I read Economic Writing in graduate school and enjoy the executive summary every other year or so. Both are highly recommended. Here is the short version, based on the executive summary, and my own interpretation:
- "Choose a reader and stick with her." In other words, if you are writing for a non-economist don't use jargon or technical stuff. If you are writing for an economist, don't explain the most basic stuff.
- "Avoid boilerplate." In other words, don't cut and paste your own paragraphs.
- "Impenetrable theoretical utterances have prestige in economics, but shouldn't." In other words, write in English and try to avoid showing how smart you are.
- "The table-of-contents paragraph is an abomination to the Lord thy God." Oddly, McCloskey uses more than one religious reference (in another item she damns some writers to hell, with a capital H). But I say, is the TOC paragraph really THAT bad? Does god care if you waste journal space with a few sentences laying out the rest of the paper?
- "Tables are writing." This is a big one for me. One of my committee members told me that your data and regression tables should be standalone. Don't include your mnemonic in the list of variables; i.e., use "Smoke less" instead of "SMKLSS."
- There is no #6 in the executive summary!
- "Don't overload your sentences. ... An English sentence has ... three parts: subject, verb, object."
- "Paragraphs should have a structure like (AB)(BC)(CD)." The Bs and Cs are repetitions of the same thought/word.
- "Avoid elegant variation." If your key word is "wetlands" don't try to spice things up by referring to bogs, swamp and marsh.
- "The semicolon (;) means roughly 'futhermore'; the colon (:) means roughly 'to be specific.'"
- "Weak writers these days use too many commas ...." Bloggers are weak writers.
- Rearrange the order or words and phrases of every sentence you write. Huh?**
- The end of the sentence is the place of emphasis. Huh?
- "This-ism is becoming a plague. These bad writers think this reader needs repeated reminders that it is this idea, not that one, which is being discussed." Avoid "this."
- "Watch out for bad words." For example: via, intra, and/or, respectively, thus, overall, basic, factor, etc. We had a nice discussion of "respectively."
I violate all of these rules in my own writing, I'm sure.
A few additional rules of my own:
- No exclamation points. (This rule is not a rule for bloggers, by the way.)
- No question marks. No multiple question marks. (This rule is not a rule for bloggers, by the way.)
- Scientific writing is not creative writing (creative writing is what your blog is for).
And, by the way, my students told me that the business writing and communication courses taught in the English department failed to cover writing a research paper. The course seems to focus on writing memos and resumes. Crap!
**Each "Huh?" suggests I need to re-read Economical Writing.