Writing About Finance and Economics

Two computer software engineers asked me for advice about technical writing. Explaining economics and finance shares some of the challenges of technical writing, so I pulled together some notes.

General Writing Tips

Practice. Spending 20 minutes a day writing will build writing skills.

Write the first draft quickly; don’t fine tune a paragraph; just move on to the next paragraph. Then let sit for 24 hours and revise. Repeat after another 24 hours. If the information is time sensitive (which in your case might be you want something available to coworkers right away), publish first and edit later.

Make sure your grammar is right. My Forbes editors love Grammarly, an app. I’ve tried it and found it was not useful, because my grammar was pretty good from the get-go. But it might be worth trying to see if you have some persistent problem. In the past, I wrote many comma splices.

Tips That Might Apply to Technical Writing

Consider submitting some writing you’ve done to an experienced technical writer (which you can find through Upwork) and asking him/her for advice on areas for improvement.

Write simple sentences. The more complex the sentence, the harder for someone else to understand it.

Beware of references to past points with “it” or “that” or “which.” Cotton prices rose in Alabama due to boll weevils reducing crop yields, along with higher labor costs. That also happened in Mississippi. In the second sentence, what does “that” refer to? Higher cotton prices, lower yields or higher labor costs, or the entire sequence?

What does your audience know? Don’t belabor points they are sure to know; provide references if you’re unsure if the audience knows some point; and explain what they probably don’t know that you think they should know.

Tips For Getting the Audience to Want to Read Your Stuff

Have a lead that says why they should read this. Then have a thesis statement that drives all further content.

Don’t add interesting stuff that is not necessary for the thesis statement.

Use action verbs rather than forms of “to be.” Virus uncertainty challenges business leaders is better than Virus uncertainty is a challenge for business leaders.

Reducing my first draft’s word count by 30% generally improves the article. Beyond 30% worsens the article. Your mileage may vary. Leonard Elmore wrote, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

When deleting content, copy it to the bottom of the document, in case you later decide to use it.

Get an idea, start a document. It you don’t have time to write it, save the file with just a few words that will remind you of the idea.

Try to start sentences and paragraphs with main points: Unemployment of high school dropouts rose, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is better than According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment of high school dropouts rose last month.

Writing positives is better than negatives, in my opinion, though many don’t follow this rule. Ronald Reagan had a new speechwriter who started a sentence, “I will never forget . . .” Reagan crossed that out and wrote, “I shall always remember . . .”