Economics 350: Regional and Urban Economics, Fall 2003 Class 3, lecture 2


Writing: Lecture 1. Getting Started

Reading: Joseph M. Williams. Style: Toward Clarity and Grace , Preface and Chapter 1.


0. Writing takes

             A. more time

             B. more space

             C. more planning

             D. and less effort than you think.


I. What you can do to help your writing when you aren’t writing?

             A. Read books on writing

             B. Learn to recognize good writing and BAD writing.

             C. Analyze good (and bad) writing to see how it works

             D. Write — e-mails, chat rooms, letters, articles, class notes, exams.

             E. Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses when you write.


II. The Plan

             A1. Time table — How many hours do you have to work on this project?

             A2. Space — where will you work, where will you store materials?

             B. Understanding the assignment, choosing voice and reader

             C. Research, review, and note taking — find your article

             D. Before the rough draft

                         — the mind map

                         — the questions and answers

                         — free writing

             E. Analyzing notes and the pre-draft

             F. The rough draft — make it long

             G. Rewriting (see the next 5 lectures on writing)


III. Applying the plan to our assignment


A Few Suggested Sources:

On organizing for writing:

Allen, Getting Things Done

Kaye, Sanford. Writing Under Pressure: The Quick Writing Process

Morganstern, Julie. Organizing from the Inside Out and Time Management from the Inside Out.

Getting Started:

Howard, V.A. and J.H. Barton. Thinking on Paper.

Lamott, Anne. Bird By Bird.

On writing for social scientists:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Economical Writing

Booth, Colomb and Williams. The Craft of Research

IV. What is an Example and how do we use it to illuminate a theory?


A. Read the two articles and quickly write down the answers to the following questions:


1. What are the main theories on the purpose of cities and the growth of cities? (What we are looking for in our articles.)








2. Write down three ideas that come into your head as you read each article.












3. Which article supports the theories taught in class the most clearly. Which article forces us to question the theories from the class.










Lecture 2: Chapter 2, Clarity


I. Improving sentences for clarity

             A. The power of the reader — a clear sentence is one your reader understands

             B. Making the actors and the actions obvious makes sentences easier to follow


I. The parts of a sentence:

             A. subject

             B. verb

             C. predicate


III. The parts of a story

             A. Actor

             B. Action


IV. Clear and unclear sentences

             A. Is the subject also the actor? Or is the actor lost in a clause?

             B. Is the verb also the action? Or has the action been turned into an abstract noun?

                         Abstraction. Nominalization, turning the verbs into nouns:


V. Finding and fixing the problems

             A. identifying nominalization.

Verbs: to discover, to consume, to reconsider

                         Adjectives: elegant, hot, necessary

             B. Finding actors — identifiable people, groups, figurative actors, and “abstract” actors.

Ex. Tom found the Viking treasure. In some cases, children and dogs have found buried treasure. Medieval England trembled before the might of the Vikings. Buried treasure incites riots.

             C. Rewriting sentences to make actors into subjects and actions into verbs


VI. Types

             A. The empty verb: The administration performed a search

             B. There is (was): There was an attack.

             C. nominalization as subject: The discovery of the ruin was made by Jones.

             D. series of nominalizations: The review of the failures of the projects. (How or why?)

             E. nominalization + verb + nominalization

The absence of material witnesses slowed the development of the case. (Because, if, even though, ...)

F. And, of course, USEFUL nominalizations — when the abstraction refers back to earlier material, when the nominalization significantly shortens a sentence, or when the abstraction is widely recognized in modern English.

Ex. This lesson review Chapter Two in Williams. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness... (Would it be better if Jefferson had said “A people must be allowed to live, to be free, and to pursue their own happiness...”)


Here are some examples to help you:

1) See how nominalization saps sentences of power:


Good:                            The committee proposed banning harassment.

Not as good:                 The committee proposal banning harassment was presented.

And then losing the actors

Bad:                              The proposal banning harassment was presented.


The goal of this lesson is to make sure we can all recognize a nominalization and find missing the actors.


I grade papers, not writers. All good writers occasionally write badly, and all bad writers can write better. So don’t take it personally.


Our new rules make it easier to obey old rules.

             (Do we like this use of nominalizations?)


Be Specific:

Make your actors the subject and your actions the verb whenever possible. When we turn verbs into nouns it can be tempting to delete our characters entirely; after all, shorter is better, right?) and our writing can become very abstract. For example:


I did not finish the paper.


The paper was not finished by me. (Passive voice)


The paper was not finished. (Abstract. We’ve lost the main character.)


Completion of the paper was not achieved by me. (Nominalization)


Completion was not achieved. (Of what? By whom? Note by using the nominalization we can lose both the actor AND what the actor was doing!!!)


Avoid using too many prepositions

Nominalization of the verb forces us to put our actors into prepositional phrases. If we fix this problem by eliminating the prepositional phrases we make our writing too abstract. We need to rescue our actors from their prepositional exile and put them back in charge.

An evaluation of the program by the committee will allow greater efficiency in service to clients .

Bad way to banish prepositions: An evaluation will allow greater efficiency.

Good way to banish prepositions: The committee will evaluate the program so that we can serve clients better.


And one last hint that is even easier — BANISH THE ADVERBS.

Many adverbs actually weaken sentences. It is very, very hard to make your point stronger by adding words.


             Adverbs weaken sentences. It is hard to make your point stronger by adding words.


I recommend running a search on very, actually, really — and getting rid of 99.9% of them.


Here is one example of very poor writing, from what is actually the best book on the economic history of the British construction industry.


“[During and after World War II ] Three powerful themes came to dominate the motives and behavior of building promoters. The first, an increase in the scale of and pace of building, is termed intensification. Activity advanced on a rising tide of economic growth which proceeded, despite setbacks, at a rate which compared well with that of the nineteenth century. ...


“The second theme was concentration, the expansion and grouping of promoters into large organizations. Emergence of large public authorities and multinational firms was echoed by less obvious growth among smaller but more numerous organizations. Wherever power or capital was concentrated, promotion was further transformed from small, intermittent concern into a continuous involvement, ‘sophisticated’ promoters replacing ‘naive’ ones.



“The third theme among promoters was intervention, a greatly extended capacity of the State to influence decisions to build. Government came to more or less regulate the proportion of national resources available for building, influencing the proportions of different building types and controlling building location. Former private enterprises were brought under direct State control by nationalization, others were directed to a lesser or greater degree, and new quasi-autonomous agencies, such as the Housing Corporation, appeared.


(Christopher Powell, The British Building Industry Since 1800: An Economic History. Chapman & Hall. London 1996. p 140-1.)


Exercise: Underline the nominalizations. Circle the actors. Rewrite, making actors the subjects and actions the verbs as much as possible.

If you are stuck, underline the first 5-6 words, can you find the verb?


Here is the same passage, with the actors in bold and the nominalized actions underlined.


“[During and after World War II ] Three powerful themes came to dominate the motives and behavior of building promoters . The first, an increase in the scale of and pace of building, is termed intensification . Activity advanced on a rising tide of economic growth which proceeded, despite setbacks , at a rate which compared well with that of the nineteenth century. ...


“The second theme was concentration , the expansion and grouping of promoters into large organizations. Emergence of large public authorities and multinational firms was echoed by less obvious growth among smaller but more numerous organizations . Wherever power or capital was concentrated, promotion was further transformed from small, intermittent concern into a continuous involvement , ‘sophisticated’ promoters replacing ‘naive’ ones.



“The third theme among promoters was intervention, a greatly extended capacity of the State to influence decisions to build. Government came to more or less regulate the proportion of national resources available for building, influencing the proportions of different building types and controlling building location. Former private enterprises were brought under direct State control by nationalization, others were directed to a lesser or greater degree, and new quasi-autonomous agencies, such as the Housing Corporation, appeared.


(Christopher Powell, The British Building Industry Since 1800: An Economic History. Chapman & Hall. London 1996. p 140-1.)


Nominalizations are underlined, actors are bolded.



And here is my rewrite:


[Between 1940 and 1973] the construction industry changed in response to three forces: rapid economic growth, increasing firm size, and increasing government intervention. After half a century of slow growth, the economy grew at rates last seen in the nineteenth century. ...


Construction entities, both firms and government authorities, grew larger. Some of the largest firms expanded overseas. Fewer firms, as well as larger, came to dominate many sectors of the construction industry, but at the same time the construction process was divided up into more discrete specialties, many carried out by the growing number of smaller specialist firms. Wherever a small number of firms came to dominate, the firms promoted their products more aggressively, consistently and effectively than firms had before.


Government regulation of construction also expanded. The government came to regulate not only individual building characteristics and location, but also the total proportion of national resources devoted to construction. The government regulated some private firms, nationalized others, and in some cases established semi-independent agencies, such as the Housing Corporation, which both regulated the construction industry and entered the industry as builders.




Lecture 3: Chapter 3: Cohesion


Cohesion – how to write, and rewrite, to build an argument that your readers can follow.


Rule #1:

Sentences work best if they move from old information to new.


We add this rule to our old rule that sentences work best when the ACTOR and the SUBJECT were one. However this new rule can trump our old rule, For example:


Version #1 (BAD):

A few years ago it was revealed that customers paid different prices for the same movie when they bought movies at the website of internet retailing giant Amazon.com, an admission which embarrassed Amazon.


Version #2 (GOOD):

A few years ago, internet retailing giant Amazon.com received some unwanted publicity when it was revealed that the company was charging different prices for movies sold to different customers. ( The Economics of Public Issues 13 th ed. Miller, Benjamin & North, eds. page 106.)


Version #3 (NOT BETTER)

Several years ago Amazon.com charged different customers different prices for the same movies. When customers learned of Amazon’s different prices they were upset, and Amazon was embarrassed.


Rule #2

Paragraphs work best if the sentence topics form a coherent string of actors or subjects.


When you need to change topics is often a good place to change paragraphs!


Rewriting


Underline the first 5 or 6 words in each sentence.


Read aloud. As you go – circle the ACTORS and highlight the TOPICS of sentences. Listen to the sentence.


Return to each sentence, rewrite so that 1) the sentence builds from old to new, 2) the ACTORS are (usually) the subject and the actions are the verbs and 3) the TOPICS of all of the sentences in the paragraph go together. Usually these rules will coincide – Actors are topics, and since they are repeated in sentence after sentence, the sentences build from old to new and relate to each other across the paragraph. Occasionally you will have to sacrifice one goal to another. There are no hard and fast rules, but in general think about the goal of the sentence. Put yourself in the place of the reader – if your logical argument is complex, work on cohesion; if your information is complex, focus on making the sentence clear.


A paragraph from a rough draft, and my own rewrite of my own work:


I. Introduction


          Scholars in many fields urge that more researchers should join them in their area of study, but in few fields is the complaint more justified than in the study of the organization of construction. All civilizations build. Not only is building a large part of nearly all economies, but the largest construction projects often stretch the economic and technical limits of a culture and are among the greatest and most lasting works of art produced by civilizations. The construction industry should also be of interest to economists and historians interested in the evolution of markets and market institutions. Construction is one of the first activities to enter the market and one of the first economic activities to require the development of institutions to support the market; laws concerning the responsibilities of builders are mentioned in Hammurabi’s code of law. Although the mechanical inventions of the “industrial revolution” did not alter the process of building as dramatically as they altered the manufacture of goods, the past two centuries of construction history witnessed evolution and innovation in property rights, contracts, and firm organization that have wrought a revolution the process and the products of the construction industry as complete as the revolution in textiles or steel. And yet only a handful of economic historians , study the structure or history of the building industry.


Underline the start of each sentence, bold the topics of the sentences.




My first rewrite:


          All civilizations build. Construction is a large part of economic activity in all but the simplest economies. The largest construction projects often stretch the economic and technical limits of a civilization and are among its greatest and most lasting works of art. Therefore it is not surprising that scholars have studied the technology and the aesthetics of building. However, construction is also one of the first activities to enter the market and one of the first economic activities to require the development of institutions to support the market. Laws regulating building are found in the law code of King Hammurabi of Babylon, the world’s oldest surviving written law code. During the past three centuries the construction industry was not revolutionized by mechanical invention as dramatically as manufacturing was altered by the “industrial revolution,” although new technologies did increase the variety and the complexity of structures. However these centuries witnessed evolution and innovation in property rights, contracts, and firm organization that wrought as complete a revolution in construction as steam, electricity, and mechanical innovation wrought in textiles or steel. Therefore, as I shall show in this essay, the history of the organization of the construction industry has as much to offer economists and historians interested in markets and institutions as the history of building design and building construction has to offer historians of art and technology.


How to rewrite:


Read paragraph aloud – ask yourself, is it


A) Does your writing sound indirect, unreadable, passive, abstract, awkward, opaque, complex, impersonal, wordy, prolix, obscure, inflated OR clear, concise, concrete, simple, direct and straightforward?


B) Does your writing sound choppy, confusing, abrupt, disjointed, illogical, lacking in flow OR coherent, cohesive, flowing, easy to follow.


If you identify your problems in A, check out Williams Chapter 2: Clarity, if your problems are in B, read Williams Chapter 3: Cohesion, again.


But then what do you do?


Underline the first 5-6 words in every sentence. Highlight topics, circle ACTORS. Then sentence by sentence, fix the sentence for clarity and cohesion. At times you may need to step back and re-organize the paragraph, for cohesion, as I did above. As you go, you will undoubtedly discover that you have paragraphs in the wrong order, or some are too small, or too big, or repetitive, or simply extraneous, while in other instances you will realize that pieces of your argument are missing. But it is often easier to see what is wrong with the big structure only after you have worked a bit on the details.


Some comments based on reading essays:


1. Avoid summarizing. Explain what is in the article ONLY in when relating it explicitly to the course, or discussing how it DOESN’T relate.


2. Two kinds of articles – ones that propose a cause and effect, and ones that simply describe. When a cause and effect are proposed, half your work is done for you – you just have to tell me if the cause-effect link is the same as one of our theories from class. If the article is more descriptive, you may be called upon to make predictions, or build the causal argument yourself.


3. Be critical of the article. You probably understand cities better than the author, so don’t be afraid to point where he or she may be wrong. Exercise what my mother called “your crap detector.” Be especially critical if the authr from the article appears to have a position to defend. Avoid work by people paid to present a particular point of view – such as public relations writing, people writing editorials for specific industries, or writing for the editorial page of a major newspaper.



4.On a related note you must separate the facts, the author’s conclusions, and your own points.