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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.

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Presentation on theme: "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."— Presentation transcript:

1 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.” Experience in 448W  Good writing leads to good learning  Avoided separate content & writing grades

2 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 implies that the economy uses resources efficiently. Possible verb choices: shows, demonstrates, predicts, asserts

3 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.”

4 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.”

5 Correctness and Choice Grammar rules vs. writer choices  Need to write in modern English But Williams as liberator from rigid rules 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: “predicates” (to affirm or assert)

6 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

7 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.

8 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.  R: Say’s Law is hard to understand, but it is a profound feature of classical theory

9 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

10 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

11 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 the action; make it more precise. 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”

12 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 (“reject”)  Shift of character to supply siders

13 Actions and Characters: Example 4 Labor demand is set at the firm level R1: Firms set labor demand  Make true character of the idea (“firms”) the subject of the sentence  Avoids passive voice verb R2: Firms choose employment to maximize profits  A few more words, but more descriptive verb (“choose”) and more information for the reader

14 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”

15 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.

16 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

17 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?”

18 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?”

19 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.

20 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.

21 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.

22 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!)

23 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.

24 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 …)

25 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!

26 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).


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