Writing Style


In an entry, Rules to Live By, the Economist.com provided the following guides for writing academic papers. I note this as it bears some relationship to my recent post on the presentation styles I observed in conferences:

  • Never use one word where eight will do; even better if you can stick a few dependant clauses in there.
  • Using simple, AngloSaxon words makes you look simple.
  • Keep your readers interested in your sentences by refusing to tell them what is happening until the last few words. Do not rest until you have hunted down and exterminated all traces of the quaint old “subject, verb, object” style. Anyone struggling with this should read mystery novels in the original German until this becomes second nature.
  • Where possible, start off paragraphs with a thoroughly unnecessary observation, such as “When people are hungry, they usually seek to eat.” Reference at least two papers proving same. Later, it will be necessary to prove mathematically that this is so.
  • Always remember that in an economics model, everyone is part of a pulsating emergent network of interactions. Thus, it is ridiculous to speak of people doing anything; things happen as a result of unseen economic forces. Therefore, unless it is absolutely impossible, every sentence should be phrased in passive voice.
  • If you come to a place where you think a semi-colon belongs, stop! Semi-colons are far too informal for an academic paper. Use a comma instead. The comma’s understated elegance is appropriate for all settings.
  • If you are in danger of saying anything easily comprehensible, immediately switch to calculus.



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