Notes from A Guide For the Young Economist (2)

This is a continuation of my previous post on this book.

First, a few tips on cleaning up your text.

1. Delete the redundant information or excessive use of clauses to make yourself across at the least cost of words. Instead of writing “the technology of the firms in the economy is convex”, trim it to “technology is convex” because it is obvious that the firms are the adopters of technology and they exist in the economy (p80 in the book).

2. Do not be obsessed with the word “assume” (or “is/are assumed”). It’s better to state “assumptions” once and list all of them. But when you want to emphasize some aspects of your model that are different from the existing literature, you may start a separate sentence of paragraph highlighting these.

3. Stick with plain words if you can deliver your message. Instead of writing “the set of Nash Equilibrium is nonempty”, write “Nash Equilibrium exists”. The latter expression gets rid of the nerdy feel in the text and makes your writing more accessible.

Then, Thomson talks about how to present a model effectively. I have found the following most useful.

1. When you are introducing your model, go from the infrastructure to the superstructure. For example, when describing a multi-stage game, introduce and describe each of the players separately before bringing them together. Follow the logical steps of defining actors -> relationship -> concepts based on actors and relationship.

2. A good yet under appreciated (in my opinion) way to prevent ambiguity is to avoid using multiple clauses. This is especially true for non-native speakers. Adding clauses will dramatically increase your chance of making grammatical errors. Moreover, badly placed and imbalanced clauses will disorient the reader.

3. When stating a difficult definition, assist the reader by giving an informal and intuitive explanation preceding the formal explanation.

4. Use one enumeration for each object category. Combining different categories into a single list saves your time at the cost of your reader.

5. When specifying your assumptions, make sure there is at least one example satisfying them. If you cannot think of an example, then your assumptions are likely to be practically useless even though they are mathematically meaningful.

Notes from A Guide to the Young Economist (1)

My department has offered a three-week course on writing and presenting in economics, and I have found one of the reference book, A Guide to the Young Economist, very useful. This posts summarizes a few points that I have generally ignored but are important.

1. Doing research is an iterative process. This shows up in the process of getting ideas and formulating questions. Do not get frustrated when you have to revise your research question, adopt a different theoretical model, change your empirical analysis due to data limitations, etc. Try to have fun in this iterative process: remember this is essential for you to become a good researcher.

2. The same iteration process applies to writing papers. Thomson makes the following point about circulating your work: send your paper to a few people that you’re confident who would give you feedback soon.

When you start circulating your paper, it if often better to proceed sequentially, at least initially. Send it first to a few people who are likely to respond and make suggestions. … Revise your paper according to the comments you get, and send it to a few more people. You may once again get suggestions. Revise it again. … After the suggestions have dwindled to a few minor comments, send it to a wider audience.

This approach allows you to acquire the most thoughtful advice (from the people who are most likely to respond) and to impress the people whom you need to impress.

3. Adding to the previous point, always consult your adviser before circulating your work, especially your original data.

4. When you have a specific question to discuss with your adviser, write that down first. Doing so will sharpen your thinking about the question (and maybe solve it!) and will demonstrate to your adviser that you have taken the initiative to solve it. I personally think each meeting with faculty is an opportunity to present your research ideas and to present you as a person.

5. Get into the habit of coming up with research ideas right from the beginning of your program. Carry a notebook with you to seminars and conversations about research and jot down any ideas that come to mind. Reflect on them regularly and see if they are feasible for research.

More thoughts in the next few posts.