Effective Writing Glen Whitman Dept. of Economics CSUN
The Big Picture • Think about your audience (academic or business?). • Think about your goal (explanation or persuasion?). • Outline before you start writing. • Leave out unnecessary information. (How do you know? Refer to goals and audience.) • Use heading and subheadings to organize the text. • Revise early and often.
Samples: • “What used to a period of four to five years to get a college education, is now taking much longer.” • “In my opinion what we need to examine, is whether the benefit is great enough to justify the risk.”
Samples: • “Politicians do not stay in office forever, this is why they pay little attention to the long-run costs of their policies.” • “A familiar and useful source on American politics is back, the Almanac of American Politics, edited by Michael Barone, you get 1800 pages for your $60.”
Samples • “The author informs us that economists have traditionally employed the Pigou model which recommends taxing the pollution-generating behavior.” • “The people, who run the company from day to day, need to understand the goals chosen by upper management.”
Use of Commas • Do not simply to create a pause or to break up a long sentence. • Do not use commas to splice together sentences. Either write two sentences or use a semicolon instead. • Use commas to set off words, phrases, and clauses that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Samples • “I like running, swimming, the stationary bike, and to do gymnastics.” • “I want an employer who is smart, loyal, works hard, and understands the business.” • “The clerks’ wages were not included in the contribution because of the nature of the clerk’s wages and that they are dependent on the number of hours worked in a shift.”
Samples: • “In Section 1 of the law, the City Council of Calabasas accepts that second hand smoke: adversely affects fetal growth, causes 300,000 children to suffer lower respiratory, 90% of adults start smoking at or before 18, 5.9% of youth in California smoke, and smoking in front of children increases the likelihood of smoking.”
Parallel Structure • Each element of a list should have the same grammatical form. • Look for the stem that signals the beginning of the list. There should be just one stem. • When combined with the stem, each element in the list should form a complete sentence.
Samples: • “Because of the nature of risk and statistics, insurance is able to calculate the probabilities of accidents by their clients and charge an appropriate price for their premiums bringing a profit which is beneficial to them and drivers are willing to pay the price for the premiums because it allows them to avoid risk, which they are willing to pay to do and therefore it is beneficial to them as well.”
Samples: • “For the record, this didactic result is based on chapter thirteen of Law’s Order by David D. Friedman (DDF) which was simple enough to understand and there were a few sections that made me all the more inquisitive but yet overwhelmed my senses so this paper may be going off tangents here and there.”
Run-on Sentences • Look for sentences that are long, and consider breaking them up. • Sometimes inserting punctuation in the right place will help, but not always. • Not every long sentence is a run-on. Not every run-on sentence is long.
Samples: • “What used to be the norm of four to five years to get a college education is now taking longer to complete.” • “This kind of social purchasing can be assumed to desire either a larger quantity and/or a higher quality product.”
Samples: • “The same liberties that ensure a free society make the innocent vulnerable to those who prevent rights and privileges and commit senseless and cruel acts.” • “By imposing the tax, the efficient quantity of units would be produced.”
Logical Problems • There is an internal logic to the language. • Pay attention to subjects and verbs; the subjects should perform the actions described by the verbs. • Think carefully about your choice of words. Don’t always trust your thesaurus; only some words will make sense in context.
Samples: • “The candidate discussed the various ways in which it is possible to cut waste and excessive spending from the federal budget.” • “Professor Johnson is a person who rises every morning at the crack of dawn to prepare for a productive day.”
Samples: • “The purpose of an environmental scan is to obtain a general understanding of the external business environment we are currently in and expect to be in over the near-term. This may include any number of factors, but they are factors that may significantly impact the firm’s business, either positively or negatively depending on how the firm manages its way through them.”
Concision vs. Verbosity • Get to the point. Think about what you really mean, and then say it. • Don’t make an effort to use big words. Make an effort to use the best words. • Don’t say the same vague thing in several different ways.
Errors That Aren’t Really Errors All of these constructions are perfectly acceptable: • Splitting infinitives • Ending a sentence with a preposition • Beginning a sentence with a conjunction • Using the first person
Some Odds & Ends • Follow the given format: double-spaced with 1-inch margins, 12-point font, and page numbers. (More generally, follow the standard format for the context.) • Stay within the page limits. Don’t cheat by altering the format! • Don’t bother with fancy binders and glossy covers. A staple will do. • Be consistent – in your structure and your tone.