Paper Guidelines

Economics Paper Guidelines

Papers should first and foremost have a clear theme, draw upon appropriate sources, and use data and quotes. Wikipedia is a good starting point, but use cautiously. Regular newspaper sources can be very good, and very bad. I will introduce you to EconPapers and EconLit, and the World Bank and IMF web sites. Remember too that your textbook is a potential source! – you really ought to know what it says, and quote / reference it.

OK. All this means uou need an introductory paragraph or two – more means you’ve passed the limit of “introduction” and are into the core of your paper.

You then need to develop your theme, something that can take anywhere between 5 paragraphs and 20 pages (and more if you use extensive quotes).

You close with a conclusion of two to three paragraphs (less in a short paper). This should NOT be a summary! You may need to summarize what your sources say, but what I’m really interested in is YOUR argument.

I do not prescribe (or proscribe) length. Papers should be as long as necessary – and no longer. Any suggested length is only that, to give a sense of whether it is a “minor” or a “major” paper.

I grade papers on both content and writing – organization, grammar, spelling, typos, and appropriate use of examples. I pay attention to writing not because it is “important,” but because poor writing affects your ability to communicate. Poor organization signals that you’re unsure of what you want to say. Poor paragraph-level organization typically means you will fail to convey your analysis clearly. “Paragraphs” that trail on for two pages generally aren’t. Sentences 5 lines long surpass my powers of concentration, and in all likelihood are run-ons. Such prose gets in the way of conveying your message. Typos suggest you don’t care enough about your paper to proofread it. (So why then should I read and grade it?!)

USE FORCEFUL WRITING. If you use the passive voice, you weaken the impact of your exposition. A sentence in passive voice is always longer, and in my experience invites being verbose. That doesn’t mean every sentence has to be direct. Vary your sentence structure a bit, after an hour of grading that helps me focus on your paper. But keep on the lean-and-mean end of the scale.

Be sparse with modifiers. Overblown prose lessens your credibility. Indefinite modifiers – “some,” “a few,” and “often” – add no value. Instead, they imply you’re unsure of what you’re saying. If you don’t have a number, don’t try to make up for that with a weak modifier. Silence beats floundering phrases.

Feel free – more strongly, please use! – the Williams School Communication Center. Working with others on writing is standard practice both in academia and in the work world. Any important business memo gets read by others in draft form; I myself get colleagues to read drafts, and in addition expect feedback from editors. For obvious reasons I do not want to make editors annoyed with me, especially when they propose to pay me for writing – or have not yet agreed to publish what I’ve written. And if I don’t write well, people won’t read it. This creates a strong incentive for me to do two or three drafts, with a day or more between drafts so that I can read my output with a fresh eye.

Duly acknowledge their efforts, but get a proofreader. Moms and dads and siblings are acceptable, though in my experience are not sufficiently critical.


  • make sure of your theme, and convey it to your reader
  • organize your claims and present data (numbers, quotes) to document them
  • go to the source for data when you can – for example, don’t use the CIA Factbook as it’s often dated and sometimes inaccurate.
  • don’t hand in your first draft; get a proofreader / editor
  • – write forcefully and accurately
  • – keep it “clean” – 1″ margins, 12 pt Times, 1.5-2.0 spacing, extra space between paragraphs
  • use in-line citations with information put into Zotero to give proper (Chicago 17th author date) bibliographic formatting