convince yourself that your writing will be positive for our nation and its security, don't write it.
  11. And one more…Don't be a wimp. If it needs said, say it. The system respects creative thinkers who speak new truths.

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