Writing your paper is about directing your own learning on a specific subject. The expected
outcome is for you to understand the subject in sufficient depth so as to be able to explain it to
your audience (your peers and the economics faculty) in a clear, precise, structured and selfcontained
manner. Note you are not writing for a general audience, but for a specialized one.
Your writing should be of interest to your peers while it also demonstrates your competencies in
economic thinking to the faculty.
Thus, this writing assignment will serve to develop your skills of research and inquiry, including
design and hypothesis formation, interpretation of data, information literacy, analysis, and
communication. And you will have to think and reason like an economist.
Your assignment can take the form of a monography, a survey or literature review, a case study,
a report, a policy proposal, a position paper or some other format you propose. Whatever the
format you choose, you must frame your subject within the field of Economics. The purpose
of your written assignment must be to gain knowledge into a topic–and a specific issue within
this topic– from an economics perspective. Please, find a non-exclusive list of possible topics for
your perusal at the end of this document. Note this is a list of general topics; you must choose a
concrete question or issue within each topic, the more specific the better.
How to Proceed
The Proposal stage is about discovery and examination of ideas. You will need to do active
thinking and engage critically with your subject of choice. This is the phase where you are
‘figuring out’ and refining what you think before you proceed to communicate it in a more
formal way (to be done in the First Draft and Final Version of your paper). These are the steps
you should follow:
1. Identify topic within economics that interests you (or any topic that can be
approached using economics)
2. Establish the purpose of your research
3. Undertake a background search
4. Identify a specific issue within the topic
In step 1, you may start by thinking about a topic or an issue that you brushed upon in a class and
you wished you had learned more about. Or something you read about in the news or social
media that made you curious but you never had a chance to explore more in depth. Or about that
ongoing discussion you have with a classmate or a friend that has never been settled, because
neither one of you did serious research. This is your chance to do so.
In step 2, establish the reason for your research. Do you wish to summarize what is known about
a topic and issue? To contribute to knowledge on a topic? To solve a problem/puzzle? To present
the puzzle and its alternative solutions? To disentangle a confusing, little known or new subject?
To weigh in on a debate? To defend a stance in a particular issue? To …? You may want to pose
a question about your subject, determining what evidence is needed to answer the question, and
collecting information and data that will allow you to answer the question, which takes us to the
In Step 3, do not rely solely on general internet searches to locate literature. A Wikipedia
entry or an article you read in The New York Times or The Economist might be good sources of
inspiration to choose a subject and think how to approach it, but you must make an effort to find
more scholarly sources of information and reference (primary sources). That is, any source
addressed to a general audience (secondary source) may be a great place to start, however, you
must remember who your audience is and rely mostly on primary sources of research, i.e.
technical studies and scholarly research, such as books, book chapters, edited volumes, and,
especially (given the time available) journal articles, technical reports, and working papers.
Sometimes you will find these primary sources too mathematical or too technical: do not focus
on the details, but on the narrative and their contribution. 1
If you feel lost or are not sure how to
approach your subject, it may be a good idea to consult (the relevant chapters of) a textbook on
your subject; this will give you a good framework for reference and will point to all relevant
connections to be taken into account.
In Step 4, try to be as specific and concrete as possible in your choice of issue. This is important
even if you have decided to do a literature survey: narrow down your subject. For example, if
you are interested in ecosystem services, you may narrow it down to “Ecosystem services in the
dry tropical forest.” Or you may decide to work on “Valuation of Ecosystem Services: Direct vs
Indirect Methods.” Any of these will still require you to tell your audience about ecosystem
services in general in your Literature or Background Review, but you will find that, by focusing
on a narrower topic, your work becomes more directed and easier.
Remember you can access any e-journal (for free) from Stony Brook Library using your
account (consult the last section of your Syllabus). Use academic search engines such as Google
Scholar, Ideas, and EconLit, where you will be able to access published articles as well as online
working paper series such as the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the Social
Science Research Network (SSRN), and NetEc (http://netec.wustl.edu/NetEc.html). Use also
JSTOR, a great repository of published scholarly papers, as well as Sciencedirect
(http://www.sciencedirect.com), that has journals that JSTOR does not have and often up to the
present issue.2 You can also search more general resource sites such as Resources for
If you are planning to do an empirical paper, do not attempt to collect your own data (primary data, not the same
as primary source): it would be EXTREMELY costly in terms of resources, time, and effort. Hence, if you want to
use data or econometric analysis, you will work with secondary data (not the same as secondary source) and/or the
results obtained by other researchers. For more information on the distinction between primary and secondary
sources of data, see https://www.thoughtco.com/secondary-source-research-1692076
I particularly recommend the Journal of Economic Literature and the Journal of Economic Perspectives; they
usually have excellent surveys on specific topics. Browse through the Table of Contents (ToC) of the last few years.
I recommend you check the following link for sources of US and international data, statistics,
reports, and commentary: https://library.law.yale.edu/news/75-sources-economic-data-statisticsreports-and-commentary.
I have also added a brief list of sources of free data at the end of this
document. Keep in mind multilateral or aid agencies such as the World Bank, the Inter-American
Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank and others such
as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Bank for
International Settlements (BIS), Eurostat, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), etc. are also
excellent, sources of free (mostly policy-oriented) research and of a large variety of data sets to
download and work with. You may also want to consult an instructor you know is a specialist in
the area of your interest to guide you on your initial search for literature. And last, but by no
means least, consult your librarian; they are specialists in where to look for sources of reliable
When you find a document you think is relevant, browse its table of contents (ToC) if it is a
book or its sections if it is an article, and look for useful information or references to useful
information. If using a search engine, do a keyword search; start broad, with a topic, then
narrow your search by using more specific words in your search phrases, You will see the more
you learn about the topic, the more specific the words you think of. You may also choose to do a
Boolean search to focus your search.3 When you find potentially helpful material, do some
filtering: evaluate what is relevant, throw out what is irrelevant, work with what remains, and
check for leads about other possible valuable resources.
Purpose of a Proposal
The purpose of writing a Proposal is to identify a working central idea, sketch out how you plan
to develop it, and present it for approval and suggestions. Your Proposal should give you a sense
of purpose and determine the focus and direction of your future work. Later, you will use your
Proposal as the map or “scaffolding” on which you will develop content. In your Proposal, focus
on coherence and structure. Always keep a tidy grammar and orthography and follow
conventions for citation (see instructions below).