The following is geared towards an independent research project, although much of the advice, especially the “Research Process” section is applicable more broadly. The scope of the project and length of the paper may vary if the paper is for a class (elective or seminar) or an honors thesis.

The paper must be a substantial, original, analytical research paper. This means that the paper must represent the undergraduate equivalent of a journal article. This typically means that the paper is at least twenty pages long, and, beyond synthesizing the work of others, makes its own creative contribution.

The research should be aimed at testing the validity of a hypothesis or hypotheses. This may be done either theoretically, empirically, or through a combination of both.

Theoretical papers might involve the construction of a model to explain or to evaluate the world around us. The possibilities are endless. Some examples would be: explaining the causes of a historic event; tying together seemingly unconnected events; evaluating a government program; identifying sources of market failure in a particular context; or defining the impact of an event on some segment of the population. It is common for theoretical papers to take on a mathematical form, though they need not do so. Verbal models should make all assumptions and logical steps clear to the reader.

Empirical papers might measure or forecast some key economic relationships and interpret their significance. Econometrics provides the standard techniques for empirical work. However, for those who have no background in econometrics, a well-conceived research design can accomplish a great deal using elementary, descriptive statistical techniques.

Papers combining theoretical and empirical work should use theory to construct a model and then use data to test the predictions and the validity of the theory.

The paper should be in a publishable format. It should include: a title page; either in-text citations, footnotes or end notes; and a bibliography. While not required, a table of contents is highly recommended. Making a table of contents usually aids in the organization of the paper.

The Research Process

Choose your topic Interdisciplinary papers are acceptable, but the topic must have a primary economic focus. It should be narrow enough to permit a sharp focusing of ideas, but not so narrow as to make the acquisition of information unreasonably difficult. It has to be manageable in the time allotted.

Acquaint yourself with the existing literature Identify and read previous works on your topic. The chief bibliographic source in economics is the Journal of Economic Literature, a quarterly subject-classified listing of all recent articles in economics and related journals now available online as Econlit (Colby access only). An extensive list of other valuable resources is found in the Sources for Research section of this guide.

Identify the specific focus of your paper Think critically about the material and your topic and identify the specific focus of your inquiry. This means forming a hypothesis or hypotheses. A hypothesis is a tentative theory or supposition which is provisionally adopted to provide a focus for the research (e.g., inflation helps the younger poor but hurts the aged poor).

Test the hypothesis Organize your research in such a way as to test the validity of your hypothesis or hypotheses. This may be done either theoretically, empirically, or through a combination of the two. (See the section The EC 345 Paper above.)

Make an outline This cannot be emphasized enough. A well-constructed outline provides great discipline while writing and facilitates consultations with faculty on the progress of your paper. Without an outline, you will likely spend a lot of time on a poorly organized paper. It is also valuable to have a tentative outline early in the research stage. In all likelihood, your outline will have to be revised several times during the writing process. This is natural and should not be discouraging.

Throughout the research process, you are encouraged to consult your faculty sponsor and, if you wish, other faculty members. You should do this sooner rather than later. We will help you to focus your ideas and to discover possible pitfalls in your research. We will help you to refine your research design and to present your ideas more clearly. However, we must remember that this is your project. You are responsible for choosing the topic, clarifying the issues, gathering the evidence, and doing the analysis. We want you to experience the joy of knowing that you can do independent research.

The Writing Process

Write a rough draft After making an outline, draw your conclusions and write a rough draft. This is the most difficult step, but it will force you to put all your ideas together. While writing the rough draft, weaknesses in your argument will become apparent and, frequently, you will arrive at some key insights. You will discover that you can improve on this rough draft a great deal if you put it aside for awhile and come back to it later.

Write the final draft If the other steps are done well, this step is relatively easy. You can concentrate mainly on style, organization and the elimination of weaknesses uncovered while writing the rough draft. Be sure to draw out the implications of your conclusions.

Acknowledging and Citing Sources

Plagiarism, the dishonest use of another’s intellectual labor, is a serious offense and is treated as such. In order to avoid plagiarism, you should be particularly careful to correctly acknowledge and cite all of the sources you have used. It is very important that you acknowledge not only the exact words of your sources but also their ideas. When quoting directly from a source, you must use quotation marks, even if you are only quoting a short phrase or important word. When you use the ideas of another in any manner, including paraphrasing, you still must acknowledge your source, simply without quotation marks.

In addition to citing all conventional, published materials referenced in your paper, you must also acknowledge in some fashion the following sources:

  • unpublished work, including that of other students;
  • previous papers of your own, if written on a closely related topic;
  • data obtained from the world wide web or electronic databases; and
  • significant guidance received from faculty members or students.

This last requirement is not meant to discourage discussions about paper topics with other faculty members or students, just as requiring citations is not meant to discourage the use of written sources.

Note:  It is not necessary to acknowledge the help you have received from your faculty sponsor. Flattery will get you nowhere.

Cite previous papers of your own and help you have received from faculty (other than your sponsor) and students in an unnumbered footnote before footnote #1. It might read like so:

This paper is an extension of an earlier paper entitled “The Economics of Advertising in Minor League Baseball” written for EC 264 in the fall of 1998. I wish to thank Joe Jones ’99 and Professor Jane Smith for suggesting this topic and helping me to clarify the issues.

When using data, fully acknowledge the source in the text, not with a footnote or in-text citation referring to a bibliography. You should state the government agency or organization that the data originally comes from. If the data are obtained secondhand, from an electronic database (whether on the web or otherwise) or other source, you must acknowledge this as well. Be aware that if you are using data in your paper, you may be asked to provide the data to your faculty sponsor in a format which would enable replication of your results.

For the rest of your citations, you are encouraged to use the author-date method of in-text citation, rather than footnotes. This method is much simpler for both the writer and the reader. When using this method, footnotes are only used for material not considered important enough to be included in the text.

Author-Date Method of In-Text Citation

The following are a set of rules for the author-date method. For additional examples and guidelines for citations see any issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives or the American Economic Review.

Both author and date of publication are enclosed in parentheses:

My conclusions differ from those of an important
earlier study (Friedman and Schwartz 1963).

The citation should stand just before a punctuation mark. If this is impractical, it should be inserted at a logical break in the sentence:

Since the Arab oil embargo at the end of 1973, several papers (Bergstein 1974; Krasner 1974; Varon and Takeuchi 1974) have assessed the probability of successful cartelization of other primary commodities.

If the author’s name has just been mentioned, or if you want to refer to the author directly in your statement, it need not be repeated in the citation:

According to Armington (1969), products distinguished by
place of production are not perfect substitutes.

Refer to a particular page, section, or equation as follows:

(Keynes 1936, p. 156)
(Tobin 1963, sec. 3)
(Kemp 1969, eq. 6.12)

For works with more than one author, use the full form of citation for two or three authors, but an abbreviated form for four or more.

Instead of:
(Williams, Jones, Smith, and Rogers 1998)
use:
(Williams, et al. 1998)

If you refer to two or more works by the same author published in the same year, distinguish the works as follows:

(Armington 1969a)
(Armington 1969b)
where (Armington 1969a) is the first work listed in the bibliography (alphabetize the works by title to distinguish them).

Bibliography

Your bibliography should list all references cited in the text. Some faculty members also want you to include in your bibliography other sources you consulted but did not cite in your paper. Ask your faculty sponsor about the content of your bibliography. Below are listed several examples of the proper method of citation in the bibliography, including citation of electronic sources. While there is no definitive manual of style used for economics, we encourage students to follow the methods of citation of the Journal of Economic Literature, on which the following examples are based. See any issue for further examples.

Book

Tietenberg, Thomas H. Economics and Environmental Policy. Brookfield, Vt.: Edward Elgar, 1994.

Journal Article

Nelson, Randy A. “On the Measurement of Capacity Utilization.” Journal of Industrial Economics, March 1989, 37(3), pp. 273-286.

Newspaper Article

Findlay, David. “The Economics and Politics of the Sales Tax,” Kennebec Journal, June 1999, p. 4.

World Wide Web

For web sources, simply cite the source as you normally would, including publication information if the work has been previously published, and add the URL of the source at the end, followed by the date you accessed it in parentheses. If the URL is dynamically generated (i.e., cannot be reached again simply by typing in an address), give the host’s URL.

Fair, Ray C. “Testing the NAIRU Model for the United States.” Presented at the meeting of the Model Comparison Seminar, New York City, April 25, 1997. http://www.colby.edu/economics/mcs/PWUS1.PDF (11 June 1999).

For Even More Information on Writing & Citing Resources

Donald N. McCloskey. The Writing of Economics. New York: MacMillan, 1987. (Colby Library: PE 1479 E35 M33 1987)

The Chicago Manual of Style. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993. (Colby Library: REF Z253 U69 1993)

Kate Turabian. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996. (Colby Library: REF LB 2369 T8 1996)

The Colby Library has a link which provides useful information for referencing Web sources and other citation manuals: http://www.colby.edu/library/research/web_reference/links.shtml#style

Grading

There are four general dimensions considered by professors in grading the EC 345 paper.

Economic Content: Does the paper contain some substantive economic content? Although it may seem obvious that one should write an economics paper for an economics course, we occasionally review drafts which are more suited to courses in government, physics, chemistry, or mathematics with an occasional dollar sign thrown in. Interdisciplinary papers are acceptable, but one of the disciplines has to be economics and its representation must be more than token.

Analytical Depth: Have you analyzed the important issues in some depth, or is the treatment superficial? Have you sought out and included relevant facts? Does the research reflect a reasonable awareness of the relevant literature? Does the paper make clear how all the facts fit together?

Organization and Style: Is the paper organized into coherent subsections which form a logical sequence of arguments leading directly to the conclusions? Does the introduction provide an overview of the paper and the role of each section? Are the conclusions summarized and clearly specified? Is it well written? Is it grammatically correct and free of typographical and spelling errors?

Originality: Have you exhibited some degree of originality or have you simply regurgitated readily accessible materials? Have you clearly identified the nature of the original contribution for the reader?

While these four dimensions are used by all professors in grading the paper, each professor will emphasize each one differently, and have other guidelines as well. Each professor will also have his or her own rules for penalizing late papers. You are responsible for knowing and understanding your faculty sponsor’s grading methods.

Sources for Research

Research for your paper should not be conducted exclusively on the Web. In fact, the Web is probably the third or fourth place you want to begin to look for resources. Use Colby’s reference librarians. Search the catalog and browse the library stacks and periodicals for related books and articles. Exclusive use of the Web will, at best, cause you to miss an important piece of work related to your project. At worst, it will give you incomplete or inaccurate information. A paper which relies exclusively on Web research is not acceptable as an EC 345 or other course-related project.

However, the Web does provide a host of useful indexes and data sources as well as on-line versions of journal articles and news reports. Use all Web sources with caution, however. There is a lot of inaccurate and misleading information in cyberspace. Two places to begin your Web research are Colby’s Economics Department link to economics resources and the Library’s Guide to Economic Resources on the Internet. Some of the most useful resources are listed below.

General Guides

Business Information Sources (University of California Press, 1993)

Colby Library: REF HF 5351 D16 1993
Economic Indicators Handbook (Gale Research Company, 1994)

Colby Library: REF HC 101 E385
Global Data Locator (Bernan Press, 1997)

Colby Library: REF HA 36 K87 1997
Finding Statistics Online (Information Today, 1998)

Colby Library: REF HA 33.5 B47 1998
Dictionaries & Encyclopedias

The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Economics

Colby Library: REF HB 61 E55 1994
Palgrave Dictionary of Economics and The Law

Colby Library: REF K487 E3 N48 1998
Dictionary of United States Economic History

Colby Library: REF HC 102 O57 1992
Black’s Law Dictionary

Colby Library: REF KF 156 B53 1990
International Encyclopedia of Statistics

Colby Library: REF HA 17 I63
Electronic Periodical Indexes

EconLit is the American Economic Association’s electronic bibliography of economic literature. It provides an expanded version of the Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) indexes of journals, books, and dissertations.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL: http://library.colby.edu/record=e1000145~S9

LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe is the worlds’s most comprehensive, full-text online law, news and business information index, including cases, statutes, bills, trade journals, wire services, national and regional news, and the foreign press.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL:

http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe

Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS) contains indexes and abstracts the international literature of public & social policy. Use this database to find information on Business, Government, International Relations, Political Science, Social Sciences, Demographics, and more.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL:

http://www.infotrac-custom.com/itcustom/colby_main

Expanded Academic Index. Use this database to find information on: Astronomy, Religion, Law, History, Psychology, Humanities, Current Events, Sociology, Communications and the General Sciences.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL:

http://www.infotrac-custom.com/itcustom/colby_main

The Wilson Index to Legal Periodicals indexes articles in 620 leading legal journals, yearbooks, and law reviews.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL: http://gateway.ovid.com/ovidweb.cgi?T=auth&D=wilp

Specialized Indexes
Congressional Information Service Index (CIS) is a leading international publisher of reference, research, and current awareness information products based on information produced by the U.S. government and related information. This site also contains links to the Congressional Record, members’ voting records & financial data, U.S. regulations & laws.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL:

http://web.lexis-nexis.com/congcomp?

MarciveWeb DOCS is a catalog of government publications that includes records of U.S. Government Documents from 1976 to the present as well as Marcive’s shipping list records for access to titles not yet cataloged.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL: http://www.marcive.com/scripts/webdocs.dll

Access UN provides access to current and retrospective United Nations documents and publications. Individual indexing available for treaties and articles appearing in UN periodicals.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL:

http://infoweb.newsbank.com/

Business Information
Reference USA provides information for U.S. Companies by several criteria, including name, place, or sic code. Entries include basic contact information, sic description term and codes, names of executives, and credit ratings.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL:

http://reference.infousa.com/

Statistics
Statistical Universe provides a powerful index to statistics published by the U.S. government, state governments, associations, business and research centers, commercial publishers, and international organizations. The search results include a detailed description of a publication’s statistical content and bibliographic information and may also include two hypertext links, one to the agency’s www site, and one to the full text on Statistical Universe.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL:

http://web.lexis-nexis.com/statuniv

Stat-USA is an online government source for business and economic data and press releases published by over 50 government agencies, including the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Department of Commerce, and the Bureau of the Census.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL:

http://www.stat-usa.gov/stat-usa.html

The Economic Report of the President is an annual publication of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers containing a detailed analysis of economic policy and a wide variety of detailed historical data. A printed copy is available in the library stacks, referenced as: HC 106.5 A272

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL: http://www.access.gpo.gov/eop/

The Statistical Abstract of the United States is a well-known resource published by the US Census Bureau and contains a collection of statistics on social and economic conditions in the United States. Selected international data are also included. A printed copy is available in the library stacks, referenced as: GOVT. C 3.134

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL: http://www.census.gov/statab/www/

Business Statistics of the United States is published by Bernan Press and contains more than 2,000 data series covering virtually every aspect of the U.S. economy, including GDP, employment, production, prices, productivity, international trade, money supply, and interest rates with the latest edition of this standard reference. An introductory section describes major economic trends. Statistical profiles highlight each major industry group from mining to retail trade. A printed copy is available in the library stacks, referenced as: HC 101 A131222 1998.

Available to Colby students & faculty at the URL: http://www.bernan.com/Title.asp?TitleID=33

The United Nations Statistical Yearbook contains a wide variety of economic and demographic data on member countries. A printed copy is available in the library stacks, referenced as: HA 154 U63.

The World Bank publishes World Development Indicators which contains 600 indicators in 83 tables, organized in six sections, data on: the world view; people; the environment; the economy; states and markets; and global links. The tables cover 148 economies and 14 country groups—with basic indicators for a further 62 economies. Most of the text from the book is presented at the URL: http://www.worldbank.org/data/wdi/home.html, but only a sampling of the tables from each section is available. The complete document is available in the library stacks, referenced as: HC 59.15 W656.

A Final Warning on Using Electronic Resources

As is clear from the listings above, the Internet can be a useful place to do economic research. However, its usefulness should not be overestimated by students, nor should it be incorrectly used. The Internet is not a replacement for books. If you want to find out about the role of trade unions during the Truman administration, you should search for “Truman” and “trade unions” in the Colby catalog, not Yahoo! Additionally, because the Internet is unregulated, information received there should be regarded with a great deal of skepticism if the source is unknown. When used properly, as a fast and easy way of accessing credible publications, and as a supplement to library research, the Internet can be a valuable research source. However, when used improperly, or as the first and only site to research, it is woefully inadequate, and can be intellectually deceiving.

Avoiding Plagarism

Colby’s official policy statement on plagiarism is as follows:

Education and the growth of human knowledge depend upon the interaction of human minds. To collaborate in learning, both with experts and with peers, is a necessary and valuable activity. It is no more legitimate to steal the product of another person’s mental labor, however, than it is to steal the product of his or her physical labor. Money buys the use of material goods; documentation and acknowledgment are legal tender in the world of ideas.

Plagiarism, a word derived from the Latin word for kidnapper, covers a wide spectrum of dishonest uses of the products of another’s intellectual labor. The most blatant plagiarism is outright copying of someone else’s work, whether from a book or from another student, and passing it off as your own. It is also dishonest to paraphrase or summarize or even adopt occasional apt phrases from another writer unless you give credit to your source. To follow another’s line of reasoning without indicating the source of that thought process is also plagiarism.

Colby’s policies for dealing with cases of academic dishonesty, including plagiarism and cheating, are detailed in the Student Handbook. What follows are some examples and guidelines for avoiding plagiarism.

For students who are new to the research process, the question of what constitutes plagiarism can be a difficult one. Suppose you are writing a paper about the use of statistically-based (econometric) methods of economic analysis for policy making purposes and you write the following passage:

For over 50 years policy makers have used econometric models to answer questions about economic behavior. Econometrics is a powerful tool, but also a dangerous one. There are so many chances of abusing it, of doing more harm than good with it, that it should only be put into the hands of really first-rate men. Others should be absolutely discouraged from taking up econometrics. Political agendas and insufficient training are two factors which can lead policy makers to abuse econometric methods.

In the middle of this paragraph are three sentences from an article by Ragnar Frisch of the University of Norway which appeared in the journal Econometrica in January 1946. In writing this paragraph you have taken the words of Frisch and presented them as your own, a blatant act of plagiarism. You can legitimately use Frisch’s statement with quotes and a footnote or with an in-text citation as follows:

For over 50 years policy makers have used econometric models to answer questions about economic behavior. As noted by Robert Frisch:

“Econometrics is a powerful tool, but also a dangerous one. There are so many chances of abusing it, of doing more harm than good with it, that it should only be put into the hands of really first-rate men. Others should be absolutely discouraged from taking up econometrics.” (Frisch, 1946, p.4.)

Political agendas and insufficient training are two factors which can lead policy makers to abuse econometric methods.

You may think that you can avoid plagiarism if you don’t copy another person’s work word for word. Be careful here. The following ‘blending’ of statements also constitute plagiarism:

For over 50 years policy makers have used econometric models to answer questions about economic behavior. Econometrics is a powerful tool, but also a dangerous one. Econometrics has many valuable uses for policy analysts. There are so many chances of abusing it, however, that it should only be put into the hands of really first-rate men and women. Only economists with some graduate training should be trusted. Others should be absolutely discouraged from taking up econometrics. Political agendas and insufficient training are two factors which can lead policy makers to abuse econometric methods.

The italicized portion of this paragraph are Frisch’s words and cannot be used without giving him credit. In general, it is not sufficient to simply give an author credit and still use their work without properly distinguishing between their words and your own. Because there is no distinction between your ideas and Frisch’s work the following is still plagiarism:

For over 50 years policy makers have used econometric models to answer questions about economic behavior. Robert Frisch noted in 1946 that econometrics is a powerful tool, but also a dangerous one. Econometrics has many valuable uses for policy analysts. There are so many chances of abusing it, of doing more harm than good with it, that it should only be put into the hands of really first-rate men and women. Only economists with some graduate training should be trusted. Others should be absolutely discouraged from taking up econometrics. Political agendas and insufficient training are two factors which can lead policy makers to abuse econometric methods. (Frisch, 1946, p.4)

To avoid plagiarizing Frisch’s work, the following ‘blend’ of statements would be acceptable:

For over 50 years policy makers have used econometric models to answer questions about economic behavior. Robert Frisch noted in 1946 that, “Econometrics is a powerful tool, but also a dangerous one.” (Frisch, p.4) Econometrics has many valuable uses for policy analysts. However, as Frisch points out, “There are so many chances of abusing it, of doing more harm than good with it, that it should only be put into the hands of really first-rate men [and women].” Only economists with some graduate training should be trusted. As Frisch concludes, “Others should be absolutely discouraged from taking up econometrics.” Political agendas and insufficient training are two factors which can lead policy makers to abuse econometric methods.

Plagiarizing from an unpublished work of another student is just as dishonest as plagiarizing from a published author. Using another person’s paper as your own is perhaps the most obvious case. You should acknowledge the ideas you get from other students, either from discussions or in reading their papers. Discussions outside of class are a valuable part of your education. You can indicate a general indebtedness with an Acknowledgments page at the beginning of your paper:

Acknowledgements

The ideas in this paper were clarified in late night discussions with my roommate, Tina Turner. I am also grateful to Michael Jackson, whose comments in class started my thinking on this topic.

If a particular idea came from someone else, give credit just as you would if it came from a published source:

Political agendas and insufficient training are two factors which can lead policy makers to abuse econometric methods. (Michael Jackson, class discussion).

Finally, “self-plagiarism” is also a form of academic dishonesty. You cannot use the same paper for assignments in two different classes unless you have permission from all the instructors involved. You can write about the same topic from different perspectives. Even though the papers are not the same, however, you should still obtain permission from both instructors.