February 2024:
Coordinators provide names of judges to NDU Press.

April 2024:
Deadline for schools to submit nominated papers to NDU Press (POC: Jeff Smotherman,

May 2024:
Judges report first-round scores to NDU Press.

May 2024:
Judges attend final-round conference at NDU.


For further information, please contact:

Jeff Smotherman
Managing Editor

Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Essay Competition Rules

  1. Eligibility
  2. Topics
  3. Essay Categories and Word Count
  4. Judging Process
  5. Format
  6. Judging Criteria
  7. Security Classification
  8. Submission of Entries
  9. Publication Rights
  10. Coordinators and Judges
  11. Intellectual Integrity
  12. Judges and Number of Entries Permitted for each College/School

  1. ELIGIBILITY:  Students from the following participating institutions may submit essay entries: Intermediate or senior PME/JPME schools including senior Service colleges, intermediate and advanced schools, NDU colleges (National War College, Eisenhower School, College of International Security Affairs, College of Information and Cyberspace, and Joint Forces Staff College); Naval Postgraduate School; and Service research program fellows via their Service colleges and universities.

    Essays must be original, not previously published, and completed during the academic year (2023-2024). Entries cannot be submitted for publication to any other journal or academic press concurrent with these competitions. Two or more students may coauthor an entry. Foreign students enrolled in eligible institutions may compete. An individual student may only submit one entry into one category of the competition. If an individual student submits an entry into multiple categories, only one entry will be considered.  
  2. TOPICS: Students may write on any aspect of U.S. national security strategy-addressing the coherent employment of diplomatic, informational, military, and economic instruments of power to achieve strategic ends. Essays with a joint, interagency, or integrated operations emphasis, as well as those addressing nontraditional security issues, are encouraged. 
    1. The SECDEF National Security Essay Competition:
      1. National Security Research Essay: Maximum 8,000 words. This category has been the mainstay of past SECDEF competitions and encourages in-depth research, analysis, and critical thinking on general national security strategy topics.
    2. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff National Defense and Military Strategy Essay Competition includes:
      1. Strategic Research Essay: Maximum 5,000 words. This category has been the mainstay of past CJCS competitions and encourages in-depth research, analysis, and critical thinking on general defense and military security topics.
      2. Strategy Article: Maximum 1,500 words. This category is similar in length to many current JPME course papers. It should be a scholarly but tightly focused research paper.
  4. JUDGING PROCESSStudents do not submit entries directly to NDU Press; entries must be submitted through their appropriate college/school. Each participating college/school is responsible for establishing and executing independent methodologies for selecting papers to nominate for the essay competitions. Once essays are submitted to NDU Press, no editing or revision is allowed. The essays so nominated are designated semifinalists. Two rounds of joint judging then occur.
    1. Semifinalists are evaluated by judges via the Internet to determine the finalists. NDU Press determines judges’ assignments based on a maximum number of reasonably achievable readings during the limited time period. To ensure fairness while achieving the maximum number of readings per paper, judges will not read papers from their own schools, nor will they read the same papers in the final round.
    2. Finalists are evaluated by the judges during the 2-day conference at Fort McNair, NDU headquarters, resulting in winners in each category. 
    3. College coordinators should ensure that judges are prepared to evaluate approximately 20–25 essays during the first (Internet) round lasting 1–1/2 to 2 weeks, and then to travel to Fort McNair for the final round of judging (2 days). The same judges should participate in both rounds of judging.
  5. FORMAT: An entry will consist of a title page, biography, and the text proper.
    1. The title page should contain the title only—no name, rank, Service, or college affiliation.
    2. The biography immediately follows the title page. It should be no more than 1 page and should include student's name, rank, Service/department, and current college/school, as well as recent assignments, academic credentials, and (if known) future contact information. During judging, the biography is removed and a code is assigned to make papers completely anonymous.
    3. Word counts will be strictly enforced.
      1. NDU Press will calculate word count upon receipt of essay entries, using the automatic word count feature provided in Microsoft Word. Entries not meeting the word count requirements will be disqualified; the submitting college will be promptly informed of any disqualifications. If an entry is disqualified on the basis of word count, the student has the option to revise the entry and re-submit within 24 hours. 
      2. In calculating word counts, the following elements will be included: the basic text of the essay; epigraphs and any other quotations in the beginning, body, and end of text; bullet lists, text boxes, and the like; and headings or subheadings within the text.
      3. In calculating word counts, the following elements will not be included: title page, table of contents (if any), biography, tables, illustrations, endnotes/footnotes, appendices, and bibliographies.
      4. Endnotes are preferred but footnotes are acceptable. Although endnotes/footnotes will not count in the overall word count, discursive or explanatory endnotes/footnotes—as opposed to source endnotes/footnotes—are discouraged. Main points should be made in the text proper. Reliance on discursive or explanatory endnotes/footnotes may be considered bad form and judges may downgrade essays that make repeated use of such notes.
    4. Appendices are discouraged. In lieu of an appendix, essential supplementary material can be quoted in the text and cited in an endnote/footnote. Bibliographies will be stripped from the paper. In evaluating use of sources, judges will focus on endnotes/footnotes, not bibliographies.
    5. The text should follow the format of a scholarly research paper (not a bullet paper, talking paper, PowerPoint briefing, etc.):
      1. If possible, use the Chicago Manual of Style (17th edition) or Turabian, A Manual for Writers (8thedition) for overall style and format including endnotes/footnotes. If these style guides are not available, use your college’s house style; in endnotes/footnotes, include complete information for publications in a uniform format. In all cases, strive for consistency of style. No essays will be downgraded for style per se, but an inconsistent or unclear style can be distracting and detract from overall quality.
      2. Essays must be submitted by each school coordinator in electronic form in Word format. Files should not contain desktop-publishing embellishments or macros. Please limit formatting to italics, bold, underline, bullet, or numbered lists.
  6. JUDGING CRITERIA: Judges will evaluate essays using the standards of quality that they apply to traditional academic writing, with emphasis on the following:
    1. Innovation: Does the essay inject new thinking into the collective governance of national security institutions? Does the essay demonstrate a unique approach and/or improve current initiatives? Does the essay take new lessons from history?
    2. Feasibility: Is the concept practical and plausible? Does the essay propose a project or concept that could realistically be applied to government?
    3. Clarity of Thought and Purpose: Does the essay clearly define a problem and present a solution? Does it show thoughtful analysis?
    4. Persuasiveness: Is the essay logically organized, well written, and persuasive?
  7. SECURITY CLASSIFICATION: Only unclassified essays are eligible. Each college is responsible to ensure that manuscripts do not contain classified information. Winning essays and other entries selected for NDU Press publication will undergo Office of the Secretary of Defense security and policy review before publication and release.
  8. SUBMISSION OF ENTRIES: Each school coordinator submits to NDU Press electronic copies of all nominated essays in each category not later than Friday, April 19, 2024. There is no requirement for schools to submit the maximum number of papers in each category.
  9. PUBLICATION RIGHTS: NDU Press reserves first publication rights for all essays submitted to the competition. Winners and other selected essays will appear in both print and electronic editions of Joint Force Quarterly.
    1. Submission of an essay to this contest will be considered acceptance by the author of this publication policy.
    2. Essays may not be entered in the competitions if they have previously been submitted for publication, accepted for publication, or published in another printed or electronic journal, book, or other publication. 
    3. JFQ will release rights for essays not selected for publication to authors and their associated colleges/schools by July 1, 2024. Authors selected for publication will be notified by this date.
  10. COORDINATORS AND JUDGES: Each college is asked to appoint a senior faculty coordinator and faculty representative(s) to act as judges at NDU. Coordinators may also be judges. NDU Press requests that coordinators submit judge names and contact information no later than March 25, 2024. For the semifinal (Internet) and final (NDU) rounds, the intermediate- and senior-level colleges appoint two judges each. Other colleges and advanced Service schools and Joint Forces Staff College provide one representative each. Each Service will ensure an appropriate path for research fellows' submissions to be judged along with their peers from the equivalent level institution. NDU Press will establish contact and a network of coordinators/judges/POCs to exchange information and answer questions. The panel of judges evaluates semifinalist essays and returns scores via email. At NDU, the judges conduct the final round of evaluation for each category of essay. Winners will be selected based on highest average scores of the semifinal and final rounds. Senior NDU Press staff will act as tiebreakers/arbiters, as required. The NDU President or designated representative will certify winners before official notification. NDU Press will notify college coordinators when the winners are confirmed. College coordinators are responsible for notifying their winners and facilitating the presentation of awards and certificates to winners and finalists.
  11. INTELLECTUAL INTEGRITY: To ensure a fair and rigorous competition, colleges/schools are expected to be self-policing in the following areas:
    1. Essays must be submitted by students. Faculty or staff cannot submit a student paper without the student’s knowledge.
    2. No editing is allowed once competition begins. Students are not permitted to edit their papers once each school begins its own internal judging for semifinalists (i.e., school nominees).
    3. Under no circumstances may a faculty member edit, correct, or change a paper once submitted by the student. However, during the college’s/school’s internal evaluation process, faculty may advise a student if an entry exceeds the word count and afford the student the opportunity to reduce the essay to meet limits. The student—not the faculty—must perform the necessary work to reduce the word count accordingly.



Judges College/School SECDEF National Strategy Essay CJCS Strategy Article CJCS Strategic Research Paper 
2 National WC 4 4
2 ES 4 4 4
2 CIC 4 4 4
2 CISA 4 4 4
2 JFSC 4 4 4
2 JAWS 4 4 4
2 US Army WC 4 4 4
2 CGSC 4 4 4
2 SAMS 4 4 4
2 MCWC 4 4 4
2 MCSC 4 4 4
2 MC DL 4 4 4
2 SAW 4 4 4
2 Air WC 4 4 4
2 AU eSchool 4 4 4
2 ACSC 4 4 4
2 USU 4 4 4
2 SAASS 4 4 4
2 Naval Senior 4 4 4
2 Naval Junior 4 4 4
2 Naval PGS 4 4 4