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Writing Papers

Economics Paper Guidelines

  1. The single most important component is a good thesis or other defining approach.
    • If you can’t state your topic succinctly, you can’t organize your paper.
    • If your thesis is vague, you can’t delineate what information (data) you do (or don’t) need.
  2. Length is then a function of the thesis.
    • Since you have been working on this all term and since it is a major part of your grade, I would expect papers of 20 pages, more or (perhaps) less.
      • I’m not responsible for procrastination that results in an under-researched or sloppily written or argued paper.
    • However, that is a function of the thesis.
      • Some topics are data-driven, and the prose component may end up slimmer. Append pages of tables, carefully placing them in the text is fine but adds little value.
      • Others rely upon case-study or narrative data, which can potentially include significant quotes and paraphrases of sources that lessen the need for you to develop your own prose component, but result in a much larger verbal component, that is, lots of pages.
  3. The paper:
    • should be submitted as a hard copy with a digital version kept as backup;
    • use 11pt or 12pt Times New Roman or similar serif font, double-spaced;
    • provide 1 inch margins for the reader (here me, your prof) to make annotations;
    • have a bibliography at the end;
      • Remember that if you cite a chapter in an edited volume, you cite the chapter author(s) and title, and then the edited volume itself including the editors.
    • employ in-line citations: (last name of first author, page);
      • if you have multiple sources by the same author, add the year and if necessary, 1998a vs 1998b: (Smith 1998b, 12).
    • you should therefore not include title of a paper or book in the text of your paper, only in the bibliography;
      • If you want refer to an item in your paper, and not just indicate that you used it as a source, then you can use a sentence such as this: “Smith (1998b, 12) argues that the main policy issue is…”
    • should be proofread by someone other than yourself;
    • should have an introduction, typically one paragraph, stating what your topic is, why it matters, and what you will or (as appropriate) will not do or argue;
    • should have a conclusion [see below], typically one-three paragraphs, that does NOT reiterate you introduction – you are not writing a book, and your reader is not that absent-minded that they can’t remember the rest of the paper. instead, you should note how the argument could be strengthened (“no one seems to have looked at XYZ”), how it could be extended (“argued not true in this case, but perhaps it is true for KLM”), or pointing out weaknesses (“none of the studies used recent data, or examined what happens over the course of a recession/recovery”);
    • should acknowledge proofreaders and editors.
  4. Prose matters.
    • Eschew passive voice.
    • Your opening paragraph is the most important in the paper; your opening sentence is the most important in that paragraph. You may be writing your introduction after the paper, while in a sleep-deprived state. Persevere and re-write a couple times.
    • Avoid indefinite modifiers: “some” “many” “most” and the like suggest you can’t be precise. Go back and delete when you can’t provide a cogent reason why you need that word. For example, the reader (the prof) does not need to be told that people don’t universally agree (“most researchers find…” is the same as “researchers find…”).
    • Check the use of “and”. Sentences need only one verb. My own Detroit dialect of English uses the construct “take and see … take and find … take and xxx”. Legal language combines the anglo-saxon term and the Norman French term (“to have and to hold”), but you are not writing a paper that requires such jargon.
    • Check paragraph endings. Is you last sentence really the start of the next paragraph?
  5. Typos matter.
    • They annoy the reader.
    • When repeated, they really annoy the reader.
      • It is unwise to annoy the professor.
  6. Provide evidence.
    • Economy papers cry out for numeric data. Tables and graphs are normal components.
    • Quotes and paraphrases are ways to incorporate the data and findings of others. They too are a normal component of a term paper.
    • Every claim should have evidence to accompany it. Every strong or central claim should have at least two pieces of evidence.
  7. Conclude, don’t summarize.
    • A term paper is not so lengthy as to mandate repetition. Your final paragraphs should not reiterate your argument. If you find that you are doing that, or that you are merely repeating your introductory paragraph, well, either your conclusion or your introduction needs to be re-written.
    • In other words, the conclusion should add value.
    • If you did not find the arguments in your sources compelling, what data are missing in the literature you read that might convince skeptical readers?
    • What other weaknesses are there? Old data, small data sets, data that only cast light on supply or demand but not both, data that are too general to provide much insight, or at the other extreme that cover only one industry and may not be represetnative?
    • What questions does your paper raise that cry out for elaboration? If you successfully argue your thesis, well, that surely leads to more questions.
    • Detailing policy implications is another way to wrap up a paper.
  8. Tables and Graphs and Sections
    • It’s normally helpful to both reader and writer to have broad sections – “Introduction” “Background / Literature Survey / …” “Data / Industry Evolution / ….” “Results” “Conclusion”. If you’re working from an outline, then subsections are fine – just don’t overdo it, to where each paragraph has a separate sub-subheading.
    • Scanning (and then on a Mac taking a screenshot of the relevant portion: shift-control-command-“4”) and pasting in the appropriate spot in the text makes for a nicer paper. However, that takes time and doesn’t change the core content. Inserting graphs and tables, when appropriate, improves the paper. Making them pretty, however, probably won’t change your grade.
    • Thus it’s acceptable to put crudely xeroxed graphs and tables at the end. Kindergarten techniques (cut and paste in the literal sense) are OK by me, though the BizHubs now make scanning easy.
    • This is particularly true for tables, xeroxing and pasting may save time over typing numbers into excel or a word processor.
    • Do renumber graphs & figures so that you can reference them in your paper. Number the pages, too. Handwriting them in is fine by me.

Note I have not had anyone proofread this or other content on the web site, in contravention to my own guidelines. Since class members you are [or soon will be] “editors,” please correct obvious errors.