Having taught hundreds of undergraduate students over the past five years, I thought I should compile all my wisdom in one place for future students to read. This page includes tips, suggestions, advice, etc.
Tips for writing undergraduate economics papers
Here are some tips in writing papers for your undergraduate economics classes:
Use active voice in writing
Students like to write sentences like "the dataset was analyzed....".
".... and conclusions were made regarding ...."
Again, BY WHOM?
It is OK to write "I (we) analyzed the dataset..." -- It even sounds better!
The active voice is more direct and clear. The passive voice takes the emphasis away from you, the researcher. It makes you less important.
Always back up your arguments with sources
Yes, you know a lot of stuff, and you are definitely allowed to have to your own ideas and arguments.
However, when you are asked to write an essay, response, research paper, or any form of academic writing, you have to use sources to formulate your arguments. You have to back up your ideas with evidence provided by experts. Using credible sources to back up your arguments makes them stronger and more compelling to readers.
Do not use Investopedia
I am sure that you learned in your writing/ research classes that Wikipedia is not a scholarly sources and you were told to not use it. Then you took your first economics class, and you googled something and you discovered Investopedia. I am sure you felt like "Oh Man... that is all I need!"
Well, just like Wikipedia, Investopedia is NOT a scholarly source. Scholarly sources are written by experts in the field and are peer-reviewed; fact checked. That is what make them reliable. Investopedia is NOT peer reviewed.
It is ok to click on that Wikipedia or Investopedia article when it comes out in the search results. And yes, spend a few minutes reading the article because it does have all the basic information you need to know. Once you know the basics, move on to finding credible sources that help you learn more details and that you can cite in your papers/ essays.
Bottom line: Do NOT use any thing with -pedia at the end.
Use sections and subsections
When asked to write an academic paper for a class, please organize your papers into sections and subsections. Make it easy for the reader to follow through. Your paper should have at least 4 sections: (1) introduction, (2) methods, (3) results and discussions, and (4) conclusion. Any paper that does not have these 4 sections at the very least does not qualify as a paper (in my opinion). You can have more section if you want; for example, you might split the results and the discussion into two sections. You might have an additional section to discuss the data you use in your research. But at the very minimum, your paper needs to include these four sections.
You can also use subsections to organize your paper more. For example, you can have a section called methods and then have a subsection called Data, where you describe your data and then a subsection called Empirical Methodology where you write up your model, equation to be estimated, etc.
Do not forget to number your sections and subsections and make them clear to the reader.
A sheet with a list of web links at the end of your paper/essay does NOT qualify as a References page. When writing anything academic, you have to include a proper References page that include the author(s) name(s), the title of the article, the date in which the article was published, and the name of the journal. There are different citation styles that you can use to generate your references page: MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard. For most professors, it does NOT matter which one you use, as long as you use something.
It is very easy to generate a references page. If you are using articles from academic journals, Google Scholar can help you generate your reference entries in seconds -- you only need to copy and paste the format you prefer (see this video). If you are using other sources (not journal articles), you can use an online citation machine, such as this one, to generate the entries needed for your references page.
Sources that you should NOT use in your references when writing economics papers
You should not use these sources because they are NOT necessarily written by experts and they are NOT peer reviewed.
Please note that this is not a comprehensive list. You have to evaluate your sources before deciding to use them.
Websites like New York Times, Washington Post, The Economist, Vox, ... etc. are a little bit tricky. They are NOT peer reviewed, but they are typically important when you are trying to motivate your analysis. Accordingly, you should be cautious about using them. Think twice before citing a NYT article.