Sample Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus Used During Fall 2001

This syllabus constitutes the "required reading" for the course and contains important information concerning the course and the work expected of you --- so please read it very carefully. It will serve as a general resource to guide you through the semester-long research process; consequently, you will want to re-read and consult it often during the semester. If you have any questions at any time, please ask so there are no misunderstandings or unpleasant surprises.

Course Purpose and Objectives

The research project is designed to be a capstone experience for senior Economics majors. As such, you will utilize your cumulative knowledge of economics to analyze a significant economic question or issue via a semester-long project of researching, writing, and presenting a paper on the results of your analysis of your question.

The primary objective of this project is to have you conduct an effective economic analysis using an appropriate economic framework and adequate evidential support, and then clearly present that analysis both orally and in writing. In other words, you will now be "doing economics" rather than learning about the economic knowledge and analysis generated by others.

As this suggest, the primary objective of EC 384 contrasts significantly with the objectives of other economics courses. In those courses, instructors present, develop, and demonstrate to students the economic concepts, theories and empirical work of practicing economists as they pertain to specific topics. In EC 384, the focus is on your learning how to produce economic information that will enlighten others about a significant economic issue.

To direct your economic research project efforts, you must learn what successful economic research is. Thus during the semester you will study examples of economic research. The primary reason for this is to demonstrate steps in the research process and how they apply to different types of issues and questions. The examples will serve as case studies for you to examine and learn how research is done, and they can provide you with templates to follow in your own research endeavor.

The Research Process: Necessary Steps

The following steps are necessary for completing your research project:

  1. Determining a topic area based on previous course work and experience and on additional research.
  2. Developing a workable research question from the selected topic. This step includes determining if the question can be answered given your background and given what constitutes economic analysis.
  3. Determining and developing the economic analytical framework you will use to answer your research question.
  4. Collecting and assessing appropriate and adequate evidentiary support to answer your research question
  5. Analyzing your research question using the framework developed and the evidential support collected.
  6. Compiling your findings into a coherently written paper and a formal oral presentation.

While this list suggests consecutive steps, please be aware that you will typically be working on several of these steps simultaneously throughout the semester.

Step 1 - Determining a Topic

Your research project is to conduct an economic analysis on an economics topic of your choice, subject to the approval of the department's faculty. In selecting a topic, it is crucial that you utilize economic theories and models that you have already studied as you will not have time to learn new theory and complete your analysis in the one-semester timeframe.

What do we mean by a "research project"? First of all, it is not a traditional "term paper." As your own college experience has probably demonstrated, in term papers you typically report on the research of others to answer a particular question. That is, you choose a subject and corresponding question that others have already researched, read this research, and then write a paper that synthesizes the information you have collected to answer the question posed.

For the research project, you must go beyond the term paper. You will still develop a specific question to address, but now you will answer that question by using appropriate economic analytical frameworks and methods to produce your own analysis and results. And while you will likely examine the work of other economists as you identify the "best" frameworks and methods for analyzing your question, in the end, you will answer your research question based on your own research an economic analysis.

As you consider topics, keep in mind that there are a variety of analytical approaches you can follow. For example, your research topic could be to develop a new theoretical structure for examining a specific issue (although this kind of work is more typically done at the graduate level). More likely in an EC 384 project, your analysis may be empirical, using evidence within an established theoretical framework to support or challenge the theory or to explain why/how some event occurred. Using this type of analysis, policy issues could be addressed for their actual vs. expected effects. Another possible approach is to use a comparative methodology, which is particularly appropriate is examining questions in the history of economic thought or the evolution of economic institutions. Such a methodology may also be appropriate for explaining differences between regions or groups of people.

The key point here is that your research must reflect the systematic use of economic frameworks, methods, and evidence in support of your research question.

If you have not yet identified a topic for study, you must do so immediately!! If you do not recall anything that peaked your interest in previous courses, then return to your notes and course texts to refresh your memory; you will also want to recall the hints from your Tier III instructors about possible research topics pertaining to those courses' material. If you are still struggling, then talk over ideas with other economics majors, particularly your former classmates, or browse the library stacks and economics journals. Once you've identified and have some concrete knowledge about a topic, you may then (but only then) consult with a faculty member about the topic.

Step Two - Developing A Workable Research Question

Your next task will be to develop a feasible research question from your topic(s) of interest. While you have probably already considered possible economic topics that you might pursue for your project, considerable work is required to move from a topic to a workable research question

During this stage, you will learn how economists develop a research question, and you will develop your own question through class discussion and by working with the course professor and other departmental faculty. Part of this discussion will include what questions are and are not feasible under the course's parameters.

The most significant course parameter is that you must work in an area of economics in which you have prior knowledge from coursework, special study, or, in some cases, personal experience. The reason for this is straightforward -EC 384 is designed to evaluate your ability to apply a specific economic analytical framework to answer a research question in economics. So while there may be a number of question that you find interesting, you must keep in mind that some questions will be beyond your knowledge base, some will have answers that will not be demonstrable, and some may not be appropriately answered using economics. You will thus be given some exercises in the first two weeks of class to help you learn how to make these distinctions and identify a feasible question.

You may have noticed the term, "research question," being used thus far, and this in not a trivial choice of words. In EC 384, the goal is for you to examine a significant issue using economics, and one of the best ways to keep that focus is to ask questions, such as:

  • What economic concepts and theories can be used to analyze my question? In other words, what economic analytical framework(s) will help me evaluate my question?
  • What research have other economists done on this question, and how might it inform the analysis of my question?
  • What evidentiary support is needed to answer my question thoroughly and effectively?

More importantly, while economists are not able to provide the validity of declarative statements, we can (and do) answer questions about the economy, making explicit the models, assumptions, and evidence we have used to reach our conclusions. Thus keeping the "questioning" approach in mind as you work will both aid and enhance your research.

Step Three - Determining an Appropriate Economic Framework for Your Analysis

As you focus in on a workable research question, you will also need to determine what economic framework you will use to analyze your question.

You have already studied numerous economic frameworks throughout your coursework, starting in EC 111 with the neoclassical product market supply-and-demand model and some form of a macroeconomic aggregate demand-aggregate supply model, at a minimum. In both your Tier II and Tier III courses, additional framework were presented and developed, and you may have also gained some practice applying these frameworks to answer economic questions in those courses.

In EC 384, part of your initial work is to identify economic frameworks that will enable you to analyze your research question and then to determine which framework is best suited for your purposes. Thus at this stage, you will want to begin by reviewing those materials from your previous course(s) that pertain to your research question, with a particular eye on what analytical frameworks economists have used. That is, you need to determine how economists analyze, in an organized and systematic way, the type of question you are asking.

Step Four - Determining Adequate and Appropriate Evidentiary Support for Your Research Question

As you hone your research question and after determining the analytical framework(s) you will employ, you next need to consider what evidentiary support you will need to address your question.

Remember that you are trying to analyze a specific question using a particular economic framework. Both the question and framework will guide you in determining what kinds of evidence are appropriate to support your working thesis. In determining this evidence, you will need to consider what kinds of economic information is appropriate, and you will need to determine what economic methods you will utilize to systematically analyze that information.

Formal Written Proposal and Presentation to Faculty Panel

The formal written proposal will state, as clearly and coherently as possible, the research question you will analyze. In writing this statement, make sure you have addressed the following points:

  1. What specific economic question do you seek to analyze in your research?
  2. How has your reading about your topic informed (a) your research question, (b) the analytical framework(s) selected, and (c) the evidence tentatively identified?
  3. How do you anticipate using the specific analytical framework(s) and the evidentiary support that you have identified to direct your analysis?
  4. What problems do you foresee and/or assistance do you anticipate needing as you analyze your research question?

Your formal written proposal will probably be between 7 to 10 pages long based on your earlier written work. It is not, however to be simply a compilation of this earlier work but is to reflect the progress in your research activity. Failure to demonstrate such progress in the proposal will not only negatively affect your portfolio grade, but more importantly, it will impede your progress and possible completion of the course.

You will present your formal written proposal to a department faculty panel. Before your presentation, you are to distribute hard copies of your proposal to all members of the faculty on both campuses no later than 12 noon on the day prior to your session, so they have time to read and comment on your proposal.

Your presentation to the faculty is to be short, about 5 minutes long, and its purpose is to expand on your written proposal. This expansion may include a further revision of your research question, new information you have obtained, or new questions that have arisen. As you prepare, keep in mind that the faculty have read your written proposal and want to know about the progress you have since made.

After your presentation, the panel will use the remaining 15 to 20 minutes to discuss your project with you by asking you questions and by offering suggestions for sharpening your research focus and for locating relevant sources. While you may be understandably apprehensive about this exercise, keep in mind that the purpose of these panels is to help you fine tune your research question and develop an effective research strategy for analyzing that question. Indeed, the faculty views these panels as an opportunity to work with our majors as apprentice scholars whom they want to succeed in their endeavors.

Expanded Written Proposal

After your faculty panel presentation, you will revise and submit for a grade an expanded formal written research proposal based on your initial written proposal, the faculty panel's comments and suggestions, and your on-going research. This proposal must delineate clearly and coherently your working thesis, the analytical framework you will utilize, and your initial primary sources of evidence. It is also expected to be as complete as possible at this stage of the project.

As part of the proposal, you are to include a preliminary bibliography with at least ten (10) sources, including the key reading(s) for analyzing your research question. The relevance of each source listed is to be indicated either by a reference in the text of the proposal or, if that is not appropriate, then through an annotation in the bibliography itself as to the source's relevance to the development and analysis of your thesis. Finally, be sure to use one of the bibliographic formats indicated in the course Style Sheet.

Step Five - Analyzing Your Research Question Using The Framework Developed And The Evidential Support Being Collected

At this stage, you should have articulated a clear research strategy for analyzing your research question/thesis. While such a strategy does not insure smooth sailing, it will guide your continuing research efforts. However, do not be surprised if you have to adjust this strategy multiple times as you go; very few, if any, economists produce a final research project without a number of "fits and starts."

Research Advice

In addition to utilizing material from you previous coursework, you will need to acquire other materials on your topic, analytical framework, and evidentiary support. As you do so, please keep the following advice in mind.

Libraries should be the first place you search for information.

  • Determine the materials relevant to your project that are available in both Alcuin and Clemens Libraries. While some of these sources can be identified using WebPals, do not forget what you can learn by combing the stacks. Remember that the Library of Congress categorization system is based on the reading's subject, so you may find relevant books and articles from browsing the shelves and through reviewing tables of content.
  • Our campus libraries have excellent staffs that enjoy helping students with research activities. Not only can they help you find specific information you seek, but they can also assist you in developing effective research strategies.
  • The CSB/SJU libraries do have some limitation. First, SJU is only a partial government repository; that is, it receives only about 25% of federal government publications. Consequently, you may need to consult the libraries at St. Cloud State, the University of Minnesota, or other sites to obtain some resource materials. In addition, like all libraries, our collections do not contain every book/journal available, so be sure to check the holdings at other accessible libraries.
  • Remember the inter-library loan system. If you find another campus has something that you need you can request that it be sent to you. This process does take time, so try to identify these materials as early as you can. Also, do not wait for these materials to arrive to continue you research; keep working on other avenues as you search for materials.

The Internet is an excellent but still limited source for research materials.

  • The Internet contains an increasing amount of information that may be relevant for your research project. However, it too have its limitations. One of the most significant is the lack of historical materials, and this does not mean material from 50 years ago. Governmental and educational institutions have limited resources, and so many of the books, journals, and data sets published less recently than the last few years are not available via the web. So do not forget to check the libraries for hard copies of information you may need.
  • The reliability of information found on the Internet remains an issue. While most governmental and educational sites (including the journal and article links on the CSB/SJU library web page) are reliable, be sure to ask if you have any questions or concerns. In addition, do not assume that either (1) an ".edu" or ".gov" site is necessarily reliable or (2) sites with other extensions are not reliable; in fact, many organizations and businesses do provide reliable information that may be useful. Again, ask if you have any questions.

As you collect research materials, keep detailed written records and be sure to develop a good working bibliography and set of notes - this will save you time and aggravation over the long run. It is also useful to have these materials with you whenever you consult with a faculty member or head off to do research.

Consulting the Department's Faculty

The department's faculty view EC 384 as a departmental course; that is, we all are available for consultation with 384 students each semester. Additionally, we each have different areas of expertise in economics, so some professors may be more helpful with particular topics. While the specific courses taught by the faculty indicate some areas of expertise.

In consulting with department faculty in your research, please keep the following in mind:

  • First, be courteous and respectful of their time. While willing to work with EC 384 students, the faculty members do have their own full set of courses to teach and students to see. Consequently, always ask if it is convenient to meet with them, be as detailed as possible about why you want to consult them, and always show up and be fully prepared for such meetings.
  • Always focus your questions on specific concerns regarding your research question, analytical framework, or evidentiary support. One of the best ways to do this is to send a written request to the faculty member in which you articulate your questions. This will give the faculty member time to consider your question before meeting with you, and it will help you understand more clearly where exactly you are having difficulties.
  • Most importantly, do NOT expect any faculty member to do your project for you. If you do consult with a member of the faculty, please be as informed, clear, and coherent as possible about the specific help you need.

In conclusion, the department's faculty is willing to help you as long as you demonstrate a strong commitment to and considerable research effort on your project.

Writing and Revising Drafts

The expanded formal written proposal should provide you with a first draft of your final paper, which you can build on it through the remainder of the semester. To encourage continual progress on writing up you analysis and results, you will periodically submit drafts for review by class colleagues and the professor. Your work on these drafts will also be evaluated as part of your portfolio grade.

Every three to four days, revise at least some portion of your draft. For example, you might continue to work on focusing your analysis, incorporate additional information obtained, or improve the written communication of your results. You may also find it useful to outline the entire paper, and then fill in the outline throughout the on-going research process.

What this means, of course, is that you should expect to substantially rewrite your paper numerous times before you complete an effective draft of your paper.

Maintaining Your Research Activity

One key to successful research is to maintain a continuous and consistent level of research activity. Plan on spending at least an hour or two each day locating and reading resources, collecting and analyzing evidentiary support, and writing up your results in addition to the time you spend preparing specific assignments for class. This kind of continuous work is critical if you are to complete a satisfactory research project in the timeframe available.

Continuous research activity is crucial for another reason. You cannot do good research and writing in large discrete "clumps" of time right before a particular deadline. As you will quickly find, research inevitably consumes more time (often 2-3 times more) than you estimate it will take. Thus waiting until a deadline will almost certainly mean late work that will negatively affect your course grade and research progress.

Step Six - Formal Oral Presentation and Final Written Paper of Your Research Analysis and Results

At the end of the semester, you will bring your research project to an end. In so doing, you will be required to give a formal oral presentation of your results to the class, the department faculty, and other invited guests. After the presentation, you will address any issues raised during the formal presentation as you complete the final written draft of your paper.

Formal Oral Presentation

The purpose of the formal oral presentation is to present the results of your research project clearly and comprehensively, and it will be evaluated on both its content and its coherency.

Part of your grade for the final oral presentation will be based on your evaluation of the presentations given by the other students in the course. Thus you are required to attend all of the final oral presentation sessions and to participate in their evaluation; unexcused absences from the presentations will reduce your oral presentation grade at the least.

In preparation for the final oral presentations, you will be giving oral presentations throughout the semester. Initially you will do short reports on your topic, research question, and research progress; these presentations will increase in length and formality as the semester proceeds. Further information on how to do an effective presentation will be provided throughout the semester.

Final Paper

The final version of your research paper represents the culmination of your work not only in the course, but also in your undergraduate work in economics. Consequently, it represents a substantial portion of your course grade in EC 384.

In your final draft, you will report on the results of your semester-long project following the general format used by economists. Your paper will begin with your final thesis clearly and concisely stated, along with some background to contextualize your thesis (that is, you will want to indicate briefly why your research thesis is significant). You will follow this with a discussion of the analytical framework and evidentiary support used to evaluate your thesis and a report of your research findings. Your paper will conclude with an evaluation of your thesis in light of your research results.

The title page of the final paper is to contain the paper's title, your name, the course number and name, your institutional affiliation, and the due date. The next page of your paper is to contain the title of your paper and a 1-2 paragraph abstract of your paper. The following pages will contain the text of your paper. (Typically no table of contents is necessary unless your paper is exceptionally long with a number of section divisions.)

Besides submitting a printed copy of your paper, you are also required to provide an electronic copy of your final paper either via e-mail or on a diskette. These copies are put into a departmental archive with other EC 384 student research papers and are used for assessing student learning.

Course Evaluation

Evaluation of your work this semester will be done by your class colleagues, the department's other faculty, and the course's professor. Your course grade is a weighted average, determined by the following distribution:

25% Course portfolio (this includes the various assignments and all drafts submitted to the professor)
10% Expanded formal written proposal
15% Final formal oral presentation to the faculty, other students, and guests
50% Final paper submitted to the professor at the end of the course

Please note that the professor reserves the right to adjust these weights to reflect individual student performance.

Course Policies

LATE WORK will typically not be accepted - no excuses and no exceptions. The course deadlines are designed to keep you on track with your research project and to help you complete the course in a satisfactory and timely manner.

If you do submit a portfolio assignment or one of the graded assignments late, for whatever reason, a penalty will be assessed at the rate of one letter grade per day; for example, an "A" effort delivered one day late (not one class and this includes Saturdays and Sundays) will be awarded an "AB."

To avoid computer problems, save your computer work as you go, back up each day's work on a diskette, and print out hard copies on a regular basis.

Plagiarism

We will adhere to CSB/SJU policy regarding academic honesty in this course. Please note that I take academic honesty very seriously, and because you are seniors, I will likely find any excuse for violating it unacceptable and grounds for at least an F in the course.

Attendance

Your attendance at all class meetings of EC 384 is mandatory. Your presence and active participation in class meetings will not only help move along your own research, but will also help your colleagues with their projects.

In addition to scheduled class meetings, your attendance is required at the following:

  • All scheduled meetings with the professor
  • All scheduled meetings with other faculty
  • Your faculty panel presentation
  • All of the formal oral presentations held at the end of the semester

There may also be other times when your attendance is required. I will notify you of these times as soon as possible.