Talking Reading Listening Essay, Research Paper
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Oxford University Press, 1965.
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May/June 1970. 16, 2: 123-152.
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Eric Rasmusen, Indiana University School of Business, Rm. 456,
1309 E 10th Street, Bloomington, Indiana, 47405-1701. Office: (812) 855-9219. Fax: 812-855-3354.
Email: Erasmuse@Indiana.edu. Web: http://ezinfo.ucs.indiana.edu/erasmuse. Revised, June 26, 1996
1. To overcome writer?s block, put together an outline of the points you want to make,
in any order. Then, order them. Start writing without worrying about style, and later
revise heavily or start over. Starting twice today is better than waiting three months
and starting once. It is better, a fortiori, than waiting forever.
2. Xerox your paper before you give it to anyone, or, better still, retain two copies on
disk, in separate locations (for fear of fire).
3. Number each page of text, so the reader can comment on particular pages. Num-ber
each equation in drafts on which you want comments. If you have appropriate
software, label each line.
4. The title page should always have (1) the date, (2) your address, (3) your phone
number, and (4) your e-mail address. You might as well put your fax number down
5. A paper over five pages long should include a half-page summary of its main point.
Depending on your audience, call this an abstract or an executive summary. In gen-eral,
write your paper so that someone can decide within three minutes whether he
wants to read it.Usually, you do not get the benefit of the doubt.
6. It is often useful to divide the paper into short sections using boldface headings,
especially if you have trouble making the structure clear to the reader.
7. Technical papers should present their results as Propositions (theinteresting results,
stated in words), Corollaries (subsidiary ideas or special cases which flow directly
from the propositions), Lemmas (points which need to be proved to prove the propo-sitions,
but usually have no instrinsic interest) and Proofs. Lemmas and Proofs can be
purely mathematical, but Propositions and Corollaries should be intelligible to some-one
who flips directly to them when he picks up the paper.That means they must be
intelligible to someone who does not know the paper?s notation. A reader must be
able to decide whether the paper is worth reading just by reading the propositions.
8. It is best to present the model in as short a space as possible, before pausing to
explain the assumptions. That way, the experienced reader can grasp what the model
is all about, and all readers can flip back and find the notation all in one place. It
is okay, and even desirable, however, to separate the model and the analysis of the
9. Do not introduce new facts in your concluding section. Instead, (a) summarize your
findings, or (b) suggest future research.
Eric Rasmusen, Indiana University School of Business, Rm. 456, 1309 E 10th Street, Bloomington,
Indiana, 47405-1701. Office: (812) 855-9219. Fax: 812-855-3354. Email: Erasmuse@Indiana.edu. Web:
http://ezinfo.ucs.indiana.edu/erasmuse. Revised July 2, 1996.
10. Even a working paper should have a list of references, and these should be at the very
end, after the appendices and diagrams, so the reader can flip to them easily. Law
reviews do not publish lists of references, but you should have one anyway for the
working paper version, including separately a list of cases and statutes cited, with, if
you want to be especially helpful, a phrase of explanation. Example: United States
v. O?Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968) (upholding the conviction of a draft card burner).
11. Be content if your paper has one contribution to make. That is one more than most
published articles. If you include too many points, the reader may not be able to
locate the best one. Beware of listing too many results as propositions. Three propo-sitions
to an article is plenty; a paper with ten propositions clearly has nothing to
say. But don?t follow the example of the author who had eight propositions and eight
theorems so he could avoid double-digit numbering!
12. Please don?t shoot the reader; he?s doing his best. The reader, like the customer,
is always right. That is not to be taken literally, but it is true in the sense that if
the reader has trouble, the writer should pay attention to why, and not immediately
blame the reader. Copyeditors are a different matter. Especially at law reviews and
scholarly journals, they are often pedantic young college grads who rely on rules and
ignore clarity. (In my experience, book copyeditors are much better.)
13. In dealing with journals, remember that the editor, and even the referee, is usually
much smarter than you are. They often get things wrong, but that is because they
are in a hurry or feel obligated to give objective reasons for rejecting a paper when
the real reason is that it is trivial or boring. If a referee has given some thought to
the paper, he is probably correct when he suggests changes. Suggesting changes is a
sign that he has indeed given some thought to it; referees who have just skimmed the
paper usually do not suggest any changes.
14. Reading your paper out loud is the best way to catch awkward phrasing and typos.
Have someone else proofread the final version for you.
15. It is very useful to set aside a paper for a week or a month before going back to revise
16. Serious papers require many drafts (five to twenty-five). Coursework does not, but
you should be aware of the difference from professional academic standards.
17. Look at published papers to get a guide for the accepted formats for academic papers.
18. Scholarly references to ideas can be in parenthetic form, like (Rasmusen ),
instead of in footnotes.
Footnotes are suitable for tangential comments, citation
of specific facts (e.g., the ratio of inventories to final sales is 2.6), or explanations
Like this: Rasmusen, Eric (1988) ?Stock Banks and Mutual Banks.? Journal of Law and Economics.
October 1988, 31: 395-422.
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