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A Story about Stylistic Edits

September 30th, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments


A Story about   Stylistic Edits

This summer I  downloaded an economics working paper by three people I’d never heard of because the topic was interesting to me.  I rewrote the abstract and sent it to the authors in the email below (with redactions marked by []). I wrote it thinking the three people were all junior, so my tone was rather direct.  (Perhaps even bossy?)

It turned out, though that one of the three authors was a tenured professor at a top ten university and a co-editor of a top five journal.  I felt a bit embarrassed.

Here is what I wrote:


Hello Professors [names here]

I read your [] paper with interest.  I just skimmed it, since I ought to be working on a mechanism design paper of my own, but since  [],  it caught  my eye.

This is a good topic and you seem to do the work well, but I didn’t read closely enough to really know that. The main thing I want to tell you is how to exposit the paper. It is crucial to tell the reader what your conclusions are, quantitatively, so he can decide whether it’s worth reading closely enough to see if your data and methodology is any good. Here’s what your abstract should look like:

[Here I put my complete rewrite of the abstract.]

This abstract addresses the questions I had about the paper— sample size, data years, quant results.

Then you should repeat all these numbers in your intro and conclusion— not simply repeating the abstract, but drawing it out a bit more, comparing it in the intro to what other people ahve found, speculating in the concluding remarks as to what weaknesses you have and how well it transfer to Norway generally and the world even mroe generally.

I can’t figure out your   conclusions easily,and can’t even figure out the effect of education, which you say is small and then say is [], which is big. [remainder redacted]

Here  is how the senior author replied to me:


Dear Professor Eric Rasmusen,

Thanks for taking the time to write a new abstract. I was planning to revise the introduction this week; maybe you can have a go at it first?

P.S. I hope you don’t mind that I cc’ed some of my colleagues whose papers would benefit a lot from clarity in writing. I expect they would appreciate your advice advice too.

Best wishes,

[first name here]

Flattered, and happy to help improve a good paper, I revised his intro too and sent it back to him.

That’s the attitude!  We all need comments on our papers, whether we’re grad student, assistant professor, tenured, or Nobel laureate. I think the people at the top schools realize this the most, actually.  Whether it’s writing style, checking algebra, missing references, examples, motivation, or the actual economics of the paper, input is useful. We don’t like it so much from referees, because then it’s close to compulsory, but from other people, there’s free disposal, and  the only downside is to our pride, which the successful economist learns to subdue (at least in this context).

So, if anybody wants to comment on my working papers, take a look at http://www.rasmusen.org/unpabs.htm and send them to erasmuse@Indiana.edu

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