STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES FOR WRITTEN ASSIGNMENTS
by Marilyn D. Johnson
- Submitting Assignments
The written assignments are intended to help you learn to express yourself
more clearly, coherently, appropriately, and correctly. This is something that
successful business people need to know how to do. It's also expected of educated
people. In our culture, poor communication skills leave the reader or listener
with a lasting negative impression.
You can't learn to write or to improve your writing by studying the theory
of writing. You learn to write by writing.
To improve your writing, you must be held to high standards. As in all endeavors,
sluggards and cheaters get nowhere. You have to work at it. You especially have
to learn to be willing to rewrite. Good writing requires rewriting. If you question
this, try cutting the number of words in the first draft of any composition
in half -- retaining all of your essential information, of course. Then cut
it in half again. Most people notice a huge improvement when they do this. It
cuts the clutter. If this doesn't work for you, then just keep writing and rewriting
until you have said what you want to say the best you can say it.
What is "good" writing? In general, it's:
- Focused. It makes an assertion and then presents a clear
and consistent argument for that claim with relevant evidence. Anything extraneous
is weeded out. This creates a sense of unity and clarity.
- Accurate. It includes only information that is trustworthy.
Conveying false, misleading or exaggerated information shatters a writer's
credibility. This means it's crucial that writers know their sources. If you
are unsure of the reliability of any information, it's wise to verify with
at least one other source and preferably with more than one. This criterion
becomes especially important when doing Internet research. Anyone can put
anything on the Web. There's no requirement that what's up there be true.
- Simple. It uses words that are concise and precise. Sentences
and paragraphs are brief but complete. Simple, declarative sentences are best.
Each paragraph has a topic sentence. Each paragraph develops one main point.
Each sentence clearly leads to the next. Words and phrases clearly connect
each point or sentence. Transitions link ideas so that the reader moves effortlessly
from one topic to the next. Known information is presented before the new
to help the reader make connections.
- Correct. It follows conventions in sentence structure,
grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
- Appropriate. It adheres to the etiquette standards inherent
in all languages. The language of the inner city, for example, would destroy
credibility if used by an international banker engaged in a high-level business
negotiation in London but would be acceptable and even expected of a famous
rapper visiting an inner-city American school. It's important to know your
audience and how best to communicate with its members. This is often called
the "tone" of writing, which means the implied attitude of the writer
toward the reader. American business language allows for some leeway in formality.
It isn't as casual as conversation, but it also isn't as formal as traditional
academic writing such as that found in journals.
- Pleasing. It flows with the cadence of each author's unique
rhythm, which becomes obvious when writing is read aloud. This is often called
a writer's "voice." Voice is what makes writing human rather than
institutional. It includes the pattern of pauses, longer and shorter sentences,
and clipped vs. stretched-out words that are selected according to individual
taste, knowledge, and experience.
- Thorough. It leaves no questions unanswered. Good writers
try to put themselves in their readers' shoes. They ask themselves, "What
else might this person want or need to know?" Then they provide the information.
There are many good books available in the library and in any bookstore that
will help you write better. You are strongly encouraged to read at least one
before writing your assignments. Here are some classics:
All assignments must be submitted by e-mail as an attachment. You must use
Microsoft Word. Please type Econ 452 in the subject line of all e-mails. This
will alert me to give your message priority status.
You are expected to submit work that is free of viruses, worms, and other technological
nightmares. Please do a scan before you submit your work. I will put a lot of
effort into thinking up hideous, disgusting punishment for anyone who messes
up my computer. :-(
All assignments must be submitted on the due date. There will be no exceptions.
I will grade each assignment primarily for style, but also for content (in
conjunction with Professor Reiley)
- In terms of content, we are concerned with the thoroughness, accuracy, and
consistency of information. As you do your research and prepare your papers,
remember that you will be educating me while I help you improve your written
communication skills. I do not intend either to read your text or to attend
lectures. Please make an effort to educate me as clearly and thoughtfully
as you can.
- How content is communicated means how well your writing meets the standards
of good writing as explained above. Here, for example, are a couple of common
pitfalls to avoid:
- Don't clutter your paper with pointless, pompous phrases such as "in
regards to," "this boils down to" and "as for."
Keep the KISS principle in mind: Keep It Simple and Straightforward.
- Avoid jargon or technical language. If you find that you just can't
resist despite being told not to do so, you must immediately explain the
acronym, word, or phrase in everyday language so that someone who is not
an economist could understand it.
Other suggestions, concerns, and procedures
- No writer, even a great one, writes good prose in a first draft. Novelist
Ernest Hemingway, for example, was known for reworking his stories as many
as 200 times. You aren't expected to do that many revisions, of course. :>)
But it's reasonable to write at least three.
- The first "run" through any composition should help you find
your primary point as you put down on paper all of the information uncovered
during your research.
- The second draft should hone and tighten that information. In this draft,
you should have developed a clear topic sentence stating your theme at
the very beginning. Subsequent paragraphs should support the theme in
step-by-step, logical order.
- People who want a good grade will write a third draft in order to "polish"
their prose by checking to be sure they have done as much as possible
to meet the standards of good writing. This includes editing out excess
verbiage, making sure the verbs in all sentences are active, and checking
to be sure that all paragraphs focus on a single thought.
- An important hint: Before you turn your papers in, try reading them aloud.
You don't necessarily need to read to someone else. Hearing your words often
helps in spotting errors and "holes" where more information needs
to be provided.
- Since it's impossible to know students' writing abilities before seeing
something they've written, additional guidelines to complement this overview
will be sent out as needed in e-mails to everyone in the class. Be sure to
check your e-mail at least twice a week.
- Feel free to e-mail me if you encounter problems while you are preparing
your assignments. I will expect you to show some indication that you have
tried to answer your question on your own before contacting me. Also, you
would be wise not to wait until the last moment to do any of this work. I
am often not home on weekends, so if you are trying to cram your paper together
at 2 a.m. on the night before it's due, and you run into an insurmountable
obstacle you know you could knock down if you could just ask me this one little
question . . . you're probably going to be out of luck. Make life easier for
yourself. Don't procrastinate.