Thursday, February 11, 2010

Economic Writing by Donald McCloskey

"Writing resembles mathematics. If mathematics is a language, an instrument of communication, so too is language a mathematics, an instrument of thought"

"...Churchill, a politician of note who wrote English well, knew how to handle [...] the editor who meddled with a preposition-ended sentence: This is the sort of impertinence up with which I will not put.

The rule of clearness is not to write so that the reader can understand, but so that he cannot possibly misunderstand."

McCLoskey advices to have cards 4x6 and a dictionary at hand.The cards should be used to record atomistic ideas: Do not let the insight of a moment pass, do not commit ideas to memory. He recommends reading sentences out loud: "try to imitate some way of speaking that Dennis or Maynard had." Also, pick someone for whom to write.

"To overcome academic prose you have first to overcome academic pose" (Mills, 1961)

"Writing would be better if more of us saw economics as a way of organizing thoughts and perceptions about economic life rather than as a poor imitation of physics" (Solow, 1984). There is nothing unscientific in self-depreciating jokes about the sample, and nothing unscholarly in dry wit about the failings of intellectual opponents."

English achieves coherence by repetition, repeat and your paragraphs will cohere. Use structure (AB)(BC)(CD), not linking words like indeed, furthermore, therefore, we leave this to ciceronian latin and colloquial Greek.

Elegant variation is invariably inelegant

The most important rule of rearrangement is that the end of the sentence is the place of emphasis

Never request the reader to look back, don't distract him footnotes.

Secret codes use the principle that translation is often easier in one direction than the other. A reads finds it harder to translate abstractions down into concrete examples than to translate examples up into abstract principles. Consequently, much economic writing reads like a code. Be concrete. Authors think in concrete ideas. Ironically, these are usually encoded it in symbols only for the reader to decode it.

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