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Goldin and Katz: The Ten Most Important Rules of Writing

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Nov• 06•09

Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz have a nice list of the Ten Most Important Rules of Writing Your Job Market Paper.  However, these tips can be used for almost any type of non-fiction writing.  Some of my favorites include:

Rule #1: You will probably not have a Nobel Prize winning idea.

  • Theorem #1: It is always possible to transform a good idea into a great paper and a superb presentation.
  • Theorem #2: Even if your idea is Nobel-worthy, you can always make it into a poorly written paper and a lousy presentation. This theorem will probably never be needed; see Rule #1.

Rule #3: Your paper is an exercise in persuasion (we mean in positive not normative economics). Your readers are your audience. They have better things to do than read your paper. Make them interested in your thesis and convinced of your argument.

Rule #4: No great paper—no matter how well constructed, brilliant, and well written—first emerged from the author’s printer in that form. It was rewritten at least 10 times. Rewriting is the true art of writing.

Rule #5: No author—no matter how careful and humble—can see all (or even most) of his or her writing errors. Trade papers with another student. Be tough; there will be some initial pain, but gratitude will follow.

Rule #6: Most paragraphs have too many sentences and most sentences have too many words. Repetition is boring. We repeat: repetition is boring. Cut, cut, and then cut again.

Rule #8: Verbalizing your argument is more difficult than writing it. Giving a presentation will reveal where your argument falls flat and will show you how to redraft the paper. Give many presentations before sending out your paper. Give them to a workshop, friends, a dog or cat, even the wall. The presentation will force you to confront inconsistencies in your argument.

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