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ECO 494: Senior Thesis Preparation

Economics 494

  • The goal of the senior thesis preparation course is to produce a prospectus for the senior thesis (ECO 495).
  • The prospectus for the senior thesis must include an introduction, literature review, and bibliographic sources. In addition, the prospectus identifies key data sources. The introduction motivates the paper. That is, it tries to answer the question: who cares or why does this research matter? In addition, the introduction must clearly state your research question.
  • The literature review (often referred to as the background section) summarizes and analyzes the available literature related to your research question.
  • Completion of ECO 494 is required for enrollment in ECO 495 (Senior Thesis in Economics). No Exceptions.

Course Description

The goal of the senior thesis preparation course is to produce a prospectus for the senior thesis. The thesis requires not only that students review and synthesize related literature from the economics journals but also gather and analyze new data in support of a particular hypothesis. Such analysis typically requires extensive use of statistical and econometric techniques. Many of the best senior theses at TCNJ have, after some additional work, appeared in the peer-reviewed economics journals. Thus, the senior thesis in economics differs from a typical term paper because it seeks to make a real contribution by generating new evidence and/or analysis on a particular economic topic.

The prospectus for the senior thesis must include an introduction, literature review, and bibliographic sources. In addition, the prospectus identifies key data sources. The introduction motivates the paper. That is, it tries to answer the question: who cares or why does this research matter? In addition, the introduction must clearly state your research question.

The literature review (often referred to as the background section) summarizes and analyzes the available literature related to your research question. The review should not simply summarize each journal article in separate paragraphs. Instead, the discussion should be thematic and your paragraphs should be clearly linked with transitions. A detailed outline of the themes in the literature is often very helpful here. Typically, the prospectus is about 10-12 pages in length including about a page of bibliographic material. As a general rule, the prospectus should cite a minimum of 10 economics journal articles.

In developing your prospectus, you should make sure that data is available to conduct the analyses required to answer your research question. For ECO 494, you do not need complete all data collection for your thesis. However, you do need to confirm that sufficient data is available to answer your research question. If it is not, you may need to engage in the time-consuming process of re-thinking and re-writing your literature review and introduction at a later date. This will likely compromise your ability to complete the thesis in a timely manner.

Your thesis advisor will make editorial comments on these sections and return them to you before ECO 495 begins.

 

Getting Started

Students typically have a series of vague ideas for their senior thesis topic. More often than not, the ideas are topics of particular interest from economics courses you have already completed. The difficulty lies in narrowing that idea or ideas into a researchable question. For instance, you might be interested in exchange rate movements or environmental regulation. Of course, environmental regulation is too large a topic for a single paper. An appropriate research in the field of environmental regulation might be: what is the effect of recent rule changes on brownfield redevelopment in New Jersey ? Likewise, “exchange rate movements” is too broad. An appropriate researchable question in the field of international finance might be: what were the determinants of the dollar/peso exchange rate from 1980-1998?

A good place to begin narrowing your idea is to start with an article or book you found interesting and decide if it raises a question you would like to explore further. You can start with the citations in that article, and build a bibliography by working backward from the citation list.

If you are looking for a researchable question, check Econlit. Econlit is the American Economic Association’s electronic bibliography of economic literature. Type in some search terms related to your topic and read through the abstracts that meet your search terms. Are there unanswered questions in the papers? Is there a way to use a different data set or empirical strategy to get a different angle on an issue already studied? Is there a controversial or interesting claim that could be retested using a different data set? This is perhaps the most difficult part of the thesis and it is advisable to seek help from a faculty member before settling on a topic. Other databases of economics and economics- related journal articles include: ABI / Inform Global; Science Direct; and Academic Search Premier.

 

Data

At the same time that you are refining your research question you should begin looking for data. Your choice of topics will often be constrained by the available data. It is possible in some cases to collect your own data, but this should be attempted only with the guidance of faculty. Most theses use publicly available data. Hard copy printouts of all data used in the paper should be supplied to your thesis advisor.

Some excellent data resources are available at: http://www.tcnj.edu/~library/tbennett/economics.html

 

Citing Sources

Please follow the author-date method. Some examples:

However, Berndt (2002) notes that a shortcoming of the existing literature is the lack of quantitative estimate for the causes of the increase in prescription drug consumption during the 1990s.

Or

A number of recent papers have explored the causes of rising prescription drug expenditures (Thomas, 2001; Berndt and Sturm, 2002; Kaufman et al., 2002).

(When there are more than three authors, abbreviate using the technique in the final citation above.)

In the references section:

a journal article

Berndt, E., 2002, “Pharmaceuticals in U.S. Health Care: Determinants of Quality and Price,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 16, 45-66.

Bull, C., A. Schotter, and K. Weigelt, 1987, “Tournaments and Piece Rates: An Experimental Study,” Journal of Political Economy, 95, 1-33.

a book

Cohen, D., 1995, The Misfortunes of Prosperity: An Introduction to Modern Political Economy (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA).

an article in an edited collection

Bolle, F., 1988, “Learning to Make Good Predictions in Time Series,” in: R. Tietz, W. Albers and R. Selton, eds., Bounded Rational Behavior in Experimental Games and Markets (Springer-Verlag, Berlin) 37-50.

data

U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1997, National Resources Inventory (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C). (www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/NRI/1997/summary_report/)

Learning Outcomes

By the completion of ECO 494, the student will be able to:

  • Review and synthesize literature on an economic topic.
  • Develop a research question
  • Define dependent and explanatory variables to measure underlying economic concepts.

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