Soldiers have their gun, musicians their instrument and economists their pen. Deft writing can elucidate the most esoteric economic ideas; poor writing is boring and impenetrable. Although few realize it, writing is the economist’s trade.
Deirdre McClosky’s Economical Writing is an entertaining, practical guide for any social scientist. Below is a list of some the book’s quotable insights.
- “The big secret in economics is that good writing pays well and bad writing pays poorly.”
- “Poincaré’s good French and Einstein’s good German early in the twentieth century were no small contributors to their influence on mathematics and physics.”
- “The reader like the consumer is sovereign.”
- “The teachable trick is getting a first draft. Don’t wait until the research is done to begin writing because writing, to repeat, is a way of thinking.”
- “If you change the typeface of your draft, you will see it in a new light.”
- Read your work out loud.
- “At the end of a session, or at any substantial break, always write down your thoughts, however vague, on what will come next.”
- “A writer must entertain if she is to be read.”
- “Use titles for diagrams that state their theme, such as ‘All conferences should happen in the Midwest’ instead of ‘A Model of Transport Costs.'”
- “Footnotes should guide a reader to sources. That’s all.”
- “English achieves coherence by repetition, not by signal. Repeat and your paragraphs will cohere.”
- “What is written without effort is generally read without pleasure” – Dr. Samuel Johnson
- “…the object is not to write so the reader can understand but so that she cannot possibly misunderstand.”
- “Weak writers these days use too many commas.”
- “In revision the trick is to delete most commas before ‘the’…”
- “The most important rule of rearrangement is that the end of the sentence is the place of emphasis.”
- “The imperative is a good substitute for the passive, especially for taking a reader through mathematical arguments: ‘then divide both sides by x’ instead of ‘both sides are then divided by x.'”
- “…Be concrete. A singular word is more concrete than a plural (compare ‘Singular words are more concrete than plurals.”
- “The rule is to query every ‘this’ or ‘these.’ Take most of these out.”
- “Be clear.”
I highly recommend this book to any social scientist.
- McCloskey, Deirdre N, 2nd ed. (2000) Economical Writing, Waveland Press Inc., Long Grove, IL, 98 pages.