Monday, March 31, 2014

Student Advice I: Some Good Reading for Good Writing (and Good Graphics)

Good writing is good thinking, so when you next hear some pretentious moron boast that ``I don't like to write, I like to think," rest assured, he's surely a bad writer and a bad thinker. Again, good writing is good thinking. If you like "to do research" but don't like "to write it up," then you're not thinking clearly. Research and writing are inextricably intertwined.

The Elements of StyleHow to get there? Read and absorb McCloskey's Rhetoric of Economics, and Strunk and White's Elements of Style. There's no real need to read or absorb much else (about writing). But do bolt the Chicago Manual of Style to your desk. Then get going. Think about what you want to say, why, and to whom. Think hard and critically about logical structure and flow, at all scales, small and large. Revise and edit, again and again. Make things easy for your readers.  Listen to your words; push your prose toward poetry. 

VDQI Book Cover

Good graphics is also good thinking, and precisely the same advice holds. Read and absorb Tufte's Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Notice, by the way, how well Tufte writes (even if he sometimes goes overboard with the poetry thing). It's no accident. As Tufte says: show the data, and appeal to the viewer. Recognize that your first cut using default software settings will never, ever, be satisfactory. (If that statement doesn't instantly resonate with you, then you're in desperate need of a Tufte infusion.) So revise and edit, again and again. And again.