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Essays, bachelor theses, master theses

What you should lean:
  • You should learn principles of scientific work in general,
  • you should (more specifically) learn how economists solve problems,
  • and you should learn to write and to present a scientific topic.
When you write your essay, you might keep the following in mind:
  • In a short text you can not explain the world. You have to choose: Which points do you want to explain and which points are marginal.

    Examine your structure carefully. Are the points you find crucial really crucial? Which of the more marginal points are relevant at all?

    Once you have found a clear structure, follow your structure and help your readers and your audience to understand your structure. Captions, headings, introductory sentences and brief summaries at the end of a section help your reader and your audience to understand and to follow your structure.

    Sometimes you have to rush through some steps of an argument (the argument is perhaps not so important that you want to present it with a lot of detail). This can be frustrating for your reader or your audience, unless you tell them in advance that they are supposed to miss something.

  • A model or an example can provide a frame for your work.

    Tell a story. The historical development of a discussion of a topic can provide a frame for your work, too.

  • Choose a target audience. Make sure that your target audience can follow your essay and your presentation. Make also sure that your target audience finds your work interesting.

    Usually it is good to choose students from your own level as a target audience. Tell your story in a simple way, so that they understand, and tell it in an interesting way, so that they learn something new.

    Choosing senior academics as your target audience can be problematic. It is possible (though not certain) that senior academics need less background information, but it might also be harder to tell them something they find new and interesting.

  • Use formulae and diagrams when they are necessary. Examine each element of your work. Is it really necessary? Does it help your audience? If the element is trivial, then you better leave it out. If the element is too complicated, replace it with a simpler one that your audience can understand.

    If you are not sure that you understand what you are writing, then your readers will not understand, either.

  • The following structure is only an example:
    1. An introduction helps your reader. Explain why your research question is important and interesting. What is the relation between your question and the literature?
    2. The next section presents the theoretical model that provides the framework of your analysis. If there are several models, try to be clear. What belongs to the framework you are using, and what is a digression or a comparison with something else?
    3. An empirical study often presents hypotheses after the model.
    4. Then you present your empirical or theoretical results. In this section you will, usually, come back to your hypotheses.
    5. A good summary helps the reader a lot. Explain which answers you gave are important. What is the take-home message?
    6. Bibliography
    7. Appendix:
      • Table of independent observations
      • Instructions for the experiment
      • Proofs
      • ...
    Help your reader to understand structure and content. Explain how the elements of your work build upon each other.
  • Short sentences are better than long sentences. Omit useless words.
  • If you essay should follow a prespecified length (e.g. 1500 words for a seminar), follow this length. A long text does not prove your enthusiasm and diligence but shows lack of discipline. Is is easy to spend vague and unnecessary words. It is much harder to make a clear but brief point. Show courage! Defend a clear position!

    Rewrite your text and your presentation frequently. In every revision cut everything that is not necessary. Rehearse your presentation with a stopwatch in front of a mirror. Are you sure you can finish in time?

  • It is a matter of taste whether you use the first person (I, we) more or less frequently. In any case, try to be clear and simple. Avoid passive voice.

    References: Make clear what is your contribution and what is somebody elses contribution. Avoid constructions like "...this position is problematic..." or "...one can argue that...". Who finds this position problematic and who is the person who argues like this? Is this you or somebody else? Instead say either "...Sabine Müller (2007) does not share this view and claims instead..." or "...I do not share this view...".

    References at the end of statement do not reveal the contribution of the source. Avoid "A, B, and C hold (Sabine Müller, 2006)". Instead either say “Sabine Müller (2006) claims that A, B, and C hold” or say “Sabine Müller (2006) provides a detailed discussion of the pros and cons of A, B, and C. In the following I will assume that A, B, and C hold.”

    Defend a clear position and help your reader to understand this position.

    Brief citations in your text ("Gabrielle Demange (1992)") refer to the bibliography at the end. There are many ways how a bibliography could be formatted. I suggest you follow the conventions of any decent economic journal.

  • Honour all sources of all arguments, regardless whether you quote word by word or whether you only reproduce the spirit of a statement. Make sure that your research is reproducible. Document your data and your quantitative methods. Follow the rules of good scientific practice.
  • Formatting is less important than content. Still, in case you are interested, I have an opinion regarding layout.
Literature
Please also note some remarks on how to discuss and how to write a report of another essay.