The motivation for this paper is an argument proposed by Salant (1969), who claimed that on many occasions he found the writing of his colleagues “nearly incomprehensible.” Too often, he said, it is difficult to understand the main message that an economist is trying to communicate. He then argued that a “simple way of avoiding clumsiness is to prefer the short word to the long one and to avoid the unfamiliar word if a familiar one can be found that is equally correct, specific, and concrete” (p. 556). We call this “the Salant hypothesis,” and use ANOVA to test this hypothesis by comparing the average length of words used by Nobel laureates in their acceptance speeches. We find that Literature laureates do indeed tend to use shorter words than laureates in other disciplines, and the difference is statistically significant. These results confirm Salant’s idea that words are a scarce resource and should be used efficiently. This includes using short words instead of long ones whenever possible. In short, good writing is also “economical writing.”
See the draft here.