Writing Matters

We estimate the causal effect of writing quality by comparing how experts judge the quality of 30 papers originally written by PhD students in economics. We had two versions of each paper: one original and one that had been languageedited. The language editing was done by two professional editors, who aimed to make the papers easier to read and understand. We then asked 18 writing experts and 30 economists to judge some of the original and edited papers. Each of these experts judged five papers in their original versions and five papers in their edited version, spending around 5 minutes per paper. None of the experts saw both versions of the same paper. None of the experts knew that some of the papers were edited. The writing experts judged the writing quality and the economists judged the academic quality of the papers. All economists in our sample have PhDs in economics and their academic positions range from postdoc to full professor; four of them are editors of academic journals; and all of them are regularly involved in judging the quality of academic papers as referees or members of conference committees. We estimate the effect of language editing on perceived writing quality and perceived academic paper quality by comparing the average judgement of original and edited papers.

Our results show that writing matters. Writing experts judged the edited papers as 0.6 standard deviations (SD) better written overall (1.22 points on an 11point scale). They further judged the languageedited papers as allowing the reader to find the key message more easily (0.58 SD), having fewer mistakes (0.67 SD), being easier to read (0.53 SD), and being more concise (0.50 SD). These large improvements in writing quality translated into still substantial effects on economists’ evaluations. Economists evaluated the edited versions as being 0.2 SD better overall (0.4 points on an 11point scale). They were also 8.4 percentage points more likely to accept the paper for a conference, and were 4.1 percentage points more likely to believe that the paper would get published in a good economics journal. Our heterogeneity
analysis shows that the effects of language editing on writing quality and perceived academic quality are particularly large if the original versions were poorly written.

From a very well written paper by Jan Feld, Corinna Lines and Libby Ross.


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