Should I intersperse tables throughout my paper or put them at the end?

Some years ago, I was a graduate student in economics, and one of my advisors taught me that well-done tables, all at the end, will allow a reader to capture the entire narrative of your paper quickly.

On the other hand, if I’m actually reading the paper from start to finish, tables at the end mean constant flipping back and forth.

On the other other hand, when I’m going back to papers later, it’s much easier to find the results I’m looking for if the tables and figures are together in the back.

When I review economics papers (with tables at the back), I end up keeping two PDF files of the paper open at once, one open at the text and the other open at the tables and figures.

Last week Chris Blattman — a well-known development economist — posed the question to Twitter.

As you can see, the vast majority of respondents prefer tables interspersed throughout the paper. Now, it’s clear from responses to the tweet that not all respondents were economists. I suspect that most respondents were people who read economics papers, so if your goal is communicating with readers, this may be a useful metric. If your goal is to impress academic economists on hiring committees, who may or may not be well represented on Twitter (I don’t have a strong prior), then it may not be so helpful.

Discussants to the tweet highlighted the points I make above, that reading on a device is easier with tables interspersed, and that tables at the back make for easier skimming.

But I’d note that if you’re going to do tables at the back, do them right: Provide clear titles and notes such that the tables really can stand alone. As one economist noted, “Tables at the end are okay with decent notes, horrible without.”

If you have a website, a few people suggested having two versions, which is an interesting idea (and more work than I will credibly do).

So, writers, pick your poison. You’re likely to annoy at least a few readers either way!

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Identifying great teachers and communicating with policymakers

I wrote a couple of items this week around the blogosphere:

Looking for a shortcut to identifying great teachers? You may be out of luck. On new evidence about the relationship between teacher performance on tests and student learning.

“The right data at the right time”: How to effectively communicate research to policy makers. A policymaker from Jamaica’s Ministry of Education shares insights on how to communicate your research.

Does it matter which co-author submits my co-authored paper to a journal?

I’ve wondered about this, so this week I posed the question to the twitterverse. Lots of people, including several journal editors, weighed in. (When I say editors, I include co-editors and associate editors.)

Here’s my take away: It doesn’t matter very much — and maybe not at all, depending on the editor. It’s certainly second (or third or fourth) order relative to the actual quality and relevance of your paper. But there may sometimes be a return to having the most well-known or senior author submit, so if it’s low-cost, then go for it.

Here are the details: I posed the question, “Do you believe it matters WHICH AUTHOR submits your co-authored paper to the journal?”

170 Twitter users weighed in, as follows:

Of course, we don’t know who those 170 voters are or how much weight we should put on their opinions. (No offense to all you fine voters; I appreciate and value you!)

A few editors weighed in directly. One wrote: “Offering my *personal* perspective on this as editor. When better known submits it signals (to editor) their commitment to the paper.” She then clarified, “To be clear, not saying there’s a lot of info. I’m being honest that I do take epsilon more notice when a recognizable name submits.”

Another editor wrote (and a couple of others “liked”), “I’d say, don’t sweat the small stuff.” That’s in line with the first editor, who added, “Those mental cycles better spent on fine tuning the abstract, title and intro.”

Another editor wrote, “I don’t pay attention to which author submits. But now that I have the floor: I do remember super late or non-responsive referees.”

An academic weighed in, “For me, ‘lead’ author submits. When I lead, I submit. If my student leads the work, they should submit (this is how they learn).” This jives with what one of the editors wrote: “Ultimately, I think authors should take turns and let resources influence who submits. And I practice that.”

So there you go! I’ve left attributions off this post, but you can read the original discussion here.

If you want School Report Cards to improve learning, try sharing results on the whole local education market

Over at Let’s Talk Development, I give my take on an interesting new study using school report cards.

Better information to improve service delivery: New evidence

Countries around the world have experimented with “school report cards”: providing parents with information about the quality of their school so that they can demand higher quality service for their children. The results have been mixed. Andrabi, Das, and Khwaja bring a significant contribution to that literature in last month’s American Economic Review with their article, “Report Cards: The Impact of Providing School and Child Test Scores on Educational Markets.”

Here’s the abstract: “We study the impact of providing school report cards with test scores on subsequent test scores, prices, and enrollment in markets with multiple public and private providers. A randomly selected half of our sample villages (markets) received report cards. This increased test scores by 0.11 standard deviations, decreased private school fees by 17 percent, and increased primary enrollment by 4.5 percent. Heterogeneity in the treatment impact by initial school test scores is consistent with canonical models of asymmetric information. Information provision facilitates better comparisons across providers, and improves market efficiency and child welfare through higher test scores, higher enrollment, and lower fees.”

Read my take at the original post!

A few self-links

  1. This morning I posted “What a new preschool study tells us about early child education – and about impact evaluation” over at Development Impact, about an interesting study “Cognitive science in the field: A preschool intervention durably enhances intuitive but not formal mathematics,” which is a randomized controlled trial in Delhi, India.
  2. You can also just watch the researchers explain that paper below.

3. The French version of my post, “A Framework for Taking Evidence from One Location to Another,” based on the work of Mary Ann Bates and Rachel Glennerster, is now available:  Comment déterminer si un projet avec de bons résultats dans un pays fonctionnera ailleurs ?

4. The Portuguese version of my post, “Are good school principals born or can they be made?” based on the work of Roland Fryer and others, is now available: Os bons diretores da escola nascem ou podem ser criados?

A history of Liberia’s women? A review of Helene Cooper’s Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

madame presidentIn 2005, Liberia elected its first woman president. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was also Africa’s first elected woman president. (Guinea-Bissau and Burundi both briefly had women as acting presidents.)

In Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Helene Cooper recounts the story of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s life: from precocious child to teen mom to victim of domestic violence to Harvard graduate to international financier and — ultimately — to head of state.

But of course, any such biography also gives a history of the country, and here Cooper does something special. As she tells individual stories to make broader movements more concrete, she chooses stories of women. She tells the stories of
  • “Josephine, who cooked every day for the Taylor soldiers who raped her,” and
  • “a terrified Mary Warner [who] strapped her four-year-old son on her back and ran from place to place, finally pressed up against a gate outside the United Nations compound, desperately seeking shelter,” and
  • Louise Yarsiah, who was leading a group of women in prayers for peace when Charles Taylor’s security chief showed up. Yeaten’s soldiers drew their guns, and Yarsiah’s women kept praying. Ultimately, the soldiers stood down.

Cooper also demonstrates how women organizing women brought about Sirleaf’s election and then re-election. She tells of other powerful women within Sirleaf’s government, like Mary Broh, mayor of Monrovia. This is not just the extraordinary journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but also the story of thousands of other extraordinary Liberian women. Cooper imagines how Liberia’s brutal history grew a generation of women activists: “Little girls do not come out of the womb vowing to become activists for female power. They don’t spend their childhood thinking about how they will repair the indignities, large and small, that bleed women daily. It’s a series of things that multiply and turn ordinary women into movements of female determination.”

As Johnson Sirleaf achieves gains in the country over the course of her presidency, I couldn’t help but feel a growing dread, knowing that the devastating Ebola epidemic of 2014-2015 was on its way. I actually met the author, Helene Cooper, during the Ebola epidemic, when we appeared on the same news program after she had returned from a trip to Liberia and I had worked on estimates of the potential economic impact of the epidemic. She was deeply knowledgeable, and it shows in her reporting here.

This is a sympathetic biography; Jina Moore wrote in the New York Times that it “valorizes Johnson Sirleaf rather than complicates her.” But Cooper also doesn’t whitewash: Johnson Sirleaf’s supporters aren’t above buying voter cards from their opponent’s supporters for booze money in the run-up to an election, and Johnson Sirleaf appoints her own son to a key government position.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully narrated by the author’s sister Marlene Cooper Vasilic. As Audiofile puts it, the narration makes the story “all the more powerful. … Vasilic’s facility with pidgin makes the few direct quotes come alive.”

Even if technology improves literacy, is it worth the cost?

Ben Piper reports on insightful work that he and co-authors have done comparing various education technology intervention in Kenya in terms of both effectiveness (do they improve reading ability?) and the cost-effectiveness (what’s the cost per reading gain?).

I recommend his full post (or the research paper it’s based on). Here are a couple of highlights:

When compared to traditional literacy programs, the more intensive ICT interventions did not produce large enough gains in learning outcomes to justify the cost. This is not to say that each of the ICT interventions did not produce improvements in students’ reading ability…. [But] the cost-effectiveness of all of these programs might still be significantly lower than a clear investment in high quality literacy programs…. In additional to monetary cost, an opportunity cost existed…. Many of the teachers, tutors, and students lacked exposure to technology and the time and energy spent on learning how to use the technology reduced the amount of time for instructional improvement activities. 

When costs are considered, there are non-ICT interventions that could have larger impacts on learning outcomes with reduced costs; one such option could include assigning the best teachers to the first grade when children are learning how to read, rather than to the end of primary school as many schools do.

Economists will disagree with the standard errors if I understand the specification right: Randomization is at the district level and I don’t believe the authors cluster the standard errors. 

But I don’t think that will change the fundamental message here: Even if there are some gains from education technology, we have to ask when they will be most likely to be worth the cost.