Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS

LKYSPP — Writing Course Papers
Instructor: Danny Quah
E-Comms: D.Quah@nus.edu.sg | @DannyQuah | /DannyQuah
Office: OTH, Wing A, #02-03a; +65.6601.5506

Writing Course Papers

This isn't a course in writing; it's a course on economics and public policy, broadly construed. But taken together course writings count for a significant part of the course. Good persuasive writing is essential for doing well in the course. By implication, some points on writing well will be useful to keep in mind.

Papers should be written in full essay prose, not in outline itemization. For a good paper, the coherence of the argument, the smooth stringing together of lines of reasoning, and an individual writing style all matter.

Something that seems too obvious to mention but is important and keeps from awarding top marks is: Make sure to address the course. If it's a course on World Order or International Finacial Architecture (say), no matter its primary focus, your paper needs, ultimately, to speak to that topic.

Slightly less obvious, if at all possible, get in some data and empirical evidence that addresses the argument you want to make. This doesn't have to come from some statistical study; it can be survey data or a case study conclusion. Put down a killer fact [or facts], and make sure your audience knows you've just done so. Let your reader remember something new they didn't know before, and let them know how it relates to the case you want to make.

Marks are awarded for flair, style, and persuasiveness. Flair and style do not mean colourful overblown prose, but instead refer to the kind of tight, persuasive argument as seen in the best-written economics or development blogs, or in the best articles on Project Syndicate, The Diplomat, or elsewhere.

A few basic features make your writing more readable — and thus attract greater readership: Begin your paper by saying what you will do; write down your argument; then conclude by telling the reader what you have done.

Use short powerful sentences. Answer the question you have set for yourself.

Grab the reader within the first three sentences. Make the reader beg to know what comes next.

Declarative statements beat long-winded, meandering, convoluted stylings composed in passive voice (“it is shown that ...”). Try to have the first sentence of each paragraph summarise the point you will be making.

Be credible. Numbers beat generalities: It is much more authoritative, memorable, and convincing to pronounce “this change over the last three decades has reduced by 627mn the number of Chinese living in extreme poverty—that's almost double the population of the US or the EU, 10 times the population of the UK”, than to mumble “there aren't now quite as many poor people in China”. Don't say “the rise of the East has made Asia more important in the world economy”; say instead “The world's economic centre of gravity has arced 5,000km across our planet, eastwards from its traditional moorings in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where Western Europe and the US had between them previously accounted for 70% of world GDP”.

Put down key facts and figures.

End strong. Give your readers one headline to take away that is truly your own, not something of the enemy's. Conclude by summarizing what you've done. Note what points you've covered. Tell your readers what you want them to remember.

Danny Quah
Last modified: Sat Dec 31 18:37:35 Malay Peninsula Standard Time 2016