This short paper–from the witty John Cochrane–has lots of good advice on structuring and writing papers, powerpoints and seminars…
Writing Tips for Ph. D. Students, by John Cochrane
Here’s is some valuable advice on what to avoid when giving a seminar:
“Most seminars are a disaster. They start with pointless motivation and policy implications, which the audience can’t follow since we don’t know the result. Then we get a long literature review, which is even more boring since we don’t know the point of this paper much less what everyone else did.
Then we get a results preview. Usually, the presenter says “I’ll preview the results now because I may not have time to get to them all,” a strangely self-fulfilling prophecy. Since showing the main results is the only reason you came, why not just start right now! Worse, the reason we run out of time is because we wasted half an hour on the stupid preview!
The seminar then bogs down as people start asking questions about the previewed results; most of the questions are dumb (“I measure the demand elasticity at 0.3.” “But how did you identify supply shifts?”) since they will be explained in a proper presentation of the results. But the questions are totally reasonable since the claim with no documentation is meaningless.
Next, we get (in empirical papers) some “theory” that is really beside the point and only serves to provoke more needless argument (no, there really is no way to distinguish the “behavioral” and “rational” explanation. Clever audience members will come up with stories that reverse all the signs.)
Then we get some distracting preliminary results and tables and graphs of unrelated observations. More pointless discussion erupts; people don’t know what point the speaker is trying to make and the discussion goes off in to tangents. Finally the speaker sees there is only 10 minutes to go, tells people to be quiet, and the main results go by in a big rush. Everyone is tired and confused and doesn’t follow anything. I timed the finance workshop last winter quarter and not one paper got to the main results in under an hour!“