Writing Tips for an Economics Paper


  1. The most important part of an economics paper is showing understanding of the issues. Demonstrate that you understand basic economic principles (inflation, deflation, etc.).
  2. Clarity is paramount. Stay focused on the topic and key issues.
    • Plain writing, no flowery language
    • Use accurate terminology, units, etc.
    • No typos—edit your writing
  3. Clear sections with headings (see below for more detail):
    • Introduction
    • Literature Review
    • Application of Economic Theory
    • Data
    • Conclusion


  1. Use quotations sparingly. Try to say things in your own words.
  2. If you do quote, make quotations short and identify and cite them properly.

Charts and Tables

  1. A picture can be worth 1,000 words, especially when you have a word limit.
    • Economic trends can be better showed than explained.
  2. Choose the right chart/table.
    • The message you’re trying to show must be obvious; the reader should not have to figure out the relevance.
    • Describe what you are showing and be as clear as possible.
      • Use correct variables and units (ex: level vs. % change)

The Structure of an Economics Paper


This is not the place to reach word count—be as clear and concise as possible. A strong introduction will succinctly do the following:

  1. Introduce your topic in a way that shows its relevance. Suggest why we should care about this question from an economic perspective—i.e., does it raise an important policy question?
  2. Indicate the research that has been done on the subject (be brief): Explain if there has been a debate in the literature about the subject or, if there is uncertainty, describe it.
  3. Identify a gap, problem, controversy, etc., in the existing research: Here, you may want to point out the range of previous results on the subject.*
  4. Explain how the present paper will fill that gap, solve that problem, etc.*
  5. State the thesis of the paper—the answer to the research question that the paper attempts to answer. State in this section what your contribution is (i.e., how are you answering the question?). State whether you are testing a model, evaluating a change in policy, and what data you are using.
  6. Mention the limits of your study (be brief): State your main results, and explain briefly how your findings differ from previous work and what the implications of these findings are. If your analysis is inconclusive (which is okay) be upfront about this and briefly state why they are.
  7. Outline the organization of the paper (best written in last paragraph of introduction).

*  Parts 3. and 4. may not be necessary depending on the assignment; check with your professor.

Literature Review

This section should consist of two brief parts.

Tip: Your work will be graded based on its relation to previous economics papers and how it improves the reader’s understanding of economic behavior in relation to previous economics work. As such, your literature review should only consist of papers from economics journals, because your main contribution will be to the economics discipline.

  1. The first section should discuss previous research that is directly relevant to your paper. The review can also include research that employs the same methods you are using, analyzes a similar model, uses the same dataset, etc.
  2. The second section should explain your contribution in more detail. You should discuss how your approach is different from what has been done before—i.e., do you use new data or a new model? 
Application of Economic Theory
  1. You should present the economic model/theory on which your paper is based.
  2. You must display mastery of the material covered in class as well as appropriate usage of economic theory. It is easy to get confused about basic economics principles when writing about them; go slowly and stop to make sure they make sense.
  3. This can be a good place to include graphs and charts.

The Data section (which you’ll write only in empirical papers) identifies the source of the data and any problems or special features of that data. Your data section should:

  1. Identify and describe the source of your data
  2. Explain why you use that source
  3. Identify any caveats: features of the data that may affect your results or that a reader should keep in mind in evaluating them (e.g., the data over-represent a certain demographic population, the data is plagued by self-selection bias, etc.)

While concluding the paper, restate the objective of the paper. Then you should provide your conclusions, being careful to distinguish your contribution from the existing literature on the topic.



 Elissa Jacobs and Paige Eggebrecht