Policymakers rely on academic economists to “follow the science” and objectively model out how X impacts Y.   For gosh sakes, they use formal modeling methodologies and other quantitative analysis, all peer reviewed.  In the larger political swamp surely these creatures are the more objective, non-partisan ones.

Alas, no.  In novel research published in the Economic Journal researchers used machine learning to analyze word choice to predict political ideology.  To prove the accuracy of their prediction they compared it with survey data that measured political ideology and a petition signing dataset.

In the easiest quiz since “What color is the White House?”, which words go with left/right leaning?

Word choice strongly predicts left/right lean and whether the economist signs a left/right leaning petition.   And guess what, that pure as the wind driven snow economic modeling is also as polluted by politics as the smoke filled backrooms of yesteryear.   Estimates of the gender gap, returns to job training, labor supply elasticities, minimum wage elasticities, and union productivity effects were all skewed in the direction that ideology would dictate.

Our writing reveals us and a communication style.  If you use lots of nouns, prepositional phrases, adjectives and big words you walk and talk and sound just like an academic abstract.  Want to make your copy feel human, like a personal conversation or letter?

  • All pronouns are good.  1st, 2nd, 3rd person.  Indefinite.  When we talk we use lots of pronouns.  You’re writing should mirror this.  It’s a way to make copy involving.  This goes way beyond the simplistic “you” advice floating around the blogosphere.
  • Contractions.   They are  They’re how we talk.
  • Private verbs. There is a list of well over 100.  These share what the writer (i.e. signer) is thinking and feeling.  Examples: felt, heard, believed, wanted, dreamt, suspects, thinks, learned
  • Possibility modals:  can, may should..
  • Emphatics: just, really, most, more, for sure…

Words reveal us and our style. I don’t need to read your writing to know if it will be read, I can look at the diagnostic scores that reflect it.  In the same way you knew which economist was left/right.