Salty: Old guy, what do you think of the writing in Proceedings?
Ancient Mariner: Usually an A for content, Salty. Innovative ideas from those coming up through the ranks and even sometimes from elder statesmen.
Salty: What about the writing itself?
Ancient Mariner: The words of Truman Capote come to mind: “That’s not writing, it’s typing.”
Salty: That’s a bit cryptic. What do you really think?
Ancient Mariner: Too often the writing is dense and hard to digest. Some spritely stuff, especially the Naval Institute Blog. But much is stolid and soggy—dense blocks of text that take determination to penetrate.
Salty: You mean “get off my lawn?” Are you just an old guy saying kids these days can’t write?
Ancient Mariner: No. This is not about generations. Forever our professional journal has had trouble with writers who equate rank to writing ability; ignore style and readability; and grind out long paragraphs with strings of multisyllabic words.
Salty: I agree. Why don’t we join forces with advice for budding Proceedings writers?
Salty and Ancient Mariner: Here we go.
Eschew Big Words and Long Sentences.
You’re not just writing, you’re communicating. Make it interesting enough to infiltrate the minds of your readers without struggle on their part. For example, which would you prefer?
In your role as mammal observer, apply your optical abilities to take visual cognizance of Spot, a small furry quadruped of canine type and domestic lineage as he perambulates through your field of vision. Or . . . See Spot run.
Write to be Read.
Push your good ideas in plain English. Unless you’re writing a scholarly text on string theory, aim for high school—or even middle school—reading level. Be brief, be brilliant, and don’t bury the lead. Use “bottom line up front.” Naval professionals have strayed from tight communications such as “Underway on nuclear power,” and “Sighted sub, sank same.” Brevity should be in our blood, our radio comms, and in our writing. Stop crushing your readers under tons of words. Do what Blaise Pascal didn’t: take time to write a shorter letter.
It doesn’t matter how important your message is, if no one receives it. Win the battle for the reader’s time and attention with good writing and tough editing. Get a good draft, and then continue to trim, edit, and revise until you’re certain you can capture the reader with convincing logic in a sound sequence of ideas presented in an easy-to-read style.
Competition for eyes and ears has exploded in the internet age. Proceedings is no longer the only game for Sea Service professionals. The Institute can’t stop evolving. It must continue adapting in mode and voice. Millennials and Gen Z, you are the audience of the future. Help the Institute do this. As short-form social-media converge on traditional forms, join the Institute to bring new ideas, instruments, and formats into the open forum.
If You’re Gonna be a Bear, be a Grizzly!
Political scientist Susan George said, “If we make no enemies, we should question the worth of our work.”
Lieutenant General Brad Hosmer wrote, “Never be afraid to take risks with ideas.” Be a voice in your profession. Don’t sweat the elephants. Embrace risk and accountability as professional virtues.
Ancient Mariner: Final thoughts?
Salty: Good stuff, shipmate. We agree that Proceedings writers would serve their ideas and their readers by trying harder to write better and communicate more effectively.
Ancient Mariner: Amen, brother. And perhaps the editorial team might raise its standards a bit too: good to great.
Salty: Been fun, old captain.
Ancient Mariner: Yes, it has. Be well. Take good care of my Navy.
Salty: Will do. Now excuse me, I’ve got to get back to playing Fortnite.