Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 15:16 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 15:16 | SYDNEY

Smartening up military writing

19 March 2010 09:01

James Brown is a Lowy Institute intern. He has worked as an ADF officer and completed his Masters in Strategic Studies in 2009. These are his personal views.

Military officers are easily typecast as unthinking and uncritical. In Australia we have done little to bust that stereotype, having few warrior-academics in the league of General David Petraeus. Serving military officers are notably absent from public discourse on defence and national security strategy.

But recent articles in the Australian Army Journal suggest that a quiet revolution in Australia's military thinking may be underway.

The Australian Army Journal itself has been something of a revolution for the ADF. Ten years ago Australia's professional military journal seemed like little more than a clearing house for articles begrudgingly written by senior officers as part of their checklist for promotion. Coinciding with both the appointment of Peter Leahy as Chief of Army and with the increase in operational tempo of the Australian Army, the Australian Army Journal was revived in 2003 with a mandate to develop professional military debate.

Writing in the most recent edition, Lieutenant Colonel Richard King looks at critical underlying factors in the way Army officers think, speak, and more importantly write. He concludes that problems in Army's thinking culture 'result in officers expressing forceful, persuasive, but dull opinions and ideas that are given greater credibility than they deserve'.

To prove his point, King uses the Flesch-Kincaid method of determining ease of reading and applies it to Army documents that explain the recent Adaptive Army initiative, which plans to make Australia's army 'the best small Army in the world', according to the current Chief of Army. The Flesch-Kincaid method analyses a document and provides a score that indicates ease of readability. Flesch-Kincaid also identifies how many years of education would be required to understand what is being read.

The Adaptive Army documents fail on both counts, requiring the reader to possess between 4 and 7 years of university education just to understand what they are reading. This is problematic for a document that aims to drive cultural change in an organisation with an average education level at the Year 10 mark. For anyone who has ever read current Australian military publications the news that they are dense and incomprehensible will come as no surprise.

It is promising that not only can King write an article titled 'How Stupid Are We?' without being lynched by his military peers, but that he is part of an internal Army project called 'Towards a Smarter Army'. The ADF's tempo of the past decade may be producing more officers who understand that broad thinking and simple communications are required to solve military problems. This can only help in improving Australia's military thinking for both our Defence Force and those who work with it.

Photo by Flickr user Mark78_xp, used under a Creative Commons license.