The chief economist at the World Bank has stepped down from its research arm after staff were vexed by demands to write succinctly, including cutting superfluous uses of the word “and” in reports or emails.
Paul Romer, 61, will leave the Development Economics Group (DEC), according to a staff announcement reported by Bloomberg. He had asked for shorter emails, while also cutting staff off if they talked for too long during presentations, it said.
In response to press inquiries about internal “objections to my insistence on clearer writing,” Romer published writing guidance he had issued to DEC staff on a blog on Thursday.
He said he suffered from dyslexia, making writing hard, but added “everyone in the Bank should work toward producing prose that is clear and concise. This will save time and effort for a reader. Thinking about the reader is an example of what I mean when I say that we should develop our sense of empathy.”
Romer cut more US$1 million in annual expenses from the DEC budget, a body of more than 600 economists. But it appeared to be his attacks on convoluted, lengthy reports of that researchers took cause with.
In an email to staff, Romer argued that the bank’s flagship publication, World Development Report, would not be published “if the frequency of ‘and’ exceeds 2.6 percent,” according to Bloomberg. He reportedly cancelled a regular publication that did not have a clear purpose.
A 2015 study by Stanford University’s Literary Lab found World Bank publications seemed almost to be “another language”. The study coined the term “Bankspeak” to describe report styles becoming “more codified, self-referential, and detached from everyday language.”
Romer later said staff had felt under-appreciated. “It reflected a kind of siege mentality that I can’t quite understand.”
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