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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 September 17, 2019

      10 Simple Ways To Always Think Positive Thoughts

      10 Simple Ways To Always Think Positive Thoughts

      Positive thinking can lead to a lot of positive change in your life. Developing an optimistic outlook can be good for both your physical and mental health.

      But sometimes, certain situations arise in life that makes it hard to keep a positive outlook. Take steps to make positive thinking become more like your second nature and you’ll reap the biggest benefits.

      Here are 10 ways to make thinking positive thoughts easy:

      1. Spend Time with Positive People

      If you surround yourself with constant complainers, their negativity is likely to rub off on you.

      Spend time with positive friends and family members to increase the likelihood that their positive thinking habits will become yours too. It’s hard to be negative when everyone around you is so positive.

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      2. Take Responsibility for Your Behavior

      When you encounter problems and difficulties in life, don’t play the role of the victim. Acknowledge your role in the situation and take responsibility for your behavior.

      Accepting responsibility can help you learn from mistakes and prevent you from blaming others unfairly.

      3. Contribute to the Community

      One of the best ways to feel good about what you have, is to focus on what you have to give.

      Volunteer in some manner and give back to the community. Helping others can give you a new outlook on the world and can assist you with positive thinking.

      4. Read Positive and Inspirational Materials

      Spend time each day reading something that encourages positive thinking. Read the Bible, spiritual material, or inspirational quotes to help you focus on what’s important to you in life. It can be a great way to start and end your day.

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      Some recommendations for you:

      5. Recognize and Replace Negative Thoughts

      You won’t be successful at positive thinking if you’re still plagued by frequent negative thoughts. Learn to recognize and replace thoughts that are overly negative. Often, thoughts that include words like “always” and “never” signal that they aren’t true.

      If you find yourself thinking something such as, “I always mess everything up,” replace it with something more realistic such as, “Sometimes I make mistakes but I learn from them.”

      There’s no need to make your thoughts unrealistically positive, but instead, make them more realistic.

      6. Establish and Work Toward Goals

      It’s easier to be positive about problems and setbacks when you have goals that you’re working toward. Goals will give you motivation to overcome those obstacles when you encounter problems along the way. Without clear goals, it’s harder to make decisions and gauge your progress.

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      Learn to set SMART goals to help you achieve more.

      7. Consider the Consequences of Negativity

      Spend some time thinking about the consequences of negative thinking. Often, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      For example, a person who thinks, “I probably won’t get this job interview,” may put less effort into the interview. As a result, he may decrease his chances of getting the job.

      Create a list of all the ways negative thinking impacts your life. It likely influences your behavior, your relationships, and your feelings. Then, create a list of the ways in which positive thinking could be beneficial.

      8. Offer Compliments to Others

      Look for reasons to compliment others. Be genuine in your praise and compliments, but offer it frequently. This will help you look for the good in other people.

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      9. Create a Daily Gratitude List

      If you start keeping a daily gratitude list, you’ll start noticing exactly how much you have to be thankful for. This can help you focus on the positive in your life instead of thinking about all the bad things that have happened in the day.

      Getting in the habit of showing an attitude of gratitude makes positive thinking more of a habit. Here’re 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

      10. Practice Self-Care

      Take good care of yourself and you’ll be more equipped to think positively.

      Get plenty of rest and exercise and practice managing your stress well. Taking care of your physical and mental health will provide you with more energy to focus on positive thinking.

      Learn about these 30 Self-Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit.

      More About Staying Positive

      Featured photo credit: DESIGNECOLOGIST via unsplash.com

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