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Writing an extended essay in economics Essay

Approaching an extended essay in any subject area can be an intimidating prospect. However, like most large tasks, the essay is much more manageable if you take it one step at a time and rely on your advisor to lead you in productive directions. What makes for a good economics EE? You may want to look at some previous essays I have on file in my room to get an idea for the scope of topics that recent students have undertaken.

There is a lot of variation, but successful ones are nearly always based on a central question that the author attempts to answer. Investigating this question will lead you to review the research of others, to synthesize others’ work in new ways, and to conduct theoretical or empirical research on your own. In its most basic form, your essay should be an argument, using tools of research and reasoning appropriate to the field of economics, in response to the central question you have chosen to investigate. Producing a good EE can be broken down into a series of stages, as outlined below. Each stage involves a substantial amount of work and, to some degree, must be completed before the following stages can proceed. Steady progress throughout the EE process is crucial to produce a successful essay. Students who achieve the benchmarks for progress set by their advisor are usually able to minimize the amount of stress arising as the final essay deadline approaches.

Choosing a topic
Selecting a good topic is the first step in a successful research project. You will be devoting considerable energy over an extended period to studying this topic, so it is important to choose an area in which your interest is likely to be sustained through the lengthy research and writing process. Within your area of interest, the most crucial issue is do-ability. A major cause of disappointment and frustration for students is choosing a topic on which it is difficult to make progress, either because the question is so large that they cannot manage it or because the question topic cannot be easily investigated using the tools that they command.

While you are the best authority on your own areas of interest, you will have to rely on your advisor’s advice, to help you find a specific topic that you can complete on time with the resources that are available. Specific, focused topics are almost always better than highly general or vague ones. Questions like “How can we reduce water pollution?” or “What determines the rate of technological progress?” are so broad that an adequate answer could not fit into an extended essay. However, once you have a general topic, you will need to undertake research in order to narrow it down.

Reviewing relevant literature
All scholars in economics build on the shoulders of others. The first step of your thesis research is to search broadly and deeply to find out what others have discovered about your question. There are many resources available to help you with this search. Everything you read will contain citations to earlier work on related topics. SSRN, EBSCO and Questia, on-line libraries, are excellent resources for economics research. If you cast your net broadly at the beginning, and devote time to this part of the research process, you are more likely to acquire the theoretical background that is essential to conducting further research.

As you begin reading for your EE, you should also begin writing. You will need to keep detailed notes on everything you read, including full bibliographic information in the appropriate format. (Be very sure that your notes distinguish between the author’s words and your own. Plagiarism can arise inadvertently if you aren’t careful). Photocopy all passages you think you might want to quote and any tables that contain useful data. The notes you make as you read can be the basis of your “literature-review section”, which is an important part of any research essay.

Collecting data
If you are doing an EE that requires empirical data, and a good EE will, your biggest obstacle is likely to be assembling your data base. Since you cannot proceed with your analysis until your data are in place, the prompt completion of your data collection is of critical importance. Much of what you need is likely to be easily available through standard published or electronic sources. But there may be other data series for which you will have to search extensively and some you may not ever find– there are almost always snags.

The first step in data collection is to compile a wish list. You should consider the characteristics of the data that are most desirable for your study. List all of the variables that you think you might need. If you have doubts about the availability of some variables up front, formulate strategies for doing without them in case you cannot obtain them. Once you have your list, start collecting numbers and entering them into your computer data base. The earlier you organize your data into data tables, the better.

Creating results
Once you have reviewed the relevant literature and collected the data you need for any empirical work you plan to do, you are ready to get down to the central task of research: creating results. The way that you achieve these results depends entirely on the research methodology you and your advisor have chosen. It may involve theoretical reasoning using economic models, combining and/or comparing the results of others, interpreting numerical data, or conducting surveys/experiments. About all that can be said in general about the process of creating results is that some aspects of the results are very likely to surprise you.

Solutions of theoretical models, and experimental outcomes usually do not end up exactly as you envisioned them at the beginning. If these results arrive just a few days before the draft of your essay is due, you are unlikely to have time to develop a satisfactory explanation for them or to conduct the additional research that would resolve them. At a bare minimum, you should plan to have all of your results generated two weeks before the first draft of your essay is due. This will give you at least a little time to reflect on and refine them in the completed essay.

Finishing the Essay
The last stage of preparing your EE draft is the formulation of your conclusions and the preparation of the draft itself. At this stage, you turn all the work have done into a coherent argument, starting with your central question, explaining how your work builds on that of others toward an answer, describing and interpreting your results, then summing everything up with your conclusions. The argument should flow naturally from a statement of the question to a discussion of the contribution of others to a description of your own research to your formulation of an answer. Each section should advance the argument, following from the previous piece and leading to the next one.

If a section does not relate to the overall argument of your thesis, it should not be in the essay. It is advisable to leave a week or so before the first draft is due to reread the entire essay and make sure that the pieces fit together. At all stages of writing, you need to deal with issues of formatting. Make sure to include appropriate references and citations in a consistent format the minute you put pen to paper. Do not think that this is something you can do once you finish writing. Additionally, you will need to sequence the numbers of your sections, figures, and tables, produce a table of contents and write an abstract.

Regardless of how good the first draft of your essay is, your advisor will have comments and suggestions for improvement. Arguments that seem clear to you may not be as readable to someone else. There may be flaws in empirical work or theoretical arguments that are not apparent until the entire EE is read in proper sequence. As soon as your advisor tells you that they have finished their reading, you should pick up your draft and read through their comments. You will need to meet with your advisor to discuss the essay and clarify what revisions are necessary. It is to your benefit to understand and fulfill the expectations about revisions since you will have only one chance to improve your essay. Adapted from: http://academic.reed.edu/economics/thesis/writing.html Useful links to further links/sources of economic information/data: http://cc.ysu.edu/~eeusip/internet_data_sources.htm#INTERNET%20SOURCES http://www.pitzer.edu/academics/field_groups/economics/research.asp

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