Notes on Deirdre McCloskey’s “Economical Writing”

This book is a great writing instruction for economics students. In the book McCloskey says:

Rotten writing causes more papers and reports to fail than do rotten statistics or rotten research. You have to be read to be listened to.

In economics, it is important for the author to present her reasoning in a readable way. But unfortunately many fail to do so. Pomeranz’s book The Great Divergence, which I just finished reading, is an obvious example. I have found the following principles suggested by McCloskey particularly inspiring for me.

1. An author needs to read, calculate, and research before she feels confident to write. Writing is putting down one’s thoughts. Read related materials, think about the internal links between them, and most importantly, establish your own argument and make it crystal clear to your readers.

2. Regard the outline as a guide, not a restriction. Write up an outline, and use it to check your arrangement especially when you feel off track.

3. Write a bit every day. Jog down your thoughts whenever they come to you. Write down “what will come next” at the end of each session. This will save the warm-up next time.

4. To achieve interesting writing, “get to the point that some skeptical but serious reader cares about and stick to it”. Students often repeat their ideas just to fill in the blank paper. If we skip the “blowing water” parts, the fruit of concrete reasoning can be hardly visible. A piece of good writing should be an informative and concise account of the author’s thoughts rather than an exhibition of unnecessary complex words and seemingly elegant variations.


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