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Specifically Economics

1. Writing about Data

In empirical economics papers, it is customary to describe the data one uses. The best way to learn about writing a data section is to read several data sections in the literature on your topic and pay attention to the kinds of information they contain. What you tell your readers about your data will depend in large part on the kind of analysis you are conducting. Generally speaking, however, your data section should do at least the following:

• Identify the data source (e.g., This study uses data from the "1999 wave of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics".).

• Provide a general description of the data source (number of observations, population groups sampled, time period during which the data were collected, method of data collection, etc.).

• State the strengths and weaknesses of the data source, especially how they relate to other data sources used in the literature (does the data source provide more observations, and/or more recent observations, than other sources? was the data collected in a more reliable manner? etc.).

• Note any features of the data that may affect your results (were certain populations overrepresented or underrepresented? is there attrition bias or selection bias?)

• Explain how you may have computed certain kinds of data that the source did not give directly (did you have to add/subtract/multiply/divide two given pieces of data to get a third?) Describe how you selected your sample (did you have to eliminate certain kinds of observations?) Data sections often contain a table of descriptive statistics, statistics of relevance about the sample. Again, the nature of your project will determine how best to describe your data. And it bears repeating that the best way to learn how to write a data section is to read several data sections in the literature and pay attention to the kinds of information they contain.

2. Writing about Models

In this section, the writer takes the reader through the series of equations that constitute the model. As you describe your model, its corresponding mathematical form is presented. It is customary to state the statistical technique the analysis will use—reduced-form regression, two-stage least squares, etc.—and why it was chosen. You should lay out all the assumptions you make and indicate the source of the model. Did you construct it yourself, or, as is much more common, is it borrowed or adapted from someone else?

In writing about your model, you present your assumptions about the economic agents you will consider and lay out the decisions and information they have available to them. On what basis do they make decisions? When are those decisions made—all at once, or in a series of steps or moments? What is the optimal way of acting based on the circumstances you have constructed?

3. Writing Conclusions in Economics

Conclusions to economics papers are usually brief. At their most pedestrian, they recap what has already been said in the paper. You may use your conclusion to restate your research question or purpose and to restate your principal findings. (Whereas in introductions you usually build up to your thesis statement, in conclusions you usually begin with it.) You may discuss the policy implications of your results. You may identify ways in which your present project can be extended or improved. But think of conclusions as much more than that. The conclusion is your chance to sum up your argument in a clear and concise manner, and in a way that does not simply repeat, word for word, what has been already said. It is also the place to suggest other lines of inquiry or broader implications of the topic and findings that you didn’t have the space to explore. The conclusion helps answer the question, “So what?” That is, why should readers care? Why should they find your subject important?

I would suggest reading your introduction and your conclusion side by side. They should be consistent with one another: the thesis or question or conclusion you state in your introduction should be the one you state in your conclusion. But the conclusion should be more than just a mirror of the introduction. Consider that whereas the introduction speaks to the contents of the paper that are actually to come, the conclusion should speak more to issues slightly beyond the paper. In other words, while looking back at the paper just presented, the conclusion should also look ahead.