Sunday, February 07, 2016

Behavioural Economics and Moral Philosophy

Behavioural economics and moral philosophy have a number of important connections. For example, Peter Singer's "The Life You Can Save" argues that those with the means to do so have a moral obligation to donate money to life-saving charities. He argues that charity auto-enrolment through the work-place is a legitimate way of turning this moral duty into an active choice. In the video I linked to earlier this month on the blog, Derek Parfit argues for something similar, and also argues that we should develop mechanisms to reinforce early life good intentions to donate to life-saving causes e.g. the development of informal giving clubs whereby people could monitor one another's giving through life. There are obviously many ways in which the behavioural insights and related literatures could inform the development of a culture of giving in wealthy countries. This is related to an interesting question as to moral aspects of behavioural intervention. I have previously posted a lengthy reading list on the ongoing debate about the ethics of nudging people's behaviour. This mostly relates to issues of autonomy, dignity, and respect, in the context of behavioural interventions.  A bigger question, in some respects, is what domains we should care about when thinking about influencing behaviour.  Parfit's 2011 book "On What Matters" asks fundamental questions on why we should take action in different domains, and makes the case for objective ethical grounds for interventions to improve the welfare of the destitute. It is worth debating further the circumstances under which we have a moral need to intervene in improving the welfare of individuals or groups, and how to prioritise these cases. Why should we care if somebody in a wealthy country is not saving sufficiently to smooth consumption through retirement? Similarly, does it really matter if a consumer ends up paying more for electronic products due to the contractual arrangements being confusing? Why would someone devote their life to changing these situations? I am not posing these as rhetorical questions. They are not simple questions to answer, but they are certainly worth reflecting on. Also, many behavioural interventions relate to improving future outcomes for society and particular groups. Parfit's repugnant conclusion needs to be considered in these cases - by intervening we change the future groups being created.  Future generations living in a behaviourally-optimised polity would be different people to the ones that will emerge anyway, and the latter would presumably be happy to have lived even in lesser circumstances. There are many answers to the repugnant conclusion, and it is worth thinking further about them in the context of large-scale societal interventions. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Workshop on Mental Health, Work and the Economy March 24th


This workshop, taking place in Stirling on March 24th, brings together academics across economics, psychology and health disciplines as well as practitioners and policy-makers to examine the emerging literature on mental health, work and the economy. The workshop will critically address several themes including, but not limited to, the economic determinants of well-being and mental health, the contribution of mental health to life-long economic trajectories, the potential for expansion of the mental health services, and the role of mental health in labour market policy. We hope to have an open workshop with a combination of presentation of academic findings, critical perspectives and discussion of policy implications. This workshop is the latest in a series of workshops on well-being and economics that have been held in Stirling in the last few years. Details of the previous workshop held at the Scottish Parliament are available below:

http://economicspsychologypolicy.blogspot.ie/2015/09/future-directions-for-well-being-policy.html

The workshop will include debate on some of the key questions in the area of mental health and employment, including:

What is the state of empirical evidence on the relationships between mental health and employment? What gaps remain?

How should evidence of relationships between mental health and employment translate into policy?

What ethical considerations does the use of mandatory psychological interventions and the emergence of psychological conditionality as part of workfare programmes raise?

What potential harm might be created by inappropriate use of psychological approaches in work activation settings?

Preliminary Programme:

8.45am to 9am: Registration 

9am to 9.15am: Introduction and Aims 

9.15am to 9.45am: Victoria Mousteri (PhD Student Stirling)

A Study of Unemployment’s Scarring Effect on Subjective Well-Being across Europe. 

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the sharp increase in unemployment has given rise to a broad discussion regarding the long-run welfare effects of unemployment. The objective of the current study is to examine unemployment scarring and to test whether unemployment has long-term repercussions for individual well-being. The relationship linking past unemployment experiences to later life satisfaction is identified across ten European countries: Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The analysis is based on a longitudinal, balanced sample created out of the retrospective employment history data of SHARE’s third wave, covering the period from 1970 to 2009, as well as the survey’s contemporary data on respondents’ life conditions collected in 2004-5, 2006-7 and 2011-12. The scarring effect of unemployment on life satisfaction is identified using a linear model estimated with individual random-effects and country level mixed-effects techniques. The estimation results indicate that having gone through one additional six-month spell of unemployment predicts lower life satisfaction by approximately 0.05 standard deviations after the age of 50. The findings also suggest that unemployment experiences acquainted during the sensitive period of one’s early years in the market could have a long-run psychological scarring effect on human welfare. 

9.45am to 10.15am: Daniel Kopasker (PhD Student Aberdeen, with Catia Montagna, and Keith Bender) 

The Mental Health Effects of Work-Related Economic Insecurity

This paper estimates the impact of work-related economic insecurity on the mental health of working-age adults in the UK. Data on the mental health of the UK workforce is sourced from the GHQ-12 index within the British Household Panel Survey between 1993 and 2007. By using exogenous fluctuations in economic conditions as an identification strategy, we have been able to support theoretical predictions regarding the direction of simultaneity bias within the economic insecurity and mental health relationship. The results suggest that even at a lower bound of the estimates, work-related economic insecurity has a large, negative, and statistically significant effect on the mental health of working-age males. Consistent with some of the existing literature, the effect is not observed in females. Importantly, the detrimental effect in males is observed regardless of future unemployment outcomes. As such, the welfare loss resulting from work-related economic insecurity represents a largely hidden health cost associated with employment in the UK. 

10.15am to 10.45am: Coffee 

10.45am to 11.15am: Michael Daly and Liam Delaney (Stirling)

Mental Health and Unemployment across the life-course 

There has been a great deal of research examining the effect of unemployment on well-being and mental health. It is now widely agreed that unemployment has costs to individuals in psychological terms that outweigh the associated income and wealth loss. However, a better understanding of the relationship between unemployment and mental health over time is required. As well as being a factor influencing mental ill-health, unemployment may clearly itself be influenced by mental health. The extent to which these relationships build up from childhood through adolescence and into early- and mid-adulthood is a key question which it is necessary to address in order to understand the role of education and employment policies. We utilise a number of large cohort study data-sets from around the world to provide estimates to date of the dual relationship between unemployment and mental ill-health and the factors influencing this relationship. We further examine the extent to which mental health and well-being influences unemployment at different stages of the life course and the business cycle.

11.15am to 12.00pm: Dr. Adam Coutts (Cambridge University) 

The Health and Well-being Effects of Active Labour Market Programmes

1200 to 1245pm: Lunch 

12.45pm to 1.25pm: Dr. Aaron Reeves (Oxford University)

Can policy change the relationship between unemployment and suicide?

1.25pm to 2.05pm Professor Wendy Loretto (Edinburgh University)

Later-life work and employee mental health: a neglected aspect of Extending Working Lives policy agenda?

2.05pm to 2.45pm: Dr. Lynne Friedli (Researcher at Hubbub at the Wellcome Collection)

Psychological imperatives: psycho-coercion in the UK ‘welfare to work’ programme

My paper is concerned with the use of psychological interventions in workfare (work for your benefits) programmes and in the rise of psychological conditionality: the requirement to demonstrate certain attitudes and beliefs in order to receive social security and other benefits, notably cheap food.  A certain psychological fundamentalism, and the discourse of psychological deficit, now dominate the welfare to work industry and, I will argue, contribute centrally to stigmatising (and disciplining) people who are unemployed or receiving income related benefits.  I will reflect on the growing influence of psychology and the role of psycho-policy in formulating and gaining consent for the current regime of welfare reform, as well as the implications of efforts to merge health and employment services.  These developments have been a catalyst for widespread resistance from claimants, mental health and disability rights activists and increasingly, from within the psy-professions.  They raise profound ethical questions which urgently need our attention.

2.45pm to 3.40pm: Panel Discussion 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Do we value past experiences?

Derek Parfit's 1984 work, Reasons and Persons, is one of the most important works on moral philosophy. It put forward an account of ethical decision making rooted in a philosophical conception of rationality, identity, and time. It has had a substantial impact on discussions of morals and ethics across a wide range of domains. It is also highly relevant to behavioural economics, in particular in understanding inter-temporal choice. 

The book is divided into 4 sections: the first "Self-defeating theories" deals with rational choice in the context of interconnected decisions; the second "Rationality and Time" develops an account of inter-temporal choice that questions our received notions of time; the third "Personal Identity" develops an account of identity based not on continuity but rather on mental connectedness; the fourth section discusses the nature of obligation to future generations. The book consists of 20 chapters as well as appendices, totalling 154 subsections each containing important ideas. The four parts of the book also interconnect and build to a startling set of ideas on how we should ethically behave towards others, our future selves, and future generations. The book's concepts have substantial relevance for economists. One example is his well-known "repugnant conclusion" that future generations should not be factored into policy considerations as different courses of action will simply create different future generations who, providing their existence is preferable to them than non-existence, will be grateful to have been born. Most relevant to the type of work we discuss on this blog, Shane Frederick has developed Parfit's ideas on psychological connectedness to future selves in order to examine inter-temporal choice.

Rather than attempt the task of summarising the relevance of Reasons and Persons for behavioural economics, I provide here one example for the purpose of illustration. Chapter 8 "Different Attitudes to Time" examines whether we are neutral with regard to time. If we are valuing a reward or punishment should it matter to us whether we receive it now, in the future, or in the past? A large part of behavioural economics is based on the idea that people will value present rewards more highly than future rewards, and that this will be accentuated when the time horizon is nearer. However, the idea of valuing past rewards is not something that is often discussed. 

At first glance, it seems like a very odd idea. For example, take the choice below (which is my clumsy construction): 

A: You will receive 100 pounds in a week, which you must spend on something you really enjoy. 

B: You will learn that you received 100 pounds last week, which you spent on something you really enjoyed and subsequently forgot about. 

Assuming that both experiences are equally enjoyable, it seems unlikely that anyone would prefer to have had that experience in the past rather than to have it available as a future option. Arguably, this is because we experience time as moving forward from our present state. An experience that happens to us in the past can only be valuable if it provides us with some element of present or future enjoyment. For example, if B led to us meeting someone that we became friends with, it may be rational to prefer B over the prospect of A. But the key point is that we do not place a value on the experience of B in itself because it is a past event that we no longer remember. 

Can we imagine conditions where we value past experiences without regard for any present or future benefits deriving from them? Parfit gives the example of someone learning that their mother had died. Should it matter to the person how she died? Given any information about this refers to something that is in the past, should the person then be indifferent? Consider the case where the person learns that their mother had endured many months of intense pain prior to death and compare this to the case where the person learns that their mother had died painlessly, surrounded by loved ones, after a brief illness. There are many objections one could raise about the precise set-up and I would certainly encourage people to read the very detailed passage by Parfit to fully appreciate the thought experiment. But it seems clear that the valuation of past experience is not just due to future utility considerations, such as the effect on family members and so on. We feel bad that our mother would have suffered and we want to avoid this, even if the event is in the past. Puzzlingly, this probably does not apply to our own past experiences. For example, Parfit discusses the case where you are conscious during a medical operation but then given a drug to make you sleep and forget the experience. On waking up, would it matter to you whether the operation had been painful or not? Compare this to your preferences immediately before the operation. 

The above examples are contained in one chapter that makes a far more wide-ranging point about the nature of time attitudes. This chapter itself is nested in a section that outlines a theory of temporal decision-making and this, in turn, is nested into a full theory of ethical decision making. But, even in isolation, the idea already makes us think about a number of assumptions we rarely question including how we experience time and whether our valuations are necessarily just related to future and present experiences, as opposed to past experiences. Questioning the assumption that we only value present and future experiences can then lead to us to question how we incorporate time into valuation more generally. Parfit goes on to do this in an ingenious way in the rest of the book. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

David Hume on Present Bias

The Scottish Enlightenment is a historical antecedent to the development of a wide range of modern thought. Ashraf, Camerer and Loewenstein's "Adam Smith, Behavioral Economist" provides an account of the ideas of one of the era's main figures. David Hume also anticipates many of the key ideas in modern behavioural economics. See below for a particularly illustrative passage (the full chapter here) from his Treatise of Human Nature, in which Hume provides an elegant account of present-bias, one of the key concepts in modern behavioural economics. Hume's work, in general, was dense in economic and psychological intuition, with many insights relevant to the types of literature we discuss on this blog. 
"In reflecting on any action, which I am to perform a twelve-month hence, I always resolve to prefer the greater good, whether at that time it will be more contiguous or remote; nor does any difference in that particular make a difference in my present intentions and resolutions. My distance from the final determination makes all those minute differences vanish, nor am I affected by any thing, but the general and more discernible qualities of good and evil. But on my nearer approach, those circumstances, which I at first over-looked, begin to appear, and have an influence on my conduct and affections. A new inclination to the present good springs up, and makes it difficult for me to adhere inflexibly to my first purpose and resolution. This natural infirmity I may very much regret, and I may endeavour, by all possible means, to free my self from it. I may have recourse to study and reflection within myself; to the advice of friends; to frequent meditation, and repeated resolution: And having experienced how ineffectual all these are, I may embrace with pleasure any other expedient, by which I may impose a restraint upon myself, and guard against this weakness."
There is a great deal of interest  in Scotland in behavioural economics and the related, developing literature on behavioural science, with research ongoing in these areas in most of the Universities here. It would be worth thinking about recognising, through various means, these historical linkages.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Derek Parfit on Giving: Oxford Union

Derek Parfit's speech at the Oxford Union last year is linked below. Parfit's 1984 "Reasons and Persons" is a magnificent work that I will summarise here at a later stage. It is widely regarded as one of the most important works on moral philosophy, and it has substantial relevance to a number of questions in behavioural economics. His other major work "On What Matters", a 1400 page plus treatise, was published in 2011. In the speech below he outlines ethical arguments for international philanthropy. Several big questions are considered: how much of our income should we donate to charities?; why does it matter?; should we join aid agencies or maximise earnings and donate money? He explores several other related issues and engages in a lengthy Q+A.

Resources for Writing Skills

I compiled this blogpost to aid discussion with colleagues and students about the best resources for improving writing skills and process.  This list is not intended to be exhaustive nor do I recommend each of the works listed. The usefulness of the various resources will differ across disciplines. Many of the resources relate to basic rules of written English. Others describe the particular conventions of dissertation and academic journal writing. Some of them relate to the process of writing. Much of the latter literature could be summarised by telling you to regularly sit somewhere quiet with no distractions writing for defined chunks of time, though it is worth discussing the extent to which writing discipline and routine formation are trainable skills that can be integrated into higher education. Patrick DunLeavy's twitter account (@write4research) is a particularly useful resource on the above themes. Alex Wood, co-director of our research centre, also has a webpage that provides advice for PhD students in psychology. 

Please note that the summaries below are from the publishers themselves.


Web resources



Cochrane (2005). Writing tips for PhD students. Graduate School of Business  University of Chicago. (Written for students of economics). 

Doctoral Writing SIG: DoctoralWritingSIG is a forum where people who are interested in doctoral writing can come together to share information, resources, ideas, dreams (perhaps even nightmares!) in a spirit of building knowledge and skills around higher degree research writing. You might be supporting research students in doctoral writing or ‘academic literacies’, or be a researcher in this field. You could be a research student supervisor or a person who is responsible for professional development of these people. You might even be a research student yourself. Whatever your official role or title, what matters in this community is a common interest in doctoral writing.

Fogarty (Grammar Girl). Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Inger Mewburn. The Thesis Whisperer blog



The Oatmeal. How to Use an Apostrophe

University of Manchester Academic Phrasebank: The Academic Phrasebank is a general resource for academic writers. It aims to provide you with examples of some of the phraseological ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing organised according to the main sections of a research paper or dissertation (see the top menu ). Other phrases are listed under the more general communicative functions of academic writing (see the menu on the left). The resource should be particularly useful for writers who need to report their research work.The phrases, and the headings under which they are listed, can be used simply to assist you in thinking about the content and organisation of your own writing, or the phrases can be incorporated into your writing where this is appropriate. In most cases, a certain amount of creativity and adaptation will be necessary when a phrase is used.The items in the Academic Phrasebank are mostly content neutral and generic in nature; in using them, therefore, you are not stealing other people’s ideas and this does not constitute plagiarism. For some of the entries, specific content words have been included for illustrative purposes, and these should be substituted when the phrases are used.The resource was designed primarily for academic and scientific writers who are non-native speakers of English. However, native speaker writers may still find much of the material helpful. In fact, recent data suggest that the majority of users are native speakers of English. More about Academic Phrasebank.


Books on writing a thesis for students



Dissertation writers need strong, practical advice, as well as someone to assure them that their struggles aren't unique. Joan Bolker, midwife to more than one hundred dissertations and co-founder of the Harvard Writing Center, offers invaluable suggestions for the graduate-student writer. Using positive reinforcement, she begins by reminding thesis writers that being able to devote themselves to a project that truly interests them can be a pleasurable adventure. She encourages them to pay close attention to their writing method in order to discover their individual work strategies that promote productivity; to stop feeling fearful that they may disappoint their advisors or family members; and to tailor their theses to their own writing style and personality needs. Using field-tested strategies she assists the student through the entire thesis-writing process, offering advice on choosing a topic and an advisor, on disciplining one's self to work at least fifteen minutes each day; setting short-term deadlines, on revising and defining the thesis, and on life and publication after the dissertation. Bolker makes writing the dissertation an enjoyable challenge.

Booth (2008). The Craft of Research. Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing and Publishing. 

With more than 400,000 copies now in print, The Craft of Research is the unrivalled resource for researchers at every level, from first-year undergraduates to research reporters at corporations and government offices. Seasoned researchers and educators Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams present an updated third edition of their classic handbook, whose first and second editions were written in collaboration with the late Wayne C. Booth. The Craft of Research explains how to build an argument that motivates readers to accept a claim; how to anticipate the reservations of readers and to respond to them appropriately; and how to create introductions and conclusions that answer that most demanding question, So what? The third edition includes an expanded discussion of the essential early stages of a research task: planning and drafting a paper. The authors have revised and fully updated their section on electronic research, emphasizing the need to distinguish between trustworthy sources (such as those found in libraries) and less reliable sources found with a quick Web search. A chapter on warrants has also been thoroughly reviewed to make this difficult subject easier for researchers. Throughout, the authors have preserved the amiable tone, the reliable voice, and the sense of directness that have made this book indispensable for anyone undertaking a research project.


Authoring a PhD is a complex process. It involves having creative ideas, working out how to organize them, writing up from plans, upgrading the text, and finishing it speedily and to a good standard. It also includes being examined and getting published. Patrick Dunleavy has written Authoring a PhD based on his supervision experience with over 30 students. It provides solid advice to help your PhD students cope with both the intellectual issues and practical difficulties of organizing their work effectively. It is an indispensable and time saving aid for doctoral students in the humanities, social sciences, education, business studies, law, health, arts and visual arts, and related disciplines, and will also be a great help to supervisors.

Eco (Umberto) (2015). How to Write a Thesis. MIT Press. 

By the time Umberto Eco published his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose, he was one of Italy's most celebrated intellectuals, a distinguished academic and the author of influential works on semiotics. Some years before that, in 1977, Eco published a little book for his students, How to Write a Thesis, in which he offered useful advice on all the steps involved in researching and writing a thesis -- from choosing a topic to organizing a work schedule to writing the final draft. Now in its twenty-third edition in Italy and translated into seventeen languages, How to Write a Thesis has become a classic. Remarkably, this is its first, long overdue publication in English. Eco's approach is anything but dry and academic. He not only offers practical advice but also considers larger questions about the value of the thesis-writing exercise. How to Write a Thesis is unlike any other writing manual. It reads like a novel. It is opinionated. It is frequently irreverent, sometimes polemical, and often hilarious. Eco advises students how to avoid "thesis neurosis" and he answers the important question "Must You Read Books?" He reminds students "You are not Proust" and "Write everything that comes into your head, but only in the first draft." Of course, there was no Internet in 1977, but Eco's index card research system offers important lessons about critical thinking and information curating for students of today who may be burdened by Big Data. How to Write a Thesis belongs on the bookshelves of students, teachers, writers, and Eco fans everywhere. Already a classic, it would fit nicely between two other classics: Strunk and White and The Name of the Rose.

Evans et al (2014). How to Write a Better Thesis. Springer. 

This book offers a step-by-step guide on the mechanics of thesis writing. It helps readers to understand how to conceptualize and approach the problems of producing a thesis and illustrates the complete process with concrete examples.

Mewburn (2013). How to tame your PhD. lulu.com

In this short book Dr. Inger Mewburn, founder and editor of The Thesis Whisperer blog, shares her secrets for becoming a more productive researcher and writer. Inger finished her award-winning PhD in three years - despite having a small child, husband and demanding academic job. This book is a selection of her blog posts on thesis writing, which have been re-edited and expanded. This book introduces you to Inger's most important success strategies for getting your PhD finished and acts a companion to The Thesis Whisperer blog. See also the author's Thesis Whisperer blog

Murray (2011). How To Write A Thesis. Open Up Study Skills.

Providing down-to-earth guidance to help students shape their theses, Rowena Murray offers valuable advice and practical tips and techniques. Useful summaries and checklists help students to stay on track or regain their way. Moving beyond the basics of thesis writing, the book introduces practical writing techniques such as freewriting, generative writing and binge writing. Issues such as working out the criteria for your thesis, writer's block, writing a literature review and making notes into a draft are also covered.

New to this edition:

New introduction by students - 'How I used this book'
Update on doctoral skills set and Training Needs Analysis
Extended treatment of plagiarism - and how to avoid it
Expanded section on students' well-being
Learning outcomes for each chapter

Phillips & Pugh (2015). How To Get A Phd: A Handbook For Students And Their Supervisors. Open University Press.  "How to Get a PhD is the market leading, classic book for PhD students and their supervisors."

Wallace (2011). Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates. Sage Study Series. 

In Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates Second Edition, the authors show students how to read critically and how to write using critical techniques. This book is a 'must-have' resource for postgraduate students and early-career academics. It has been expanded and updated to include:
A range of examples encompassing disciplinary areas including linguistics, education, business and management Commentaries on using e-resources and features of e-research. New and additional material available online including access to journal articles. This book is for postgraduate students, methods course tutors and researchers.


This text offers a plan to help those who have blanched at the prospect of finishing a long piece of writing. Eviatar Zerubavel describes how to set up a writing schedule and regular work habits that should take most of the anxiety and procrastination out of long-term writing, and even make it enjoyable. Zerubavel argues that the dreaded "writer's block" often terms out to be simply a need for a better grasp of the temporaral organization of work. This book rethinks the writing process in terms of time and organization. It offers writers a simple yet comprehensive framework that considers such cariables as when to write, for how long, and how often, while keeping a sense of momentum throughout the entire project. It shows how to set priorities, balance ideals against constraints, and find the ideal time to write.


General books on academic writing and publishing


Students and researchers all write under pressure, and those pressures - most lamentably, the desire to impress your audience rather than to communicate with them - often lead to pretentious prose, academic posturing, and, not infrequently, writer's block. Sociologist Howard S. Becker has written the classic book on how to conquer these pressures and simply write. First published nearly twenty years ago, "Writing for Social Scientists" has become a lifesaver for writers in all fields, from beginning students to published authors. Becker's message is clear: in order to learn how to write, take a deep breath and then begin writing. Revise. Repeat. It is not always an easy process, as Becker wryly relates. Decades of teaching, researching, and writing have given him plenty of material, and Becker neatly exposes the foibles of academia and its "publish or perish" atmosphere. Wordiness, the passive voice, inserting a "the way in which" when a simple "how" will do - all these mechanisms are a part of the social structure of academic writing. By shrugging off such impediments - or at the very least, putting them aside for a few hours - we can reform our work habits and start writing lucidly without worrying about grades, peer approval, or "the literature." In this new edition, Becker takes account of major changes in the computer tools available today and also substantially expands his analysis of how academic institutions create problems for writers. As competition in higher education grows increasingly heated, "Writing for Social Scientists" will provide solace to a new generation of frazzled, would-be writers.


Wendy Laura Belcher's Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success is a revolutionary approach to enabling academic authors to overcome their anxieties and produce the publications that are essential to succeeding in their fields. Each week, readers learn a particular feature of strong articles and work on revising theirs accordingly. At the end of twelve weeks, they send their article to a journal. This invaluable resource is the only guide that focuses specifically on publishing humanities and social science journal articles.


Becoming an Academic Writer helps you gain control over writing and publishing, master specific aspects of academic writing, and improve your productivity. Patricia Goodson's book offers weekly exercises and tools to achieve these goals. The exercises are grounded in a theoretically-sound and empirically-based mode comprising a set of behavioural principles (e.g., writing regularly, separating generating from editing) and specific practices (weekly exercises) which ensure success.  Based on the work of writing theoretician Peter Elbow, the empirical research done by Robert Boice (and others) on writing productivity of college professors, and the research into the practice patterns of elite performers (such as Olympic athletes), the principles and practices have been developed and tested over time.  Inside you'll find:
Exercises tailored to specific segments of academic papers and reports
Tips for ESL Writers boxes, providing additional support.
This book uniquely combines these successful principles with a set of original exercises applicable to the writing needs of academics as well as students.

Murray (2013). Writing for Academic Journals. Open Up Study Skills. 

Writing for publication is a daunting and time-consuming task for many academics. And yet the pressure for academics to publish has never been greater. This book demystifies the process of writing academic papers, showing readers what good papers look like and how they can be written.
Offering a research-informed understanding of the contemporary challenges of writing for publication, this book gives practical advice for overcoming common obstacles such as finding a topic, targeting journals, and finding the time to write. The author offers a range of helpful writing strategies, making this an invaluable handbook for academics at all stages of their career, from doctoral students to early career researchers and even experienced academics. The third edition has been comprehensively updated to reflect the changing landscape of academic writing, including the most recent research and theory on writing across the disciplines. Drawing on her extensive experience of running writing workshops and working closely with academics on developing writing, Rowena Murray offers practical and tested strategies for good academic writing.

Silvia (2007). How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. American Psychological Association. 

All students and professors need to write, and many struggle to finish their stalled dissertations, journal articles, book chapters, or grant proposals. Writing is hard work and can be difficult to wedge into a frenetic academic schedule. In this practical, light-hearted, and encouraging book, Paul Silvia explains that writing productively does not require innate skills or special traits but specific tactics and actions. Drawing examples from his own field of psychology, he shows readers how to overcome motivational roadblocks and become prolific without sacrificing evenings, weekends, and vacations. After describing strategies for writing productively, the author gives detailed advice from the trenches on how to write, submit, revise, and resubmit articles, how to improve writing quality, and how to write and publish academic work.

Silvia (2014). Write It Up: Practical Strategies for Writing and Publishing Journal Articles. American Psychological Association. 

How do you write good research articles — articles that are interesting, compelling, and easy to understand? How do you write papers that influence the field instead of falling into obscurity?

Sword (2012). Stylish Academic Writing. Harvard University Press. 

Elegant data and ideas deserve elegant expression, argues Helen Sword in this lively guide to academic writing. For scholars frustrated with disciplinary conventions, and for specialists who want to write for a larger audience but are unsure where to begin, here are imaginative, practical, witty pointers that show how to make articles and books a pleasure to read - and to write. Dispelling the myth that you cannot get published without writing wordy, impersonal prose, Sword shows how much journal editors and readers welcome work that avoids excessive jargon and abstraction. Sword's analysis of more than a thousand peer-reviewed articles across a wide range of fields documents a startling gap between how academics typically describe good writing and the turgid prose they regularly produce. "Stylish Academic Writing" showcases a range of scholars from the sciences, humanities, and social sciences who write with vividness and panache. Individual chapters take up specific elements of style, such as titles and headings, chapter openings, and structure, and close with examples of transferable techniques that any writer can master.


It’s not easy getting published, but everyone has to do it. Writing for Peer Reviewed Journals presents an insider’s perspective on the secret business of academic publishing, making explicit many of the dilemmas and struggles faced by all writers, but rarely discussed. Its unique approach is theorised and practical. It offers a set of moves for writing a journal article that is structured and doable but also attends to the identity issues that manifest on the page and in the politics of academic life. The book comprehensively assists anyone concerned about getting published; whether they are early in their career or moving from a practice base into higher education, or more experienced but still feeling in need of further information. Avoiding a ‘tips and tricks’ approach, which tends to oversimplify what is at stake in getting published, the authors emphasise the production, nurture and sustainability of scholarship through writing – a focus on both the scholar and the text or what they call text work/identity work. The chapters are ordered to develop a systematic approach to the process, including such topics as:

The writer
The reader
What’s the contribution?
Beginning work
Refining the argument
Engaging with reviewers and editors


General writing style guides


Butterfield (2015). Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press. 

Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage is the world-famous guide to English usage, loved and used by writers, editors, and anyone who values correct English since it first appeared in 1926. Fowler's gives comprehensive and practical advice on complex points of grammar, syntax, punctuation, style, and word choice.  Now enlarged and completely revised to reflect English usage in the 21st century, it provides a crystal-clear, authoritative picture of the English we use, while illuminating scores of usage questions old and new. International in scope, it gives in-depth coverage of both British and American English usage issues, with reference also to the English of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and South Africa. The thousands of authentic examples in the book vividly demonstrate how modern writers tackle debated usage issues. They come on the one hand from established literary figures such as Chinua Achebe, Peter Ackroyd, Raymond Carver, Iris Murdoch, Harold Pinter, and Vikram Seth. On the other, they are drawn from a vast range of newspapers, journals, books, broadcast material, websites, and other digital sources from across the globe, and include references to topical personalities such as Stephen Fry, Prince Harry, Jeremy Paxman, and Wayne Rooney. Based on the evidence and research of the Oxford Dictionaries Programme, this is the most comprehensive and authoritative guide to usage available.


Great writing isn't born, it's built sentence by sentence. But too many writers and writing guides overlook this most important unit. The result? Manuscripts that will never be published and writing careers that will never begin. In this wickedly humorous manual, language columnist June Casagrande uses grammar and syntax to show exactly what makes some sentences great and other sentences suck. With chapters on Conjunctions That Kill and Words Gone Wild, this lighthearted guide is perfect for anyone who s dead serious about writing, from aspiring novelists to nonfiction writers, conscientious students to cheeky literati. So roll up your sleeves and prepare to craft one bold, effective sentence after another. Your readers will thank you.

Clark (2008). Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Little Brown Book Group. 

'Tools Not Rules' says Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, the esteemed school for journalists and teachers of journalists. Clark believes that everyone can write well with the help of a handful of useful tools that he has developed over decades of writing and teaching. If you google 'Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools', you'll get an astonishing 1.25 million hits. That's because journalists everywhere rely on his tips to help them write well every day - in fact he fields emails from around the world from grateful writers. 'Writing Tools' covers everything from the basics (Tool 5: Watch those Adverbs) to the more complex (Tool 34: Turn your notebook into a camera) and uses more than 300 examples from literature and journalism to illustrate the concepts. For students, aspiring novelists and writers of memos, emails, PowerPoint presentations and love letters, here are 50 indispensible, memorable and usable tools.

Cutts (2013). Oxford Guide to Plain English. Oxford University Press. 

Plain English is the art of writing clearly, concisely, and in a way that precisely communicates your message to your intended audience. This book offers 25 practical guidelines helping you to improve your vocabulary, style, grammar, and layout to achieve clear writing. It gives expert advice on all aspects of the writing process: from avoiding jargon and legalese, to organizing written information in print and online. It also shows you how it's done with hundreds of real examples, including 'before' and 'after' versions. All this is presented in an authoritative and engaging way.   Completely revised and updated, this essential reference work is now even more useful: the word lists have been expanded; a new list of clichéd and troublesome words to avoid has been added; and examples of real-life stories have been replaced with more recent ones. An improved design gives the book a fresh feel.

Fogarty (2013). Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Henry Holt & Company Inc. 

Mignon Fogarty, a.k.a. Grammar Girl, is determined to wipe out bad grammar - but she's also determined to make the process as painless as possible. One year ago, she created a weekly pod cast to tackle some of the most common mistakes people make while communicating. The pod casts have now been downloaded more than seven million times, and Mignon has dispensed grammar tips on Oprah and appeared on the pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.Written with the wit, warmth, and accessibility that the pod casts are known for, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing covers the grammar rules and word-choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers. From between vs. among and although vs. while to comma splices and misplaced modifiers, Mignon offers memory tricks and clear explanations that will help readers recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules. Chock-full of tips on style, business writing, and effective e-mailing, Grammar Girl's print debut deserves a spot on every communicator's desk.

Gowers (1987). The Complete Plain Words. Penguin. 

Whether you are working on paper or on a computer, this invaluable reference work will lead you through the intricacies, problems and pleasures of the English language with wit, common sense and authority.

Deals with the dangers of jargon, cliché and superfluous words
Covers strategies for choosing the right word in any situation
Lays out the ground rules of grammar and punctuation and shows how to avoid the pitfalls
Discusses the influence of science and technology, and other cultures
Gives suggestions for drafting letters
Provides a list of words to use with care

Manser (2002). The Penguin Writer's Manual. Penguin. 

The Penguin Writer's Manual is the essential companion for anyone who wants to master the art of writing good English. Whether you're composing an essay, sending a business letter or an email to a colleague, or firing off an angry letter to a newspaper, this guide will help you to brush up you communication skills and write correct and confident English.


Steven Pinker, the bestselling author of The Language Instinct, deploys his gift for explaining big ideas in The Sense of Style - an entertaining writing guide for the 21st century. What is the secret of good prose? Does writing well even matter in an age of instant communication? Should we care? In this funny, thoughtful book about the modern art of writing, Steven Pinker shows us why we all need a sense of style. More than ever before, the currency of our social and cultural lives is the written word, from Twitter and texting to blogs, e-readers and old-fashioned books. But most style guides fail to prepare people for the challenges of writing in the 21st century, portraying it as a minefield of grievous errors rather than a form of pleasurable mastery. They fail to deal with an inescapable fact about language: it changes over time, adapted by millions of writers and speakers to their needs. Confusing changes in the world with moral decline, every generation believes the kids today are degrading society and taking language with it. A guide for the new millennium, writes Steven Pinker, has to be different. Drawing on the latest research in linguistics and cognitive science, Steven Pinker replaces the recycled dogma of previous style guides with reason and evidence. This thinking person's guide to good writing shows why style still matters: in communicating effectively, in enhancing the spread of ideas, in earning a reader's trust and, not least, in adding beauty to the world. Eye-opening, mind-expanding and cheerful, The Sense of Style shows that good style is part of what it means to be human.

Ritter (2005). New Hart's Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors. Oxford University Press. 

Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford was first printed in 1893. This classic reference work for writers, editors, and publishers was in print through 39 editions for nearly one hundred years. New Hart's Rules is a brand-new text that brings the principles of the old text into the 21st century, providing answers to questions of editorial style for a new generation of professionals. Writers and editors of all kinds will find this handy guide an indispensable companion in their work. Twenty chapters give information on all aspects of writing and of preparing copy for publication, whether in print or electronically. New Hart's Rules covers a broad range of topics including publishing terms, layout and headings, how to treat illustrations, hyphenation, punctuation, UK and US usage, bibliographies and notes, and indexing. The chapters have been compiled by a team of experts and consultants, and the book draws on the unrivalled expertise of Oxford's Reference Department. It is also endorsed by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The text is designed and organized for maximum accessibility with clearly displayed examples throughout. Authoritative and comprehensive, New Hart's Rules is the essential desk guide for all writers and editors, and together with the New Oxford Spelling Dictionary and the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors forms the complete editorial reference set.

Seely (2013). Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation. Oxford University Press. 

Readers of all levels will find this excellent guide essential. Including examples of real usage taken from the Oxford Corpus, this handy volume provides clear information about grammar and punctuation that we need on a day-to-day basis in over 300 entries. Arranged alphabetically, it contains entries for standard grammatical terms such as pronoun, synonym, or transitive verb. It also discusses related questions of usage, for example how to distinguish between 'may' or ' might', 'that' or 'which', and 'it's' or 'its'. For ease of use, over 40 feature entries on master headwords like adverb, hyphen, and spelling include diagrams listing related terms. Revised and updated, The Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation offers accessible and coherent explanations across a broad range of topics, and is the first port of call for any reader seeking clear, authoritative help with grammar and punctuation. Both easy to use and comprehensive, it is an essential tool for writing at home, in the office, at school, and at college.

Strunk & White (1999). The Elements of Style. Longman. 

You know the authors' names. You recognize the title. You've probably used this book yourself. This is The Elements of Style, the classic style manual, now in a fourth edition. A new Foreword by Roger Angell reminds readers that the advice of Strunk & White is as valuable today as when it was first offered.This book's unique tone, wit and charm have conveyed the principles of English style to millions of readers. Use the fourth edition of "the little book" to make a big impact with writing.


A runaway hit and Sunday Times bestseller in 2008, My Grammar and I has continued to grow in popularity, becoming the go-to guide for grammar. Repackaged with a fresh jacket design, this much-loved gift title is now available in paperback, for new readers and fans of the series alike. My Grammar and I offers amusing examples of awful grammar, while steering you in the direction of grammatical greatness. Taking you on a tour of the English language through the minefield of rules and conditions that can catch you out, from dangling modifiers to split infinitives, it highlights the common pitfalls that every English language user faces on a day to day basis. Refreshing everything you should have learnt at school and more, My Grammar and I is informative yet entertaining - an ideal buy for any English language enthusiast.

Trask (1997). The Penguin Guide to Punctuation. Penguin.

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation is indispensable for anyone who needs to get to grips with using punctuation in their written work. Whether you are puzzled by colons and semicolons, unsure of where commas should go or baffled by apostrophes, this jargon-free, succinct guide is for you.

Truss (2009). Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Fourth Estate. 

Anxious about the apostrophe? Confused by the comma? Stumped by the semicolon? Join Lynne Truss on a hilarious tour through the rules of punctuation that is sure to sort the dashes from the hyphens.We all had the basic rules of punctuation drilled into us at school, but punctuation pedants have good reason to suspect they never sank in. ‘Its Summer!’ screams a sign that sets our teeth on edge. ‘Pansy’s ready’, we learn to our considerable interest (‘Is she?’) as we browse among the bedding plants. It is not only the rules of punctuation that have come under attack but also a sense of why they matter. In this runaway bestseller, Lynne Truss takes the fight to emoticons and greengrocers’ apostrophes with a war cry of ‘Sticklers unite!’


Books aimed at supervisors


Aitchison et al (2010). Publishing Pedagogies for the Doctorate and Beyond. Routledge. 

Within a context of rapid growth and diversification in higher degree research programs, there is increasing pressure for the results of doctoral research to be made public. Doctoral students are now being encouraged to publish not only after completion of the doctorate, but also during, and even as part of their research program. For many this is a new and challenging feature of their experience of doctoral education. Publishing Pedagogies for the Doctorate and Beyond is a timely and informative collection of practical and theorised examples of innovative pedagogies that encourage doctoral student publishing. The authors give detailed accounts of their own pedagogical practices so that others may build on their experiences, including: a program of doctoral degree by publication; mentoring strategies to support student publishing; innovations within existing programs, including embedded publication pedagogies; co-editing a special issue of a scholarly journal with students; ‘publication brokering’, and writing groups and writing retreats.

With contributions from global leading experts, this vital new book:

explores broader issues pertaining to journal publication and the impacts on scholarly research and writing practices for students, supervisors and the academic publishing community
takes up particular pedagogical problems and strategies, including curriculum and supervisory responses arising from the ‘push to publish’
documents explicit experiences and practical strategies that foster writing-for-publication during doctoral candidature.
Publishing Pedagogies for the Doctorate and Beyond explores the challenges and rewards of supporting doctoral publishing and provides new ways to increase research publication outputs in a pedagogically sound way. It will be a valued resource for supervisors and their doctoral students, as well as for program coordinators and managers, academic developers, learning advisors, and others involved in doctoral education.


Helping Doctoral Students Write offers a proven approach to effective doctoral writing. By treating research as writing and writing as research, the authors offer pedagogical strategies for doctoral supervisors that will assist the production of well-argued and lively dissertations. It is clear that many doctoral candidates find research writing complicated and difficult, but the advice they receive often glosses over the complexities of writing and/or locates the problem in the writer. Kamler and Thomson provide a highly effective framework for scholarly work that is located in personal, institutional and cultural contexts. The pedagogical approach developed in the book is based on the notion of writing as a social practice. This approach allows supervisors to think of doctoral writers as novices who need to learn new ways with words as they enter the discursive practices of scholarly communities. This involves learning sophisticated writing practices with specific sets of conventions and textual characteristics. The authors offer supervisors practical advice on helping with commonly encountered writing tasks such as the proposal, the journal abstract, the literature review and constructing the dissertation argument. The first edition of this book has helped many academics and thousands of research students produce better written material. Now fully updated the second edition includes:

Examples from a broader range of academic disciplines
A new chapter on writing from the thesis for peer reviewed journals
More advice on reading and note taking, performance and conferences,
Further information on developing a personal academic writing style, and
Advice on the use of social media (blogs, tweets and wikis) to create trans-disciplinary and trans-national networks and conversations.
Their discussion of the complexities of forming a scholarly identity is illustrated throughout by stories and writings of actual doctoral students.

In conclusion, they present a persuasive and proven argument that universities must move away from simply auditing supervision to supporting the development of scholarly research communities. Any supervisor keen to help their students develop as academics will find the ideas and practical solutions presented in this book fascinating and insightful reading.


The relationship of supervisor to student has traditionally been seen as one of apprenticeship, in which much learning is tacit, with the expectation that the student will become much like the tutor. The changing demographics of higher education in conjunction with imperatives of greater accountability and support for research students have rendered this scenario both less likely and less desirable and unfortunately many supervisors are challenged by the task of guiding non-native speaker students to completion. This handbook is the ideal guide for all supervisors working with undergraduate and postgraduate non-native speaker students writing a thesis or dissertation in English as it explicitly unpacks thesis writing, using language that is accessible to research supervisors from any discipline.

Phillips & Pugh (2015). How To Get A Phd: A Handbook For Students And Their Supervisors. Open University Press. 

"How to Get a PhD is the market leading, classic book for PhD students and their supervisors."

Wagenmakers (2009). Teaching Graduate Students How to Write Clearly. Observer Vol.22, No.4 April, 2009.

Monday, January 18, 2016

2016 Stirling PhD Conference in Behavioural Science (June 9)



2016 Stirling PhD Conference in Behavioural Science 

Thursday, the 9th of June 2016 


The Stirling Behavioural Science Centre is pleased to announce our Annual PhD Student Conference in Behavioural Science in 2016. For information about last year's PhD conference click here. The PhD conference will be held at the University of Stirling on the 9th of June 2016 and will be followed by a Workshop on Behavioural Science and Public Policy with a keynote from Prof David Laibson on June 10. Attendees to the PhD conference on June 9 are also welcome to attend the June 10 workshop.

The 2016 PhD Conference aims to give PhD students in Behavioural Science the opportunity to meet other researchers, to present their work, and get feedback from peers and researchers in the field. The PhD conference will deal with all areas of behavioural science (or behavioural economics, economic psychology, judgement and decision making, depending on your terminological preference). Topics include, but are not limited to
  • Nudging and Behavioural Policies 
  • Evaluation of Behavioural Policies
  • Mechanisms of Behavioural Interventions
  • Inter-temporal Choice
  • Self-control
  • Risk Preferences
  • Social Preferences
  • Heuristics
  • Personality and Economics
  • Subjective Well-Being
  • Identity in Economics
  • Emotions and Decision Making 
  • Behavioural Medicine
  • Early Influences on Later Life Outcomes
  • Behavioural Science and the Labour Market
  • Research Methods in Behavioural Science 
Speakers will present their research followed by a discussion. Speakers have the opportunity to send their papers/slides to their discussant about 2 weeks before the conference in order to get more detailed feedback. Discussants will be announced in the next weeks.

There will be no conference fee and a social dinner will be provided for attendees on the evening of June 9. Located in the heart of Scotland’s central belt, Stirling is a 45 minute journey from both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. For affordable accommodation in Stirling, we recommend booking.com and airbnb. It is feasible to stay in Edinburgh or Glasgow and take the train that takes less than one hour.

Important dates:
  • April 21: Abstract submission deadline (up to 500 words).
  • May 1: Notification of acceptance.
  • May 25: Registration deadline and submission of paper for more detailed comments.
We look forward to welcoming you to Stirling. If you have questions, feel free to send an email to stirlingphdconference2015@gmail.com or l.k.lades@stir.ac.uk. Please also check your spam folder for emails.




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