Hints on Writing an Essay in Economics
First, make sure you have read the question and know what the expectations for the assignment are (what the question is, intended audience, length etc.). If unclear, speak to the instructor. Writing an essay in economics should be easy if you follow the steps outlined here.
Then, to provide content for the paper, it helps to do the required reading carefully (and perhaps look up other sources, appropriately referenced), keeping the question for the assignment in mind. If you are already clear on the nature of the assignment, you will be able to do the reading in a more eﬃcient, directed way.First, make sure you have read the question and know what the expectations for the assignment are (what the question is, intended audience, length etc.). If unclear, speak to the instructor.
Then, to provide content for the paper, it helps to do the required reading carefully (and perhaps look up other sources, appropriately referenced), keeping the question for the assignment in mind. If you are already clear on the nature of the assignment, you will be able to do the reading in a more eﬃcient, directed way.
The Elements of a Good Paper
Your paper will usually be graded on the basis of three (interrelated) aspects:
• the way the argument is structured
• the quality of the argument you put forward (including the quality of the economics), and
• the quality of the writing.
A paper with the following features will tend to score highly: The introduction deﬁnes the issue and provides an indication of the position the author will adopt. (Note: the position does not have to be an extreme one – it may involve shades of gray, often appropriate given the uncertainty in the world. But your position should be a sensible, thoughtful one – one that you can defend in a convincing way.)
Each paragraph develops the argument in an ordered, clear manner so that by the conclusion, the reader will know exactly what the assessment of the author is; the reader will also ﬁnd that assessment compelling. In order to make the argument robust, the author (i.e. you) will have considered possible counter-arguments and judged their merits fairly, saying why they do not undermine the chosen position.
And, of course, the paper will be a pleasure to read, which means the author will have taken great pains to write it well.
Structure: Do an Outline
In order to write a compelling paper, it is essential that you work out the structure of your argument before you begin writing. This is an iterative process. You may start out, after having done the relevant reading, with a notion of what your preferred position on the issue is. You then amass the relevant arguments for and against that case and reassess how they balance out. Make sure you outline your economics essay well.
At this stage, you may want to modify the position you would be prepared to defend – this often happens as more considerations get weighed in. (Going to see the professor in oﬃce hours can be useful here, as you can see if you have overlooked obvious points and ﬁnd out where your case might need strengthening.)
Next, write down the structure of the argument that leads to your conclusion and form an outline.
The outline should not be a vague list of headings, but rather a series of paragraph topic sentences which convey the ﬂow of the argument. It should be a condensed version of the paper which brings out precisely what the argument depends on – show this to a friend (or the professor) if you can for further comments.
Quality of the Argument
A high-quality argument should be impressive in several ways.
The logic of your argument should be clear to the reader (rehearsed above).
Economic reasoning usually rests on assumptions, and you should make the key assumptions in your argument explicit.
• Identifying Tradeoﬀs
Identifying important tradeoﬀs is something dear to the heart of economists especially when writing an essay in economics. Good economists do this well, so you should aim to do the same in your analysis of the economics essay.
• Using Evidence Convincingly
Resolving the tradeoﬀs you have identiﬁed is more challenging, often involving uncertainty about the true size of diﬀerent eﬀects, as well as normative considerations.
But reaching some kind of resolution is what you will usually be expected to do when writing a policy memo. And usually, you will need more than just logic to get you there. Economics essay should have good evidence
Using the available evidence well is a vital part of any compelling policy paper. Rarely is one able to report a statistic and treat it as the absolute truth; instead, any numbers in economics should be used with caution, and you should think carefully about possible biases in the numbers you use. If there is conﬂicting evidence (which there often is regarding contentious issues), then try to say where the weight of evidence lies. This is hard to do.
• Thinking of Counter-Arguments
Committing to a clear thesis early on can help to engage the reader. But if everything is too smooth and simple, the reader will start to think up reasonable counter-objections and begin to lose faith in your judgement. Hence, it is good to anticipate such objections when coming up with a design for the paper (as discussed above).
Remember: what you want to strive for is a balanced assessment of the issue, not something which is one-sided and simplistic
Quality of the Writing
It is impossible to provide an exhaustive list of rules about how to write well. But learning how to write is a skill worth cultivating, for reasons which should be obvious.
Given people do not have inﬁnite time to read a one thousand-page essay, you should aim to be as concise as possible, subject to answering the question well. Writing an essay in economics should be very qualitative enough to warrant good marks and grade.
Beyond that, if you submit a paper riddled with grammatical errors and confusing sentences, no high grade will be coming your way. So always make sure you proof-read carefully.
At the level of sentences, things to watch out for:
• Sentences which all have the same (short) length. Choppy sentences are not enjoyable to read.
• Sentences which all open with the same word, usually “the.” Variety is the spice of life…
• Sentences which are utterly unfathomable.
If you are really clear about the point you want to make, there is less chance of deeply problematic sentences arising.
• Singular and plural not matching up.
• Tense changes mid-sentence (and indeed throughout the paper).
• Unnecessarily ornate phrases.
• Inappropriate personiﬁcation eg. economic models which struggle to understand… (Models don’t struggle to understand anything: people do.)
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