Archive for the ‘Editing’ Category

Service of Keep it Short: Economists Resist the Trend

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

We’d all do well to heed Blaise Pascal’s apology: “If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.” It might be among the first well known quotes to recognize the benefits of taking the time to self-edit. I’m horrified at some of my first drafts bloated with superfluous words and appreciate it if I have time to revise.

Ben Leubsdorf made it clear that many academics in the economics world haven’t received Pascal’s message. Until recently they haven’t recognized the trend to share sometimes life-changing information in increasingly reduced sizes. Think social media.

Leubdorf wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “The average length of a published economics paper has more than tripled over the past four decades, and some academics are sick of wading through them.”

Photo: nature.com

He quoted MIT professor David Autor who launched a [lengthy] Twitter hashtag, #ThePaperIsTooDamnedLong, inspired by a working paper about minimum wage. He compared wading through the 94-pager to “being bludgeoned to death with a Nerf bat.”

The American Economics Association [AEA] “announced last year it would launch a journal dedicated to publishing only concise papers, at least by economists’ standards—nothing longer than 6,000 words, or about 15 double-spaced pages.” But that’s not expected to happen until next summer. One economist predicted that this approach might attract 600+ papers the first year.

That was Amy Finkelstein of MIT. She told Leubsdorf that significant papers written in the1950s by future Nobel Prize winners Paul Samuelson and John Nash covered public good and game theories in just a few pages. “Some journals today seem wary of publishing such quick reads.” In 50 years the top five academic journals covering economics upped average paper size from 16 to 50 according to a University of California, Berkeley analysis.

Paul Samuelson Photo: nobelprize.org

“It isn’t unusual for economists to include a number of statistical checks to confirm each finding’s validity, similar points made with several different data sets, lengthy reviews of past research, multiple appendices with technical details and page after page of Greek letter-laden formulas that require, well, a Ph.D. to understand.”

Katharine Anderson told Leubsdorf that the time it takes to write and read/review a lengthy paper becomes a huge commitment. The Carnegie Mellon University economist explained that these papers must make/prove many different points while academic papers in other specialties need make only one or two. Boston University’s Samuel Bazzi said that these papers include redundancies “to head off possible quibbles that might come up during the review process.”

Do you think briefer academic papers in a specialty such as economics will positively impact the quality of research or at least the dissemination of information? How is it that eminent economists in the 1950s could make their points—and win Nobel Prizes—reporting breakthroughs in 16 pages while today some need 50+? Do the blinders to essential changes in communications by this community reflect on their abilities to forecast?

Photo: economcsdiscussion.net

Service of Editing

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

devil-wears-prada

One of my editors was a part-time consultant at the first magazine I worked for and she taught me how to approach writers I’d edit in future: I did the opposite of everything she did. She attacked and demeaned writers ferociously. I’d return to my desk so jangled and distracted by her anger that I was barely able to jot down my name.

Picking and choosing

Picking and choosing

I thought of her when one of the students I mentor showed me the come-on she got from an online resume service that will revise a resume for $700. She’s a brilliant young woman who in this economy has organizations and companies asking her to intern for them, so she can pick and choose.

Fear is what this boilerplate selling service preys on. The very long cover letter and even longer critique, with a few tweaks to make the recipient feel that it’s written for them, would fit many people in a range of industries.

The second paragraph of the cover letter begins, “Let’s be honest.” What a turnoff and warning about the quality and sincerity of the service. Choosing to initial cap Candidate in the letter and Hiring Manager in the critique……whose pandering style book are they following? 

hiring-managerI’ve read hundreds of resumes between hiring, directing a mentoring initiative and participating in scholarship selection committees and I’ve helped revise countless others. This woman’s resume is easy to scan or scrutinize. I disagree with the critique: “Your resume is difficult to read and is a victim of bad design.” The subsequent implication that her resume was tedious and/or confusing smacks of additional scare tactics. Hers is succinct, clear, and coherent.

edit-copy1I wonder if they’d pay me $700 to edit their cover letter. “In fact your resume has one of the hardest sales challenge [sic] of all: to convince employers, who are complete strangers, that you are someone who could be a difference maker in their organization.”

Would you pay five cents for a critique that includes: “Let’s face it ___[name of potential sucker/client], you’re an experienced Marketing, not a resume writer.”

five-centsWhat’s a Marketing?

And, let’s face it, if someone had read the resume they critiqued, they would know that this young woman is a computer software engineer whose experience is light in marketing though moving briskly in that direction given the graduate degree she’s pursuing and internships she’s completed. Guess the online resume revising place has no boilerplate for transitions and outstanding combinations of skills.

I didn’t have to read farther than the next sentence to confirm that the person who was going to revise it also needed to tighten up her writing style. She wrote:  “Still, a professional at your experience level,” [did she mean “a person with your experience”]– is actually a student launching her marketing career.

Back to “Let’s be honest,” my mentee said that she couldn’t take credit for business results and outcomes that she was urged and advised to provide but which she didn’t cause. 

I agree with the company rep that a resume is a sales tool but I also believe in truth in advertising and treating the person I’m editing with respect, not with inappropriate chumminess on the cusp of rudeness.

Both editors–mine and this one–were trying to foment insecurities, one to grab a power advantage and to feel superior, the other to get a patsy’s money. Do you know of similar tactics? How do you protect yourself from falling for such swindlers?

 nail-biting

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