Economics - General

Economical Writing

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.