TOPIC 7: Quality Writing

TOPIC 7: Quality Writing

ECON 4630ECON 5630

TOPIC 7: Quality Writing

  1. Why Is Good Writing Important?
  1. Writing clearly is almost always a signal that the author
  1. Fortunate news for you: the supply of people who can write reasonably well has declined over time and demand has (at the very least) not decreased. As a result,
  1. Becoming a better writer is an investment of a peculiar sort:
  1. Style is unimportant – only content matters? Don’t be a pinhead!


  1. Don’t surrender your voice!
  1. Building a Quality Paper: A Top-Down Approach
  1. A schematic
  1. The top-down steps in detail
  1. Select your topic
  1. Define your theme

You need a clear focus BEFORE you start to write!

Rule of thumb:

  1. Read stuff

Literature review

How to keep track of what you’ve learned:

  1. Organize

Dividing your economics paper into sections is


  1. Gather data

Primary data

Secondary data

  1. Analyze the data
  1. Write and re-write (and re-write again)

Write a first draft quickly, and then put it down for a few days.

Prune mercilessly! No unnecessary words, no unnecessary sentences, and no unnecessary paragraphs.

  1. Building a Quality Paper: A Bottom-Up Approach
  1. A schematic






  1. Words: some scattered thoughts
  1. Use 50¢ words sparingly



  • The professor’s time as the department’s chair was contentious but propitiously fugacious.
  • The professor’s time as the department’s chair was marked by strife, but fortunately she held the position only briefly
  1. Be direct and straightforward in your language (but there are exceptions)

Usually, pick the plain-speak way of phrasing thing: your goal is to communicate.

However: “But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” [this is an excerpt from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address]

Can we make this less flowery? Sure. How about: “You know, in the bigger picture, we can’t really offer or give or, like, set apart this battlefield. Those dudes that died here offered or gave it or whatever because we’re lame and can’t. Other countries will forget this speech after they’re done not caring about it, but they won’t forget those dudes that died.”

  1. Spell words correctly – it matters!
  1. Use words correctly – it also matters!

Some common screw-ups:

  • “data” is a plural word
  • effect vs. affect
  • “unique” cannot be modified
  • “could care less” vs. “couldn’t care less”
  • Write in the first or third person, NOT the second person

The point: THINK about the words you use.

  1. Don’t be an apostrophe apostate
  • Possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes
  • Use apostrophes for
  • contractions
  • possession
  • making numbers plural
  1. Building quality sentences
  1. Use complete sentences
  • Can your sentence stand alone?

Fish are a healthy food to eat. Because they contain omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish are a healthy food to eat because they contain omega-3 fatty acids.

  • You need a subject, a verb, and agreement between them.

Airline passengers needs more overhead bin space.

The typical airline passenger needs more overhead bin space.

  1. Stick with the active voice; avoid the passive voice
  • The Cowboys’ victory over the Giants will always be remembered by true fans.
  • True Cowboys fans will always remember the victory over the Giants.
  1. Avoid run-on sentences

I am a Baltimore Orioles fan because they once were a championship team even though that was twenty years ago, in spite of the fact that they have an idiot for an owner, a guy who may be as bad an owner as there is, and that’s saying a lot.

  1. Avoid split infinitives
  • An infinitive is “to” plus a verb.
  • A split infinitive: an adverb between “to” and the verb.
  • Avoid: Her allergies caused her to forcefully blow her nose during class.
  1. Sentence order
  • Usually, a sentence is making a single point, argument, statement, etc.
  • Normally, one should put the main point of the sentence near the beginning
  • Although they smell bad, drool a lot, and require a lot of attention, raising small children can be rewarding.
  • Raising small children can be rewarding, even though they smell bad, drool a lot, and require a lot of attention.
  1. Formal vs. conversational writing styles
  1. Building quality paragraphs
  1. Thesis statement
  • A thesis is a focused idea or point
  • Each paragraph needs a thesis
  • Get in the habit: can you identify the thesis sentence in every paragraph you write?
  • Structure
  • Topic or thesis sentence – usually at or near the beginning of the paragraph
  • Additional sentences that support and/or modify the thesis
  • When you shift to a new point, you need a new paragraph.
  • Paragraph length: there is no single rule, but if your paragraph is very long it usually means that you haven’t got a focused thesis.
  1. Example:

Dentistry is a profession that requires a great deal of education and training. In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree, a dentist has completed four years of graduate education. In order to maintain her certification, a dentist must complete additional training throughout her career. There are hundreds of dental schools at universities across America.

  1. Building quality sections
  1. It is often (especially in economics) but not always a good idea to divide one’s paper into sections
  1. Which sections are needed?
  1. Logic and structure
  • Sections have a sectional thesis sentence
  • Consider your paragraph topic sentences – the ones that are logically related should be grouped together into a section
  • Add a paragraph to the end of each section that
  • Sums up the section and ties back into the sectional thesis
  • Provides a transition to the next section
  1. Plagiarism
  1. What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else’s words, or ideas, or statistics without giving that person credit. Whether or not he or she means to, the plagiarist essentially steals someone’s work and puts his or her name on it.

  1. Paraphrasing and using others’ work
  • A certain amount of paraphrasing is acceptable, but be careful:
  • One needs to put the passage in one’s own words, and not simply change a single word
  • One must cite the source one using!
  • Using statistics, etc. from other sources is acceptable as long as one cites the source from which one is borrowing.
  1. Direct quotations of others’ work
  • Use quotation marks on shorter quotes; indent and single-space quotes longer than 40 words.
  • Cite the author in the text, with full reference in your bibliography.
  • Don’t use quotes too much
  1. Consequences
  • Plagiarism is one of the most serious sorts of misconduct in the community of scholars
  • In Economics (and in many other departments), a student who plagiarizes will receive an “F” for the course and will be formally reported to the provost’s office.
  1. A re-cap of the fundamentals
  • one must give credit where credit is due.
  • plagiarism is intellectual dishonesty.
  • when citing, make it easy for one’s reader to locate the exact places in the sources one cites.
  1. Citations and References
  • A brief citation is placed in the text

Example: Subjective probability is based on individual opinion, and cannot be calculated in advance based on theory (Lind, et al., 2006, p. 126).

  • The full reference goes in a bibliography at the end of paper


Lind, D.A., W.G. Marchal, and S.A. Wathen. 2006. Basic Statistics for Business and Economics, 5th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

  • It is not sufficient to have in-text citations or a bibliography – one must have BOTH!
  • How should you structure your references? Consult some style manual, such as that of the American Psychological Association (see for example