A Concise Guide to Writing Economics Term Papers∗
Raechelle Mascarenhas and Jan Crouter
Department of Economics
This guide is aimed at helping you write an effective undergraduate economics term paper. The guide offers advice on selecting a paper topic, describes the structure of a typical economics term paper and provides some miscellaneous helpful hints. Following these suggestions will ensure that you write a coherent and well-structured paper.
Choosing a Topic for Your Instructor’s Paper Assignment
The first and most important step is choosing a suitable topic. You need to make sure your topic is not too broad since this will prevent you from writing a well-focused term paper. It is essential to do some background reading on the topic and be sure to start this process early since it will help you determine whether or not your topic is feasible. As you search for an appropriate topic you should run ideas by your instructor who will help you narrow the focus and identify an interesting question. Once you have chosen an appropriate topic for your paper it should be easy to formulate a clear research question.
It is important to tailor your writing based on the type of paper you are assigned. There are several different types of economics term papers that you might encounter: theoretical papers, literature surveys, empirical papers (utilizing econometrics or descriptive statistics), issue papers and case notes.
Theoretical papers typically use mathematical models to understand economic behavior, though sometimes theoretical papers might rely upon graphical models. Constructing mathematical models requires a certain level of mathematical sophistication and might prove to be difficult for most undergraduate students.
A literature survey discusses and synthesizes a set of works from (mostly) published sources that are on the topic of interest to the researcher. This type of paper requires a lot of reading and it is imperative that you gather relevant books and peer-reviewed journal articles (i.e. articles that have been published in academic journals after being reviewed by other scholars in the field). A good literature survey not only presents all the relevant ideas but also attempts to seek connections between the articles.
This guide is largely based on an article “Writing an Economics Term Paper” (March 2003) found on the Wabash College Economics department website, though it is significantly tailored to reflect the expectations of the Economics Department at Whitman College. We are heavily indebted to the unknown Wabash College authors whose article was available as of June 16, 2008 at
An empirical paper uses data to answer questions about an economic issue. Such a paper requires some background in statistics and econometrics which will enable you to analyze the data. You should postulate some hypotheses and use the data to refute or support these hypotheses. Most empirical papers also have a literature survey that outlines the contributions of previous empirical research and may include some economic theory. An issue paper describes a policy question and outlines a position using economic analysis (presented with prose and graphs, where appropriate) to support the writer’s position. This analysis will likely be drawn from class lectures and reading, as well as additional scholarly sources. If data is available to supplement the writer’s analysis, this can also be included in the paper.
A case note assigned for an economics course examines a particular legal case from a law and economics perspective. Typically, the paper first describes the features of the case, including the incident that led to the initial legal action, the procedural history of the case (if relevant), the legal issues posed by the case (and perhaps the factual issues if the case is heard by the trial court), and...
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