Economic Majors Research Skills

What Economics Majors Should Know

By the time she graduates from Smith an economics major should be able to use information (qualitative and quantitative data) to understand and critically evaluate economic arguments and policies. This requires the ability to:

  • identify what kind of information one needs to address the question at hand
  • find that information using appropriate research tools and techniques
  • evaluate the quality of the information (reliability of the source)
  • use the information (test hypotheses using qualitative and quantitative reasoning)
  • present information in forms that explicate and support the author’s arguments
  • cite information sources fully and correctly (including crediting quoted sources)

These skills are developed as a student progresses through her major. 

Courses

The Basis (ECO150, ECO153, ECO190)

By the time she finishes the basis a student should be comfortable accessing and using basic information and data sources such as:

Source Call Number/Access
Statistical Abstract of the United States [ProQuest] 2013+ Ref desk HA 202 .A31
or click here

Statistical Abstract of the United States [U.S. Census Bureau] 1878-2012

Click here
Economic Report of the President (Statistical Appendix) US Doc Pr 37.9
or click here

A student should be able to calculate basic statistics (e.g., mean, median, proportion, standard deviation), percentage changes, and trends (average annual rates of change) using these data and to present results in relevant and informative forms (e.g., tables, diagrams, graphs).

A student should also begin reading the economic press in sources, such as:

Source Call Number/Access
The Economist Per HG 11 .E2 / online
Wall Street Journal online from 1984

Intermediate (200 level) Courses

By the time she completes her work at the 200 level a student should be familiar with the most important general economics journals and data sources, for examples:

Source Call Number/Access
Journal of Economic Perspectives Per HB 1 .J63 / online
Journal of Economic Literature Per HB 1 .J62 / online
American Economic Review (May Papers) Per HB 1 .E26 / online
Bureau of Labor Statistics click here
U.S. Census Current Population Survey (CPS) click here
U.S. Commerce Department Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) click here
Federal Reserve System - monetary statistics, macroeconomic indicators, consumer finances click here

In courses included under the catalogue heading International Economics a student will find useful major publications and data sources on the world economy such as:

Source Call Number/Access

World Bank

click here
World Development Report (WDR) - World Bank US Doc IBRD W6 / online
World Development Indicators (WDI) - World Bank HC 59.15 .W656 / online
International Financial Statistics - available via Statistical Datasets US Doc IMF STAT I55 / online
Human Development Report (HDR) - United Nations HD72 .H85 / online
World Health Organization (WHO) - United Nations click here
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) click here
Statistical Datasets [Data-Planet] click here
Eurostat click here
International Labor Organization (ILO) click here
Penn World Table click here
CIA World Factbooks click here

There are also field-specific information and data sources.  For example, the EPA website for environmental economics, the NIH website for health economics, and Historical Statistics of the United States for American economic history.

When asked to write research papers applying economic theory to specific research questions, familiarity with special resources widely used by economists (books, academic journals and published datasets) will prove valuable.   These would include:

Special Resources Description

Economics Subject Page (Smith College Libraries)

Lists primary research databases, internet sites, and other resources.

EconLit (American Economic Association) Comprehensive index to journal articles, books, book reviews, working papers and dissertations from around the world.
Resources for Economists (RFE) The most important source of information for practicing economists, including glossaries, links to economists’ websites and a comprehensive list of datasets, conference announcements, job listings, software and teaching resources.
JSTOR An online archive of academic journal articles, including all major economics journals. Full runs of back issues, excluding the most recent few years.
NBER Working Papers Working papers presenting research in economics and related social sciences by leading economists and associates of the National Bureau of Economic Research based at Harvard University.  The NBER website also makes available unique databases maintained by its research associates.
RePEc (Research Papers in Economics) Free, collaboratively produced database of social science working papers, links to journal articles and software components.

Capstone (300 level) Courses

Each economics major must take at least one 300 level course.   The essential defining elements of 300 level courses are: a.) a semester long research project b.) at a level utilizing the tools of the intermediate theory courses and c.) an effective oral presentation of her research.   Successful completion of a seminar will require students to use the resources and skills outlined above.   A good seminar paper will investigate a topic of special interest to the author.  It will review the existing literature, develop and defend a meaningful research question, choose an appropriate methodology, define and discover sources of evidence and use that evidence to derive conclusions.   It will articulate all that in a well written document, following rules of citation and style.

Academic Integrity

Plagiarism is a serious violation of the College’s Honor Code.  When using someone else’s words, ideas, or arguments, students must acknowledge their sources.  It is important to identify and attribute all sources of new ideas, except for commonly shared knowledge, e.g., dates and facts found in encyclopedias and dictionaries. For more information on the College Honor Code, look here.

Any research involving human subjects (including observational studies, interviews, surveys), either on campus or elsewhere, must be reviewed and approved by the Smith Institutional Review Board.  For more information on human subjects research at Smith look here.

July 28, 2013