Struggling to write an economics essay? I have compiled a list of 8 to-dos that will help you make your essay writing more focused. If you are aspiring to write a great economics essay, you should consider paying close attention to the following 8 suggestions.
1. Always read and reread the preamble.
Most of the times, the preamble has a treasure trove of information available. As a student, your job is to dig out that information.
Begin by drawing out the context of the question.
This is usually characterised by a particular date, a major event, some factual information on firms or a series of economic policies. Keep in mind the context when you tackle the essay, as you are almost always required to come back to it.
The next thing you should be looking out for are the sweeping statements the preamble makes.
Frequently, the preamble is a very general statement which is followed by a ‘discuss’ question asking you to comment on the validity of the statement. Such questions require you to sieve out the exceptions to the claim and often that forms the anti-thesis part of the answer.
2. Look out for the question words.
Broadly speaking, there are three main types of question words that require three different types of structure in answering the question.
The Explain questions
These are the questions that merely require student to give an explanation to certain events, issues, or how some policies work using their arsenal of economic knowledge. It is the closest one can get to a regurgitation type of question. All you are required to do is to simply lay out your economic ideas and reason your way like a budding economist! Of course, do not forget to include examples and always remember to link back to the question in every paragraph.
The Distinguish/Compare questions
These questions deserve a category of their own despite their similarity to Explain type questions. This is because the answers to them require a different structure. Instead of just simply explaining the economic ideas in a linear manner (from one idea to the next), you are required to compare across different economic concepts. For example, a common question of this sort will be “Distinguish between the concepts of Price Elasticity of Demand, Cross Elasticity of Demand and Income Elasticity of Demand [10 marks].” You will be required to compare the three concepts using ideas such as their magnitude, their definition, their diagram, formula, coefficient so on and so forth. A direct listing of the characteristics of the three elasticity concepts will net you a L1 score, which is equivalent to a D or below.
The Discuss/Assess/Evaluate/To what Extent questions
These questions, in general, carry more marks than the relatively straightforward explain questions. They demand a specific structure for the answer, which is usually taught as a ‘thesis, antithesis, synthesis’ approach. I like to think of it slightly differently. Instead of focusing on trying to come up with two sides of the issue, your focus should be on answering the question by taking a stand. A proper stand should take into account well examined arguments from both sides of the issue; a good stand should be able to address the underlying assumptions of the question and be applicable to the given context of the question. In general, there are always two sides to every argument or statement in economics. The point of the question is thus to see which students can highlight the more poignant and pertinent arguments while taking into account the context of the question.
But for a start, if it is simpler for you, simply craft your essays in the format of Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis and you should be fine!
3. Pay attention to economic keywords and concepts that appear
You should highlight any economic concepts or keywords that appear in the question. First of all, you should stay away from questions that have economic ideas you do not understand. Next, once you have decided which questions to do, these economic concepts should be defined in your answer and explained before you use them in your scripts. A common mistake is for students to jump into the answer without first defining the key terms in the question as well as the scope of the essay. The introduction to the essay is as important as the body and the conclusion, so you should spend some time to craft a good introduction that clearly defines the boundaries of the question.
Now we will apply the first 3 tips to an example:
Recently, many industry experts have been signalling the death of print media, amid the increasing availability of books, magazines, newspapers and other printed publications on the Internet.
(a) Explain how the rise of the Internet has affected the market for newspapers. 
(b) Assess the relevance of price elasticity of demand, income elasticity of demand and cross elasticity of demand to a magazine publisher. 
Applying Tip 1
The preamble states that ‘many industry experts have been signaling the death of print media’ and provides one reason to it which is the rise of internet media and books. From an economic perspective, you need to realize that these two goods are related, and in this case they can be considered close substitutes of one another. There might be other reasons that cause the decline of the print media industry, but certainly, ‘the increasing availability’ of internet substitutes that are easily accessible and cheaper should be one of the main drivers of this trend.
Applying Tip 2
The question is split into two parts. ‘Part a’ is an ‘explain’ question and ‘part b’ is an ‘assess the relevance’ question. This means that ‘part a’ does not require students to discuss two sides of the issue, or in this case, point out how the rise of the Internet has not affected the market for newspapers, or if the market for newspaper was mainly affected by some other event. ‘Part b’ however, demands a thesis – anti-thesis approach in the answer. In general ‘part b’ should be answered in the context provided by the preamble or based on any contextual knowledge that students might have regarding the underlying industry conditions of certain markets. This allows students to make assumptions necessary to arrive at a stand or provide a perspective in the evaluation (more on this later).
Applying Tip 3
Keywords: market for newspapers: refers to the demand and supply conditions; the behavior of equilibrium price and quantity and the type of market structure that is present.
Price Elasticity of Demand, Income elasticity of demand, cross elasticity of demand – you will have to explain and apply these concepts in your answer.
Now that you are done with reading the question, it is about time to start answering it!
4. Start writing
This might be contrary to what you have been always taught to do, but the truth is, the earlier you start writing, the better it is. Economics essay writing is always almost a rush. This does not mean you stop planning or forget planning altogether – you read the question and gather some thoughts on the question to form a basic stand.
One key thing to take note of here is your handwriting. Always make sure that your hand writing is legible. You do not want to waste time writing something no one can read. Remind yourself that 45 minutes is quite short but it is sufficient. Try to be as concise as possible so you do not waste time on unnecessary filler words.
5. Start from definitions, explanations, things that you can’t possibly go wrong with.
Go from the simple things that are required. Set the boundaries of the question; explain keywords, statements, concepts. For a question that asks you to evaluate the extent to which an event is beneficial to society, start by explaining the event that had taken place in economic terms. It is as if you are translating something to the language of economics.
You will find that as you write, more ideas will come to you and eventually you will be able to come up with points for the rest of your essay.
6. Examples. Examples. Examples!
Examples should form the core of your elaboration. Once you have explained the relevant economic concepts, always include examples to help substantiate your explanations. You can use examples from the preamble, from current economic news, major economic events, or simply contextual knowledge about firms and markets in the world.
7. Refine your stand.
The central idea here is assumptions. What assumptions have you made to arrive at your thesis? Are these assumptions accurate in the given context? What are some alternatives that are possible? Examining assumptions adds depth to your responses and allows you to craft good anti-thesis arguments and even better synthesis ones.
What is your stand? Which outcomes are more important than the rest, and what are the assumptions that are true here? What would be the impact in the longer time frame v.s. in the immediate period? Any minor points which could be interesting? What actions can be carried out to alleviate some of the problems?
A good conclusion should reiterate the stand of the author and clearly answer the question. Most teachers look at the conclusion to award marks on evaluation and it is important that you come up with a well thought out stand that addresses the economic issues in the question.
I hope you can take these 8 tips and put them to good use in your essays today!
I look at these same 8 concepts with far greater detail in my e-book which you can download for free!
You are strongly encouraged to send in responses to firstname.lastname@example.org about your own view on essay writing and perhaps snippets of your essays that you think are well written!
So get out there and start writing great economic essays today!