Content, Style, and Communication


28 Οκτ 2013 (πριν από 4 χρόνια και 8 μήνες)

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Content, Style, and Communication

“Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can.
That is the only secret of style” (Matthew Arnold)

“You will discover that you can write more clearly once
you more clearly understand what you are writing about.”
(earlier edition of Williams)

“As we struggle to master new ideas, most of us write
worse than we do when we write about things we
understand better.

Why SF avoids separate content & writing grades

Reveal Ideas, Don’t Hide Them

C. W. Mills

“A turgid and polysyllabic
prose does seem to prevail in the social


It [the classical model] is a view that hinges on
everyone in the economy holding an affinity for

R: The classical model predicts that the economy
uses resources efficiently.


Ultimately, supply
side and demand
macroeconomics aim to achieve an analogous result.

R: Ultimately, supply
side and demand
macroeconomics aim to achieve the same result.

Good: “aim to achieve,” fairly active.

Michael Crichton (from
: “Some writers plump
up their prose to impress those who think that
complicated sentences indicate deep thinking.”

Fazzari’s Law: Writing is Research

Corollaries: Writing is understanding; writing is

Williams (the writing
understanding “

As [writers] rewrite that first draft into something clearer, they
understand their ideas better. And when they understand their
ideas better, they express them more clearly, and the more
clearly they express them, the better they understand them …
and so it goes, until they run our of energy, interest, or time.”

“Perfection is the ideal, but a barrier to done.”

Correctness and Choice

Grammar rules vs. writer

Need to write in modern English

Williams as liberator!


Safe blind obedience

Risky choice, more possible reward but chance of
coming across as a little careless or excessive

What is our level of confidence as writers

Careful with unusual word choices; look them up

1: Expressing Contrast

The classical model predicts the economy will always
operate at full employment. But U.S. data show that
many workers are unemployed in recessions .

The classical model …. However, U.S. data show …

The classical model …. U.S. data, however, show

Note how choice depends on objective

How strong do we want contrast to be?

Challenge to think consciously about your writing; not
just stream of consciousness

2: Split Infinitive

The price level adjusts to quickly close the gap between
actual and potential output.

Emphasizes “quickly
” and modifies “close”

The price level adjusts to close quickly the gap between
actual and potential output.

Seems awkward

The price level adjusts quickly to close the gap between
actual and potential output.

OK, but shifts emphasis from gap to price level.

to Follow

“Affect" is a verb and “effect" is a noun. Be careful.

No: The money supply effects the price level.

Yes: The money supply affects the price level.

Words have definitions: if you ignore them you do not communicate well

Use a hyphen to connect multi
word adjectives

This article discusses the short
run effects of monetary policy.

Improves clarity by identifying adjective phrases.

But: Monetary policy has real effects only in the short run.

Don’t get carried away:

Say’s Law is
a hard
profound feature of


Characters and Actions

Sentences are clearer when the main character is
the subject and the main action is the verb

Lesson 3: use verbs in sentences to convey primary

Lesson 4: associate subjects of sentences with
primary characters

Work on these things together: getting actions into
verbs often clarifies characters

Advice applies to clauses as well as full sentences

Actions and Characters: Example 1

side economists see increased saving as


Main character:
OK. But think about
“theory” as alternative.

Main action hidden in adjective

Verb “see” is ineffective and
. Who “sees” saving
? Get
main action into the verb.

R1: Supply
side economists

argue that

benefits the

Other verbs:

believe, predict

R2: According to supply
side theory, higher saving
raises investment and potential output

More information, but not too many more words; now sentence

higher saving “is beneficial”

Avoids creating somewhat distracting character (supply
economists); main noun “higher saving,” is main character

Actions and Characters: Example 2

side and demand
side macroeconomics both
utilize government policies to influence economic

R1: Supply
side and demand
side macroeconomic
theories both predict that government policy influences
economic activity.

Refine action. Theories
predict, they don’t “utilize”


In both
side and demand
macroeconomic theories, government policy influences
economic activity.

Shift of character from “theories” to “policy”

and Characters: Example 3

siders acknowledge activist policy as doing
more harm than good.

R1: Supply
siders argue that activist policy does
more harm than good.

“Argue” vs. “acknowledge:” issue of precision and strength. Does
“acknowledge” sound more academic because it is a big word?

doing;” clunky, awkward, clumsy. How to identify?

R2: Supply

reject activist

because it
the economy more than it

Better match between action and verb choice

Shift of character to supply

It Can Be Done!

If prices are “sticky,” then compensating
shifts in AS occur slowly and output actually
strays from the potential level for a time.

Terrific sentence from a 448 student paper

“Compensating shifts:” great choice of character

“Strays:” nice verb

Could shorten “the potential level” to just

Nominalization: Hiding Actions in Nouns

Higher saving causes a
in the interest
rate, which will lead to an

in investment,
will result

future output.

R1: Higher saving decreases the interest rate which
raises investment and future output.

Saves words. “Will result in” says next to nothing; “causes
a decrease” emphasizes causation, but word order in R1
implies causation in a more efficient structure.

“Raises” rather than “increases” for word variety.

R2: Higher saving causes the interest rate to fall
which raises investment and future output.

Keeps “cause,” but avoids nominalization.

Nominalization Example

Frictions such as sticky wages prevent
market clearing

from occurring

“Market clearing” is a noun phrase that substitutes
for an

“From occurring” awkward, “clunky”

R1: Frictions such as sticky wages prevent
markets from clearing.

R2: Because of frictions like sticky wages,
markets do not clear.

Note character shift between R1 and R2

Awkward Actions

Inefficient Sentences

The two models
end up with

different theories
to which

policies would

economic response.

R1: The two models lead to different policy

“End up” and “prompt” are poor action choices

“Effective economic response” is implicit in policy;
what else would we want?

R2: The two models recommend different

“Recommendation” is a nominalization, but do models

Techniques Apply in “Real World!”

From early version of Brown
Journal of Finance
paper: Mature firms have a
longer track record, allowing for easier

of true market values.

R: Mature firms have a longer track record,
investors to more easily assess
true market values.

Change nominalization to verb: assessment to assess.

Identify “hidden” character in original (“outside investors”).

What about split infinitive?

“That allows” vs. “allowing?”

Passive Voice Verbs

The economic analysis is sensible, although you
need to work harder to make sure that your
assertions are well supported and the logical links in
your analysis are clear.

The economic analysis is sensible, although you
need to work harder to support your assertions and
clarify the logical links in your analysis.

Character and action (you / support & clarify)

Passive verbs (forms of “to be,” is, are, was, were, has
been …)
are a signal that the
action in your sentence
possibly hidden

Oops! Passive verbs signal the possibility that your
sentence hides the action.

Precision and Accuracy in Word Choice

Use words that accurately describe the underlying

Know what
words (and concepts)

Careful application of economic concepts:

The production function defines how much output the given
labor supply

will produce.

classical model explains how
utility maximizing


determine equilibrium production and

Content: Logic and Causation

Words such as “since” and “because” imply logical causation.

The placement of ideas in a sentence or sequence of
sentences can imply causation.


interest rate

increases, firms

accumulate more
capital, and potential output rises.

Make sure logic is correct and clearly stated.

“Another way to reach potential output is with technology

With unemployment and lower demand, workers bid down the
nominal wage and firms cut prices to increase


** Say’s Law holds in the classical model because investment
equals saving

Law holds in the classical model because

investment absorbs
saving forthcoming at full employment

Finish Your Points

Do not assume the reader can fill in the blanks.

From a discussion of the Say’s Law process: “A decrease in
consumption, for example,
will result in an increase
This increase in
decrease the interest

rate in the
loanable funds market, causing an increase in investment.”
(32 words)

Good start, but finish the point. Why does higher investment help in this

Revision: A decrease in consumption, for example, raises
and lowers the interest

rate in the loanable funds
market. The
cost of capital falls

and investment rises
to fill the
demand gap

caused by lower consumption. (35 words that do
a lot more!)

Support Your Assertions

Make sure assertions and conclusions are
supported by previous analysis.

Comments such as “Why?” or “How?” often signal
this problem.

Develop points adequately. Are you
expecting too much from your readers? If
you can’t develop a point adequately, cut it.

Make Words Count


“Vague:” need to make point more concrete; try to
provide more specific information.

Perhaps you do not fully understand the underlying point.

Hiding lack of full understanding behind lots of words

Link all points you make to the main argument. If
they don’t tie in, they don’t belong in the essay.

Ex: “diminishing returns” in classical model essay.

Might link to profit
maximizing behavior through second
order conditions, but it would take a lot of words to develop
this secondary point. (If you can’t develop fully …)

Make Words Count


Avoid “metadiscourse” sentences that add little.

Example 1: In order to properly understand how this
equilibrium is brought about it is necessary to understand
the intuition behind the model. (21 words)

Example 2: In this brief essay, I will summarize the basic
theoretical results and driving factors of the classical
macroeconomic model.

Don’t share your full thought process with your
reader. The reader just needs to see the final result.


Think About Your Audience

Professor? (almost never the right audience
for student writing.)

Often not the right audience for research writing,
considering the narrow specialization of expertise.

Other students in class (often the right

Intelligent, but uninformed, public (news