Writing the Research Paper

Good writing is as important as good research.

If you cannot write well, the contribution of your research may be lost to everyone except yourself. Several of the books listed at the end of this guide will help you improve your writing. In addition, the Writing Workshop is a good source of advice and constructive evaluation. Once you have the substantive information for your paper, the four critical elements of writing are organization, style, documentation, and revision.


Organization

A research paper includes the following components: first, an introduction which states the purpose of the research; last, a conclusion describing what has been determined; in between, several different types of material such as background facts, literature review, analysis, policy recommendations, projections, and other relevant material. In a thesis, the components are separated into chapters; in a term paper, they are divided into sections. The use of headings and subheadings within chapters or sections makes it easier for the reader to follow the presentation.


Style

Strive for a clear well-organized presentation of your facts, theories, and analysis. The mainstay of economic writing is the simple declarative sentence. Avoid complex constructions, hard-to-follow run-on sentences, and the royal “we” (unless you are royalty or plural).


Documentation

Documentation is essential in research papers since you want to distinguish for the reader other people’s contributions from your own.

Direct quotes must be enclosed within quotation marks and properly attributed to the author. (Longer quotes may be set off in an indented paragraph instead of in quotation marks.) All paraphrasing must be identified and properly attributed to the original author, e.g., “Feldstein (1981, p. 101) argues that…”; or, “the following paragraph draws heavily on the analysis of Madden (1977, pp. 75-83).” Failure to do so is plagiarism and must be taken to the Student Conduct Committee.

Specify data sources as precisely as possible so that the reader can probe further into your topic if she/he desires. In particular, if you include a table or graph from another source in your paper, state the source (including page number).

Implicit in this discussion of documentation is the principle that you should always state the source of any prior writing you are using for your research paper. This applies even to your own work. For example, if your thesis expands on research done for a term paper, you should reference your earlier work appropriately so that the specific contribution of the thesis is clear. Occasionally students will want to prepare a single paper for two purposes, e.g. a joint term paper for two courses, or a joint thesis for a double major. Before beginning, you must consult with both instructors, so that the concept of the paper is clear to all, and the separate contribution for each instructor is clearly defined.


Documentation — Format

Most Economics faculty strongly prefer the author-date-page method of documenting sources. This method is described in detail on page 16 of the Bates College Statement on Plagiarism and A Guide to Source Acknowledgments. The following are examples of appropriate citation of references within your text:

Several writers have measured the costs of market power (Scherer, 1970, pp. 400-411).

Scherer (1970, pp. 400-411) reviews studies of the costs of market power.

Page numbers are required for all exact quotes, and citations of statistics. Page numbers are highly desirable in all other citations. When you use this citation method, the full bibliographic information on each source must appear in your bibliography. If Scherer published more than one reference in the same year, list them as “Scherer (1970a)” and “Scherer (1970b),” both in your text and in the bibliography.

The use of the author-date-page method simplifies reference in the text. Footnotes are used for substantive comments only and not for reference. They may be typed either at the bottom of each page or as endnotes on a separate page following the entire text.

With the author-date-page method of citation, the bibliography should list the year of publication immediately after the author’s name for each item.

The bibliography should include only materials that you have have read, with one exception. For example, when you write: “Tobin (1982, p. 32) shows that the evidence of Smith (1978) cannot be believed because of flawed data collection methods,” you need to include the full reference to Smith’s article in your bibliography as follows:

Smith, J. P. 1978. “A New Approach to Economics.” Economica, 49(4), pp. 302-312. Cited in Tobin (1982, p. 32).

The last phrase distinguishes Tobin from the works you have read personally.

Here are some examples of the bibliography format you should use with the author-date-page citation method. (Examples for books appear at the end of this guide)

Journal article: Baumol, William J. and Edward N. Wolff. 1981. Subsidies to New Energy Sources: Do They Add to Energy Stocks? Journal of Political Economy, 89(5), pp. 841-864.

Article in edited volume: Cagan, Phillip. 1956. The Monetary Dynamics of Hyper-inflation. In Friedman, Milton (ed.), 1956. Studies in the Quantity Theory of Money. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, pp. 25-120.

Government publication: U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1978. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1978. (99th Edition). Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office.


Mechanics

All papers and theses should be typed double-spaced on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper with 1″ margins on all sides. Special paper is not required.

The first page of a research paper or thesis is the title page, and presents the title, date, your name, the course for which the paper is written, and the instructor’s name.

A thesis also includes a table of contents showing chapter numbers, titles and the page on which each begins; it also lists appendices, bibliography, etc.

A thesis may have a preface; a term paper does not. The preface may summarize the contribution of the thesis and contain any necessary acknowledgements. It follows the title page and precedes the table of contents.

Tables, graphs and charts (unless very short) should be put on separate pages, and inserted in the paper at the appropriate place. For drafts and term papers, tables may be handwritten clearly on columnar paper. For theses, tables must be typed. Put the source underneath each table or figure.

Theses should be placed in a binder. Term papers need not have a binder. In the absence of a binder, a staple (and not a paper clip) can be used to keep the paper together.

You need to proofread your research paper thoroughly before turning it in. Take special care in proofreading tables and equations. For thoroughness ask a friend to check while you read out the numbers.


Revision

The final key to successful writing is revision. Once you have completed a first draft, set it aside for a while; then reread it with a critical eye, and rewrite to improve it.