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Econ520 - Term Paper

Fall 2022 - Prof. Lutz Hendricks

The term paper picks a topic, critically reviews the literature, and clearly lays out arguments on both sides of the debate.

If there is a dominant view in the literature, the term paper explains this, but it does not take sides. The logic here is that an interesting topic will have some disagreement among experts. I don't expect you (the students) to resolve this disagreement.

See the notes on writing a term paper.

We will devote part of a class to questions such as:

  1. What makes a good topic?
  2. How to find literature? How to organize it?
  3. How to summarize opposing arguments so that the reader can understand how each argument is supported.


During the first few weeks of class:

  • students form teams of 3 (let me know if you need help finding team members)
  • email me once you have formed a team or want to change its composition
  • students start to discuss potential topics (see here for some ideas)

A few weeks into the course, we will devote one class to firm up topic choices and talk about the writing process.

  • each group will briefly summarize its proposed topic
  • the class will discuss to refine
  • afterwards: each team receives instructor approval for the topic

By Sep-29 (around the middle of the term) each team submits a draft of a draft that contains:

  • statement of topic
  • main arguments pro and con (and how they are supported)
  • main references from which these arguments are taken

By Oct-25 each team submits a draft paper.

By Nov-15 each team submits the final paper.

  • 5 points will be subtracted (out of 100) for each day that the paper is late

As you write / develop your argument, you should get in touch with me periodically to make sure everything is on track (and to clarify questions).

Please provide all files in pdf format (not MS Word). I do not need hardcopies.


The paper should

  • demonstrate understanding of the literature
  • lay out arguments on both sides of a debate, weaved into a coherent narrative
  • give the reader an idea about how the cited studies reached their conclusions
  • give an idea of magnitudes. Macro questions are often about quantifying tradeoffs. For example, it is obvious that more progressive taxes reduce inequality. But is this a big or small effect?

This is a substantial piece of work. I expect that the paper covers the literature in some depth.

I do not expect

  • innovation, modeling, theory, or original data work.
  • that you read academic journal articles (though you should try).
  • that you reach a conclusion. If the experts disagree, I don't expect you to figure it out.

There is no prescribed length. Obviously, you don't want to hand in 2 pages.

Examples of well-written term papers: Negative interest rates, Racial inequality. These were done during a semester when the students spent less time on their papers. I expect more depth than these.