Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Before you write, listen to these professors

Harvard economics professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz offer advice to students on writing. Their guidelines apply to anyone in business.

Rule #1: You will probably not have a Nobel Prize winning idea.
Theorem #1: It is always possible to transform a good idea into a great paper and a superb
Theorem #2: Even if your idea is Nobel-worthy, you can always make it into a poorly written paper and a lousy presentation. This theorem will probably never be needed; see Rule #1.
Rule #2: The insights of your paper will first be judged by how you present them. If your paper is written in an unprofessional manner, your empirical work, mathematical proofs, and models will be viewed with initial skepticism.

Rule #3: Your paper is an exercise in persuasion. Your readers are your audience. They have better things to do than read your paper. Make them interested in your thesis and convinced of your argument. 

Rule #4: No great paper—no matter how well constructed, brilliant, and well written—first emerged from the author’s printer in that form. It was rewritten at least 10 times. Rewriting is the true art of writing. 

Rule #5: No author—no matter how careful and humble—can see all (or even most) of his or her writing errors. Trade papers with another student. Be tough; there will be some initial pain, but gratitude will follow. 

Rule #6: Most paragraphs have too many sentences and most sentences have too many words. Repetition is boring. We repeat: repetition is boring. Cut, cut, and then cut again.

Rule #7: Verbalizing your argument is more difficult than writing it. Giving a presentation will reveal where your argument falls flat and will show you how to redraft the paper. Give many presentations before sending out your paper. Give them to a workshop, friends, a dog or cat, even the wall. The presentation will force you to confront inconsistencies in your argument.

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