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Economical writing (or, “Think Hemingway”)

Abstract

Salant (J Polit Econ 77(4):545–558, 1969) complained that on many occasions he found the writing of his fellow economists “nearly incomprehensible,” and made suggestions to improve economists’ writing skills (and, by extension, those of natural and social scientists in general). Among other things, he argued that good writers tend to use shorter words. We call this “the Salant hypothesis,” and use standard statistical techniques to test this claim by comparing the average length of words used by Nobel laureates in their banquet speeches. We find that Literature laureates tend to use shorter words than laureates in other disciplines, and the difference is statistically significant. These results support Salant’s idea that words should be used efficiently. This includes using short words instead of longer ones whenever possible. In short, good writing is also “economical writing.”

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Luis Pedro La Torre and Evelyn Mayté Milián for valuable research assistance, and an anonymous referee for very helpful comments and suggestions. We have borrowed the expression “economical writing” from McCloskey (2000), though we use it here in a somewhat narrower sense than she does.

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Correspondence to Andrés Marroquín.

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Marroquín, A., Cole, J.H. Economical writing (or, “Think Hemingway”). Scientometrics 103, 251–259 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-014-1522-1

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Keywords

  • Word length
  • Readability
  • Economical writing
  • Salant hypothesis
  • Nobel prize
  • ANOVA

JEL Classification

  • A11
  • A20
  • B31

Mathematics Subject Classfication

  • 62J10