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Deirdre McCloskey on Writing

Deirdre McCloskey on Writing

Writing

    One of the best books for writers in the social sciences is Deirdre McCloskey’s Economical Writing, a very short, very small book that offers a number of important principles for writing. McCloskey is an economist by training, but she has written across a wide variety of fields. Economical Writing is a must-have and a must-read for any serious writer. Here are five of her points from Economical Writing and elsewhere I have tried to incorporate into my own work (not always perfectly, certainly, as my dissertation committee could not doubt verify).

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    1. Always ask “so what?”

    Don’t assume that your topic is important just because you think it is, and don’t assume everyone automatically recognizes its relevance. Be very clear about establishing why your topic is important and why your reader should care. Your reader’s time is very valuable, and he or she could be doing a lot of different things. They have decided, for whatever reason, to take a look at something you have written. Look to inflict interocular trauma. In other words, hit them between the eyes with why what you have done is important. Convince them immediately that they should keep reading your work instead of picking up something someone else has written or playing with the kids.

    2. Always ask “how do you know?”

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    Economical Writing cover

      According to McCloskey, this was always Milton Friedman’s question, and in the last two-and-a-half decades, McCloskey has waged a campaign against sloppy empirical methods particularly in economics but in all the sciences more generally. Clarify the theory you are examining, the testable hypotheses that they admit, the types of evidence you have at your disposal, and how you should best test the hypotheses you have devised. If you are measuring something, make sure you ask “how big is big?” In other words, talk about magnitude. A lot of statistical investigations discuss “statistical significance” and leave it at that, but statistical significance tells us nothing about whether the magnitude of an estimated effect is big enough to matter. Statistical significance only tells us whether we have enough data to measure the effect with much precision. Life-and-death situations are made every day based on flawed applications of statistical significance and very poorly-thought-out use of evidence. The world deserves better.

      3. “Fluency can be achieved through grit.”

      Or, in the words of 1986 Nobel Laureate James Buchanan, “keep your a– in the chair.” Write, even when you don’t feel like writing. Make it a habit rather than something you do when inspiration strikes. Your work will be much better for it.

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      4. Guard your inspiration and “clean up in a dull moment.”

      The world is screaming for your attention (Facebook! iChat! Lifehack! Youtube! Twitter!), and it is up to you to make sure you don’t let urgent-but-unimportant things get in the way of doing important work. One scholar periodically mails his internet cable to himself in order to give himself at least a couple of days free of the distractions of the internet. It is hard to lay down the digital crack pipe, but you must. As McCloskey writes, when you are truly inspired, you must resist the urge to go the library to check your sources, to go get another cup of coffee, to return phone calls, or to answer email. This can all be done during the dull moments when the creative juices aren’t flowing quite the way you would like them to.

      5. Don’t skimp on supplies.

      A great writer can be a great writer no matter his surroundings or materials, but having equipment that works well is essential for most of us. A laptop that is on its last legs can be extremely frustrating to work with, and good pens can be much easier to work with than the ballpoints you pick up from hotel rooms (I have tons of them; I know). Remember that paper is cheap and recycling it is bad for the earth–it creates a lot of pollution, and since trees are farmed commercially you actually aren’t “saving trees” by recycling paper or by using less of it. Making judicious use of scrap paper is wise, but incurring inconvenience in order to save paper is a very poor tradeoff.

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      There are a lot of economists and social scientists who have written extensively in the scholarly problem. McCloskey is one of the best, and I assure you that you will be a much better writer if you have Economical Writing on your bookshelf.

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      Last Updated on July 18, 2019

      What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

      What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

      Some people just seem to float through life with a relentless sense of happiness – through the toughest of times, they’re unfazed and aloof, stopping to smell the roses and drinking out of a glass half full.

      They may not have much to be happy about, but the simplicity behind that fact itself may make them happy.

      It’s all a matter of perspective, conscious effort and self-awareness. Listed below are a number of reasons why some people are always happy.

      1. They Manage Their Expectations

      They’re not crushed when they don’t get what they want – or misled into expecting to get the most out of every situation. They approach every situation pragmatically, hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst.

      2. They Don’t Set Unrealistic Standards

      Similar to the last point, they don’t live their lives in a constant pursuit towards impossible visions of perfection, only to always find themselves falling short of what they want.

      3. They Don’t Take Anything for Granted

      Happiness rests with feeling fulfilled – those who fail to stop and appreciate what they have every now and again will never experience true fulfillment.

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      4. They’re Not Materialistic

      There are arguing viewpoints on whether or not money can really buy happiness; if it can, then we know from experience that we can never be satisfied because there will always be something newer or better that we want. Who has ever had enough money?

      5. They Don’t Dwell

      They don’t sweat the small things or waste time worrying about things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. They don’t let negative thoughts latch onto them and drain them or distract them. Life’s too short to worry.

      6. They Care About Themselves First

      They’re independent, care for themselves and understand that they must put their needs first in order to accommodate the needs of others.

      They indulge, aim to get what they want, make time for themselves and are extremely self-reliant.

      7. They Enjoy the Little Things

      They stop to smell the roses. They’re accustomed to find serenity when it’s available, to welcome entertainment or a stimulating discussion with a stranger when it crosses their path. They don’t overlook the small things in life that can be just as important.

      8. They Can Adapt

      They’re not afraid of change and they work to make the most out of new circumstances, good or bad. They thrive under pressure, are not overwhelmed easily and always embrace a change of pace.

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      9. They Experiment

      They try new things, experience new flavors and never shy away from something they have yet to experience. They never order twice from the same menu.

      10. They Take Their Time

      They don’t unnecessarily rush through life. They work on their own schedule to the extent that they can and maneuver through life at their own relaxing pace.

      11. They Employ Different Perspectives

      They’re not stuck in one perspective; a loss can result in a new opportunity, hitting rock bottom can mean that there’s no where to go but up.

      12. They Seek to Learn

      Their constant pursuit of knowledge keeps them inspired and interested in life. They cherish information and are on a life-long quest to learn as much as they can.

      13. They Always Have a Plan

      They don’t find themselves drifting without purpose. When something doesn’t go as planned, they have a plan for every letter in the alphabet to fall back on.

      14. They Give Respect to Get It

      They are respectful and, in turn, are seen as respectable; the respect they exude earns them the respect they deserve.

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      15. They Consider Every Opportunity

      They always have their eyes open for a new road, a new avenue worth exploring. They know how to recognize opportune moments and pounce on them to make the most of every situation. Success is inevitable for them.

      16. They Always Seek to Improve

      Perpetual self-improvement is the key towards their ongoing thirst for success. Whatever it is they do, they take pride in getting better and better, from social interactions to mundane tasks. Their pursuit at being the best eventually materializes.

      17. They Don’t Take Life Too Seriously

      They’re not ones to get offended easily over-analyze or complicate matters. They laugh at their own faults and misfortunes.

      18. They Live in the Moment

      They don’t live for tomorrow or dwell on what may have happened yesterday. Every day is a new opportunity, a new chapter. They live in the now, and in doing so, get the most out of every moment.

      You can learn how to do so too: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

      19. They Say Yes

      Much more often than they say no. They don’t have to be badgered to go out, don’t shy away from new opportunities or anything that may seem inconvenient.

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      20. They’re Self-Aware

      Most important, they’re wholly aware of themselves. They self-reflect and are conscious of their states of mind. If somethings bothering them, they fix it.

      We’re all susceptible to feeling down every now and again, but we are all equipped with the necessary solutions that just have to be discovered.

      Lack of confidence, inability to feel fulfilled, and susceptibility to stress are all matters that can be controlled through the way we handle our lives and perceive our circumstances.

      Learn about How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life.

      Final Thoughts

      The main philosophy employed by the happiest includes the idea that life’s simply too short: life’s too short to let things get you down, to take things for granted, to pursue absolute and unrealistic perfection.

      For some, employing these characteristics is a second nature – they do it without knowing. For others, a conscious effort must be put forth every now and again. Self-Awareness is key.

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      Featured photo credit: Charles Postiaux via unsplash.com

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