Content, Style, and Communication

lizardgossypibomaManagement

Oct 28, 2013 (3 years and 10 months ago)

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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

quote:
“A turgid and polysyllabic
prose does seem to prevail in the social
sciences.”


Example:


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


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

Another
Example


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


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



Good: “aim to achieve,” fairly active.


Michael Crichton (from
Williams)
: “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
learning


Williams (the writing
-
understanding “
multiplier”):


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
choices


Need to write in modern English


Williams as liberator!


Strategies
:


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

Example
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



Example
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.


Rules
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
-
to
-
understand
-
but
-
profound feature of

classical
theory
.


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
actions


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


Supply
-
side economists see increased saving as

beneficial.


Main character:
“supply
-
side
economists
;”
OK. But think about
“theory” as alternative.


Main action hidden in adjective
“beneficial”


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


R1: Supply
-
side economists

argue that
higher
saving

benefits the
economy.


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
shows
how

higher saving “is beneficial”


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


Actions and Characters: Example 2


Supply
-
side and demand
-
side macroeconomics both
utilize government policies to influence economic
behavior.


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


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


R2:

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


Shift of character from “theories” to “policy”

Actions
and Characters: Example 3


Supply
-
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?


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


R2: Supply
-
siders

reject activist
policy

because it
hurts
the economy more than it
helps.


Better match between action and verb choice


Shift of character to supply
siders

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
“potential”

Nominalization: Hiding Actions in Nouns


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

in investment,
which
will result
in
increased

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.

Another
Nominalization Example


Frictions such as sticky wages prevent
market clearing

from occurring
.


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


“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
as
to which

policies would
prompt

an
effective
economic response.


R1: The two models lead to different policy
recommendations.


“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
policies.


“Recommendation” is a nominalization, but do models
“recommend?”

Techniques Apply in “Real World!”


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

of true market values.


R: Mature firms have a longer track record,
allowing
outside
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
is
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
concept.


Know what
words (and concepts)
mean!


Careful application of economic concepts:


The production function defines how much output the given
labor supply

will produce.


The
classical model explains how
utility maximizing

behaviors

determine equilibrium production and
employment
.

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.


The

interest rate
falls,

investment
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
aggregate

demand.


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


Say’s
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
in
saving.
This increase in
saving
will
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
example?


Revision: A decrease in consumption, for example, raises
saving
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
-

1


“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
-

2


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.


Revise!


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
choice)


Intelligent, but uninformed, public (news
articles).