Writing an Economics Essay
December 22, 2015
Many students new to economics are apprehensive about writing their first essay, but they shouldn't be. Sure, it's not easy to complete the research and analysis required to write a great essay which will gain top marks, but in this short article, I'll share some tips on how to simplify the task at hand to develop a step-by-step approach to achieving the high standards expected by universities these days. Writing a great essay can be really rewarding so by getting over the first hurdle, you will be able to continue to achieve top results.
It should be common knowledge by now that the best way to understand a subject is to research it as much as possible. But this often causes students to become overwhelmed by the vast amount of information available, either not knowing where to start, or where to stop. A good place to start is the lecture notes, or reading materials provided as part of the essay requirements. There are thousands of text books online and in your university library but your recommended course book should be the first port of call. Google Books and Google Scholar make searching for additional materials a lot easier.
Once you're comfortable that you understand the general principles of the topic of choice, set about planning the structure of your essay. A good introduction sets the scene for the reader and ensures that they know the outline of the topic and the arguments that you intend to make. Take a look at the structure of some journal articles for ideas. You'll notice that they all begin with an abstract, but this is generally only necessary for longer academic work, such as your dissertation. After the introduction, you will need to outline the theory behind your topic and then relate it to the specific question being posed. You'll be able to use your research knowledge here, as you can reference textbooks or articles while you discuss the economic theory.
A large portion of your overall grade for the essay will be awarded based on your ability to analyse and evaluate the information available. Describing the theory is important, but it is vital that you are able to discuss its positives and negatives, and suggest alternatives where appropriate. Most economic arguments can be countered with other theories or opinions and so it is usually up to you to decide which you agree with and why, based on the evidence available. A strong essay will consider each argument before reaching a conclusion. Sometimes the conclusion will not be definitive, but it will always provide reasons why each argument can or cannot be applied to the topic at hand.
The final part of your essay should always be a conclusion. Here, you should summarise your work recapping the key definition or theory before reminding the reader of the arguments and conclusions you have made. A good rule of thumb is that your conclusion should be around 10% of your essay so if your essay is 2000 words long, 200 of these should be your conclusion. A strong conclusion demonstrates to the reader that you are confident in your research and findings, and helps them to remember the key points from your essay. It's important then, that your conclusion is not just an after-thought, but you should take care to ensure that you pay close attention to it, as it's often the last thing that the marker will read.
Throughout the process of writing your essay, don't shy away from difficult concepts. Many economics students develop a fear for maths and statistics which are seen so often in textbooks and articles but it's important to tackle them head-on. Mathematical analysis is a great way to demonstrate understanding of your topic and achieve extra marks. It will set you apart from your classmates and the knowledge will be vital for future coursework and exams too. There are many tutorials on YouTube for various techniques, and open courseware provided by universities such as MIT and Yale are also great points of reference, to supplement the content taught on your course.
Most universities require the use the Harvard Referencing System for citing all sources used in the essay (direct quotes, statistics, paraphrased arguments etc.). It is essential that you understand the system, and there are plenty of guides available online which explain how each source type should be referenced. Incorrect referencing can lead to serious problems around plagiarism, which you obviously will want to avoid.
Once you've written the essay, the work is not over. You should always read through your work and edit it. Of course you should check grammar and spelling but you should always check content and structure as well. Rewrite the essay a different way and see if it sounds better. See if you can convey the same arguments and conclusions in a more succinct manner or using stronger terminology and language. Top authors are never happy with their writing first time and journal articles go through many iterations before they are deemed fit for publication. I always rewrite essays three or four times before I am happy with the content. You should do the same.
The final point to make is that these guidelines should be applied generally to your academic work. It is always best practice to follow the guidelines set out by your lecturer (or whoever will be marking your essay) and to speak with them at least once (or more, as appropriate) to understand their expectations further. Most lecturers are happy for students to take draft essays for review and discuss structure and content.
If you follow these steps, I am sure you will be able to achieve top marks for you essays, and you will discover just how rewarding writing a great piece of work can be.
Hopefully you found this content useful. If you have further questions / comments, please feel free to message me and we can discuss your specific requirements. Happy writing!
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