The enigmatic economist lays down the law for how to write about technical topics in a readable style. In , McCloskey published Economical Writing , a paper encouraging fellow economists to be more clear in their academic writing. Economic writers too often will swap and re-swap horses in midstream. The trick is dangerous and, in a technical sense, inefficient. So speak directly to the people who do.
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Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Economical Writing by Deirdre N. Economical Writing by Deirdre N. A valuable short guide for mastering the craft of academic writing! Students and young professionals who care about direct, clear expression should read this lucid, delightful gem by an author who practices what she advises.
McCloskey s systematic treatment provides a range of insights and practical advice for better writing by scholars in every field. Get A Copy. Hardcover , Second Edition , 98 pages. Published January 1st by Waveland Press first published May More Details Original Title. Other Editions 4. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Economical Writing , please sign up. Lists with This Book.
Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Start your review of Economical Writing. Two spaces after a comma is barbaric This deserves four stars, but lost one due to the completely baffling decision to advise readers to include two spaces after a comma. A review of Economical Writing by Deirdre McCloskey There is a certain paradox inherent in the "style manual": Legislating style is like legislating personality.
If we all followed such manuals to the letter, we'd all sound alike, and the world would be a boring place indeed. There are on the other hand certain useful things one can say, just as there are certain personality types we can all agree are unhealthy e. There are certain ways of writing that clearly do not work, and it may be useful to discuss them.
Economical Writing walks this line fairly well on the whole. Some of the advice is general enough to be applicable for almost anyone.
Three suggestions that seemed particularly good are "write not so that you can be understood, but so that you cannot be misunderstood", "revise heavily", and "visualize your target audience".
Then again, they are nothing new; I had read them many times before and I expect to read them again in the future.
The book is also very short, which for a style manual is especially important; the longer you spend pontificating about how other people should write, the more likely you are to collapse into the role of the curmudgeon, telling those damn kids to keep off his lawn. Languages change! Indeed, one change I'm noticing even in formal writing is that older generations are uncomfortable writing numbers as, well, numbers; they want us to use ludicrous circumlocutions like "twenty-seven point eight percent" instead of the much more readable " I've been graded down for this on occasion, and it always annoys me.
For the record, McCloskey also seems to think we should write out our numbers as words, and gives equally little justification. Perhaps we millennials have become so accustomed to reading numerals in our text—even where it arguably doesn't belong, like "inb4" and "stop h8"—that it seems positively baffling to us to not use a number when a number is obviously what you mean. Obviously if I were to start writing "l8r" and "" my writing would seem too informal; but what, exactly, is the problem with " Speaking of ludicrous circumlocutions, McCloskey is adamantly opposed to all Latinate vocabulary; therefore I should have apparently written this sentence as follows: "Talking about silly ways of talking your words into knots, McCloskey really doesn't like words that come from Latin, so I guess I should have written this sentence this way:" The above is a translated Quine.
Who sounds informal now? To be fair, there are many abuses of jargon and sesquipedalian vocabulary should I say "five-dollar words" as McCloskey does? Is that inflation-adjusted by the way? Some jargon should probably be deprecated, like "heteroskedasticity" isn't "non-constant variance" much more straightforward? Exempli gratia doesn't really add much that "for example" wouldn't, but a priori is pretty hard to get around the best I've seen is simply to use "prior", which barely cloaks the Latin.
McCloskey also objects to two other constructions I use quite frequently, namely the parenthetical remark like this—and this dash variant I'm sure you've also seen me use and the emphatic italic. While I must admit I probably do overuse them, they are nonetheless tremendously useful. Surely if it has a LaTeX command it cannot always be inappropriate for scientific papers. Personally I find that if I'm reading a long text and the writer never feels passionate enough to italicize something at least once every page or two, I begin to get the sense that they don't really care about what they are saying, and if they were to lecture on the subject it would be in some kind of robotic monotone.
I guess I don't really get that impression from McCloskey, so perhaps there is a way around it Near the end of the book McCloskey really jumps off the rails, venturing into curmudgeon territory. She takes an eliminativist stance on folk economics, which is every bit as bizarre and every bit as aggravating as when cognitive scientists take an eliminativist stance on folk psychology. I shall quote her at length: Everyone, economist or not, comes equipped with a vocabulary for the economy. It might be called Ersatz Economics.
In Ersatz Economics, prices start by "skyrocketing. A consumer can "afford" medical care, maybe only "barely afford" it, "needs" housing and views food as a "basic necessity". Business people maintain their "profit margins", probably "obscene" or "unwarranted," by "passing along" a higher wage, which causes workers to demand still higher wages, in a "spiral.
Is there something illegitimate about saying that housing prices "skyrocketed" in , only to "plummet" in ? If so, what is it? And God forbid we talk about issues of fairness or justice or exploitation ; economics has no place for such petty human concerns I suppose.
And who really needs housing, right? Shelter is only one of the fundamental survival needs of the Maslow hierarchy. And speaking of those, what nonsense is this "basic necessity"?
Shameless plug for my forthcoming paper "Markets fail to maximize utility in the presence of wealth disparity". Business owners themselves talk about "profit margins" usually mentioned in shareholder reports , and would probably be baffled that you have a problem with the term. The WTO formally characterizes certain low-price trade practices as "dumping". I cannot fathom in the least what your objection to "priorities" would be; economics is in some sense entirely about the prioritization of goals given resources.
And did you really mean to say that unions and corporations do not have bargaining power? The entire literature on bilateral monopoly begs to differ. Yes, the folk knowledge does get some things wrong; the "cheap foreign labor" narrative is overly simplistic, and the "collapsing industrial base" is a wrongheaded way of looking at the transition from scarcity to post-scarcity manufacturing technology.
But honestly, the way McCloskey sneers at words like fair and just makes me think that the folk understanding is on a more solid overall footing than hers. Also, this entire paragraph is full of sneering scare quotes, despite the fact that McCloskey specifically makes a rule against using such scare quotes and actually in general I agree. If you don't have someone specific to cite for your quotations In these paragraphs McCloskey exhibits the same error of the cognitive science eliminativists, albeit if anything more egregiously.
The fact that many people believe something does not make it false—on the contrary, it is evidence that it is probably true. We evolved with a need to understand the behavior of other humans, and thus we must be able to do so, at least reasonably well; psychology and economics are actually exactly the cases in which you'd expect the folk knowledge to be accurate.
Understanding the motions of the planets was not critical for our survival most of the time; understanding the distribution of scarce resources absolutely was. At least cognitive scientists have the excuse that our scientific understanding of the mind is very poor, and we are basically unable to bridge the gulf between low-level neural operations and high-level thoughts and behaviors.
Of course, such a link must exist; the fact that you cannot understand it does not prevent it from being true—but it does at least explain why you'd have trouble believing it. Economists have no such excuse, for the level of abstraction required to understand the concept "supply curve" is on essentially the same level as that required to understand the concept "fairness".
Fairness is something we understand more intuitively, supply curves are something we understand more mathematically; but they are both about the interactions between human individuals or small groups; there is no deep causal gulf between them the way that there is between action potentials and beliefs.
By the way, NASA issues precise predictions of sunrises not only on Earth but also on Mars; I think they'd be a bit confused by the assertion that real astronomers do not say the sun "rises".
What they actually say is more like this: "A sunrise is when the part of the Earth where the observer is turns to face the Sun. View 1 comment. Dec 04, Antonia Malvino rated it it was amazing. Highly enjoyable and on point. This book made me think and laugh and highlight many parts. She had my rapt attention throughout and so I wrote this review before finishing and was condemned to revise it with each new freshet of wit shared.
The author has a great sense of humor!
Reference and Bibliography. You may purchase this title at these fine bookstores. Outside the USA, see our international sales information. University of Chicago Press: E.
4 economical writing tips from Deirdre McCloskey