Top Writing Tips For Economics Papers
If you're a student and you're new to the subject of economics, then you might need some assistance with learning how to write in a style which is appropriate for the field. You can look at resources like Plamen Nikolov's writing tips for more information, or check out our top 10 tips on writing economics papers below.
1. Use a professional, factual tone. The manner in which you write should be based on objective facts and should be impersonal. You shouldn't write like a journalist or an opinion piece author – you are not trying to persuade the reader with your tone, but rather with your facts.
2. Use the present tense. This one differs between fields, but in economics, it is typical to use the present rather than the past tense. So you should write “Smith finds that...” rather than “Smith found that...” This also applies when you are writing about yourself, such as “This paper attempts to show...”
3. Use short sentences. People often pick up the bad habit of using too-long sentences, thinking that they sound more knowledgeable or sophisticated. Instead, they just make life more difficult for the reader. Use sentences which are short and to the point. When in doubt, split a longer sentence into two to make it more readable.
4. Use the active voice, not the passive voice. A habit of some science disciplines has leaked over into other subjects: using the passive rather than the active voice. For example, when describing an experiment, a science article might say “Effects were measured with a reader and the range was calculated.” But this is used less frequently in economics. Instead, use the active voice, for example, “We modelled the effects and used the model to make predictions.”
5. Use “I” and “we” correctly. Another habit of scientists is to avoid the first person, and on the rare occasions that it is used to tend towards using “we” rather than “I”. This makes sense given how common it is for scientific research to be performed in large groups. In economics, however, you should not be afraid of the first person, and use “I” and “we” literally. If you did something yourself, use “I”, if it was as part of a group, use “we”.
6. Dates for citations go in brackets. Again, this differs between fields, but in economics, the norm is “Smith (1970) finds that...” rather than “Smith found in a 1970 paper that...”
7. Use footnotes. If there is extra information which you've found and think to be interesting and of value to the reader, but isn't directly connected to your argument, then put it in a footnote. Do the same with extra details or very in-depth information which is not necessary for the understanding of your argument, but is useful as a reference for the reader.
8. Avoid jargon. Another common writing mistake among undergraduates is a tendency to use too much jargon or highly technical language. Students sometimes think that this will make their writing seem more professional or more respectable. But in fact, jargon is an annoyance to the reader and is almost always unnecessary. Use clear, simple terminology instead.
9. Know when to cut. Yet another bad writing habit that many people develop at school is the habit of always writing more words. Schools often set homework assignments of at least a certain word count, and this trains students into padding out their essays. In a university context, however, you are much better off being brief and accurate than you are adding a lot of filler words. Cut down any repetition or unnecessary fluff from your essays to make them short and better.
10. Read economics paper and mimic the style. The very best way to learn the style of any field is to do plenty of reading within it. Note the writing conventions of articles in economics journals and try to mimic their style.
For lots more information for economics students and others, see these articles: