The Importance of Precision and Citation in Academic Writing Nathan Arnold | Labor Economics

This writing-intensive labor economics class has been quite a learning experience. Aside from fascinating economic theory and concepts related to the labor market, I have learned to consolidate my writing and minimize excess language through various writing assignments. I have also learned the importance of citing researched material as I go along to avoid having to do twice as much work finding sources.

While I came into the course with a good foundation in writing, I found that my greatest area of improvement was removing fluffy language. For example, while writing early drafts of my final paper I thought that some of the added descriptive content was necessary from a narrative perspective. However, when writing a research paper, content is much more important than length or aesthetics. Because of this, my final draft is much more straight forward and efficient.

I also recognized that I have been conditioned to write to meet the page requirement rather than until the point has been made. This is why I appreciated the fact that content was prioritized over length throughout this course.

To begin, I would like to discuss the development of my ability to trim the excess language from my writing. Explicitly stating a fact or reaching a point is much more effective without distracting language. The differences between the first draft of my final paper and the last are astonishing.

Here is an example of a paragraph from an early draft of my final paper, before I considered the importance of brevity:

While outsourcing labor has drawn the most attention as the cause of the decline in demand for unskilled labor (Axelrod, 2017), it is vital to fully examine and consider other possible causes that may also have a notable effect on the unskilled labor market. While there are many possible contributors to the issue, they generally fall under four categories to which they can be associated, clarifying their analysis. These categories are trade, immigration, technology, and domestic causes. These topics will be discussed in depth in the following paragraphs.

And here is the same paragraph from my most recent edit of my final paper:

While outsourcing labor has drawn the most attention as the cause of the decline in demand for unskilled labor (Axelrod, 2017), it is vital to fully examine other possible causes. These contributors can be categorized as: trade, immigration, technology, and domestic causes, and will be discussed in depth in the following paragraphs.

Precision is vital to clearly get one's idea across to any audience. I was able to explain the same amount of information in the second paragraph as I was in the first. I did so, however, in a fraction of the space. Aside from the clear difference in the delivery of the information, I feel as though it is much easier to stay focused while reading the second example.

In addition to improving my writing style, the final project also gave me the opportunity to write a true research paper. Research-driven essays that I have written in the past were aimed at teaching me how to do meaningful research and use that research to support my claim. This paper, on the other hand, was much more robust and forced me to cite every fact as specifically as possible.

As someone open to doing research later on in my professional career and is interested in doing an honors research project, this was an invaluable experience. Writing this paper has enlightened me to the necessity of citing every statement founded on the research of another individual. I learned the hard way that I should always cite information while I am writing instead of when I am done the paper. Until my last draft, I was still finding myself having to cite statements that I had written a couple drafts ago.

Here is an example of a paragraph from my first draft, before I grasped the pertinence of in-text citations:

Technology has become more of a determinant of unemployment over the past several decades. A rise in the sophistication, precision, and efficiency of technology has led to a fall in the demand for human labor, particularly in manufacturing. Studies have shown that employees who cannot keep up with the changing technology are at a greater risk of losing their jobs compared to those who can adapt. Machines are generally more efficient than human labor as well, since they do not require breaks, they do not need to receive benefits, and they are upwards of 250 times more productive than the average human worker (Entorf 1999). In addition, having machines perform highly dangerous tasks eliminates a company’s exposure to medical liability should an injury occur. Technology has undoubtedly become an increasingly direct threat to low-skill employees.

Now here is the same passage with proper citations:

Technology has become more of a determinant of unemployment over the past several decades. A rise in the sophistication, precision, and efficiency of technology has led to a fall in the demand for human labor, particularly in manufacturing (Axelrod, 2017). Studies have shown that employees who cannot keep up with the changing technology are at a greater risk of losing their jobs compared to those who can adapt (Entorf et al., 1999). In addition, machines are generally more efficient than human labor because they do not require breaks, they do not need to receive benefits, and they are 250 times more productive than the average human worker (Entorf et al., 1999). In addition, having machines perform highly dangerous tasks eliminates a company’s exposure to medical liability should an injury occur. Technology has undoubtedly become an increasingly direct threat to low-skill employees.

It is also important to mention the impact that the current event (CE) and CPA assignments had on the evolution of my writing ability. These assignments, while small individually, had a significant long-term effect on my abilities to write voluminously, timely, responsively, and relevantly.

At first, the CPA's scheduled for each chapter were a bit daunting. Composing two-page summaries (single-spaced) in addition to responding to reflective questions seemed like quite a task at the beginning of the semester. But as time went on, I developed a systematic approach to these assignments. As I learned how to tackle such a large amount of writing, my responses became more reflective and less mechanical.

For example (CPA 7):

There is a positive correlation between having a willingness to migrate to a job and higher earnings. When searching for a job, an individual must consider many aspects of their current job and the promises of a new one. Their willingness to migrate can depend on their age, family ties, education, distance, and the current unemployment level. In addition, labor mobility increases the allocative efficiency of multiple labor markets because it moves people from a concentrated population of a specific labor group into a different, less concentrated population of similar workers. On the other hand, mobility can force organizations outside of the labor market to misallocate resources, indirectly causing inefficiencies. Mobility can also negatively redistribute wealth, reducing the income of workers native to the region to which people are migrating as well as losses in the region workers are leaving.

Of course, longevity is not the goal of academic writing, as was stated previously. However, it is an advantage to be able to write a substantive amount of material in a relatively short period of time. These assignments helped me to understand and develop the skill of writing plentifully in a brief window of time.

On a different note, the CE assignments played an alternate role in the development of my writing as well as my critical thinking. The task of reading and responding to a news article is an undervalued skill in many classes reliant on current events. So often people are presented with the latest information and are incapable of gaining the necessary knowledge from that information. CE assignments helped me to think conscientiously about current news and to respond reasonably to other's reactions.

Consider the following excerpt, where I respond to another student discussing changing immigration policy:

The effect of the Trump administration immigration policy has undoubtedly had a serious impact on the accessibility of visas. I think the point you made about how greater employment of American workers in jobs usually taken by foreign workers would ultimately have a negative economic effect was very interesting. It seems as though the people Trump is trying to deter from entering the country are the people least effected by his policies. HB-1 visas are used by companies who want to bring highly-skilled foreign workers to their company and will ultimately benefit American corporations, or at least corporations operating in America, both of which are situations that the Trump administration claims to endorse. I recently read an article in USA Today that companies may be forced to pay more in order to bring foreign employees to work at their company via HB-1 visas. This is a major disincentive to companies to bring the best and brightest from all over the world to work in America, primarily benefiting American society. I wonder if these negative side effects were anticipated, or at least made aware to, the Trump administration? I would be interested to hear what others think about the effects, both intended and unintended, by the Trump administration.

Before I took this course, I do not believe that I would be able to respond as poignantly to the thoughts of another student's reflection. That is not to say that I could not be respectful in my response to another person. However, I learned how to propel the conversation further while considering the input of others and providing feedback to their thoughts. This is a key skill to writing research papers. When constructing a research essay, I need to be able to gather information from different sources, react to that information in a meaningful way, and assimilate my reactions in a way that encourages further discussion on my topic. Skills like those learned from doing current events are highly important to the creation and evaluation of research, which is why it is unfortunate that these assignments are not appropriately valued.

To conclude, this writing-intensive class has progressed my writing style and abilities, making me more efficient and more effective as a writer. Through a variety of assignments, I learned how to trim the excess, cite work properly, write faster, critically assess the work of others, and respond to the work of others in an impactful way. All of these skills are essential to writing a research paper, which was the apex assignment of this course. Through that assignment, I learned how to turn the findings of others into a unique opinion of my own. I will take the skills I have learned in this class and apply them to my work in my final semesters in college and beyond.

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