Writing Plan Phases
Collecting Baseline Data
First Edition Writing Plan
Second Edition Writing Plan
Third Edition Writing Plan
  • phase completed
  • phase in-progress

Economics, an undergraduate program within the College of Liberal Arts, with 21 faculty and 950+ economics majors, is a quantitative social science department that instills in students the craft of careful theoretical and empirical reasoning which underlies all research and teaching in the curriculum. A unique relationship with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis provides undergraduates with the opportunity to work with economists and researchers in the field.

Economics Writing Plan

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Writing in Economics

The Economics faculty generated the following list in response to the question, What characterizes academic and professional communication in this discipline?”

  • Direct and specific
  • Precise and unambiguous
  • Correct, in grammar and in use of technical vocabulary
  • Conceptually cohesive, with arguments building from one point to the next
  • Interpretive (of data, models, math, and results), which may often include conveying meaning about technical subjects through the use of examples, analogies, or putting into layman's terms
  • Analytical and critical, reflecting on the meaning of assumptions, evaluating the meaning and persuasiveness of an analysis, and assessing limitations and possible alternative interpretations

Writing Abilities Expected of Economics Majors

After reviewing ideas submitted by undergraduate majors, graduate student TAs, and faculty colleagues, the Economics faculty generated the following list in response to this question: “With which writing abilities should students in this unit’s major(s) graduate?”

Minimum Requirements for Writing in the Major:

Group 1: Accurate and Purposeful Writing

  • Follow directions: work out what an assignment requires and attend to it.
  • Get right to the point: make sure that the main argument is both relevant and visible, and avoid irrelevant calculations, details, or concepts.
  • Summarize: give clear, compact statements of essential information.

Group 2: Organization and Analysis of Ideas

  • Present reasoning: it should be easy for the intended reader to follow the steps of the argument.
  • Argue by analyzing a hypothesis: formulate a statement about an economic issue and connect it with an appropriate model. Use the model to analyze how the hypothesis can be confirmed or disproved with evidence.
  • Explain research choices: when presenting research, describe the chosen method of inquiry including the hypothesis and the model used to test it, relate the model to the real-world issue the research intends to investigate, and identify and justify choices made about the model.
  • Use statistical analysis to test hypotheses: when presenting empirical research, fully describe the analysis performed and relate it to the hypothesis being tested.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between economic variables: when presenting research or analyzing economic issues, give a detailed interpretation of the conclusions in terms of the model, and demonstrate an accurate understanding of the causal relationships between the variables being analyzed.

Group 3: Use of Sources

  • Collect adequate data (as suggested by the instructor): when presenting research, identify appropriate data from reliable sources, and document data sources.
  • Read and summarize journal articles: identify features of an article such as the introduction, model, and findings, and demonstrate an understanding of the article's contents.
  • Use credible sources: determine, use, and cite valid and reliable resources, including data sources and academic literature.

Group 4: Technical Clarity and Accuracy

  • Use models, equations, and terminology: describe the technical features of the analysis precisely and accurately.
  • Interpret regression results: accurately explain the meaning of coefficients and statistical tests.
  • Use graphs and tables: graphs and tables should be easy to read, well labeled, and should properly reference data sources.

Menu of Grading Criteria Used in Economics Courses

The Economics faculty have generated a set of grading criteria that align with the desired abilities for majors.

Group 1: Accurate and Purposeful Writing

Follow directions:

  • Addresses all parts of the assignment directions and requirements.

Get right to the point:

  • Immediately presents a salient argument.
  • Is concise and focused, avoiding irrelevant calculations, details, and concepts.


  • Summarizes all essential information about the project.
  • Summary is clear and concise.
Group 2: Organization and Analysis of Ideas

Present reasoning:

  • Reports the method used to get the results.
  • Justifies each of the key steps.
  • Presents the steps with enough clarity that peers and target readers can easily follow the argument, for example by using numbered or bullet-pointed algorithms where applicable.
  • For substantial written assignments, uses standard expository paper layout with introduction, data, model, results, and conclusion sections as appropriate to the setting.

Argue by analyzing a hypothesis:

  • Provides clear and detailed statement of the hypothesis.
  •  Explains the connection between the hypothesis and an appropriate model.
  •  Uses the model to establish what proof would confirm or disprove the hypothesis.
  • For substantial written assignments, develops a literature review that demonstrates an understanding of the relevance of the proposed hypothesis and its relationship to current knowledge.

Explain research choices:

  • ​​States the process used in the analysis.
  • Identifies and describes appropriate data to conduct the analysis.
  •  Justifies the use of the selected model in terms of its potential to provide meaningful and convincing results.

Use statistical analysis to test hypotheses:

  •  Uses an appropriate sample size, accounting for context and complying with assignment instructions.
  •  Chooses appropriate software.
  •  Sets up (i.e. report) regression or model equations.
  • Gives a clear report of results that includes all essential information.
  •  States and interpret results, and explain clearly what they mean.  States and interprets hypothesis tests clearly and correctly.
  • Assesses the hypothesis in light of the results, explaining how the results confirm or disprove the hypothesis.

Demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between economic variables:

  • States any relationship between the economic model used and the results obtained.
  • Explains relationships and assumptions clearly using both words and equations.
  • When presenting empirical research, explains equations and the intuition behind the choice of independent and dependent variables.
  • Notes important or controversial assumptions and assesses possible alternative explanations for result.
Group 3: Use of Sources

Collect adequate data:

  • Uses a reputable data source such as one listed in the UMN libraries website or recommended by the instructor.
  • Correctly and precisely document or cite the data source or sources.

Read and summarize journal articles:

  • Identifies a relevant and reputable journal source in the area of interest.
  • Carefully summarizes the article, considering its format and structure, to identify and describe (1) the model; (2) theoretical or statistical tools applied; (3) the hypothesis and questions asked; and (4) the results obtained.

Use credible sources:

  • Cites all sources to reputable publications or online sources and does not cite sources that are not used.
  • Formats citations correctly and consistently.
Group 4: Technical Clarity and Accuracy

Use models, equations, and terminology:

  • Uses mathematical equations or technical language to explain model and effects.
  • Avoids erroneous statements or inaccurate use of technical terminology.

Interpret regression results:

  • States the main results of the regression and precisely what they mean.  Assess the magnitude (i.e. economic significance) of the relationship between the variables.
  • Mentions level of confidence (i.e. statistical significance) of results

Use graphs and tables:

  • Labels all graphs and tables correctly and comprehensively. Labels and variable names should be immediately meaningful to the target reader.
  • Conveys information accurately and in a way that is visually pleasing.
  • When using real data, cites data sources appropriately: including both at the bottom of the graph or table and in the references section.

Highlights from the Writing Plan

For its first-edition Writing Plan, Economics focused on four core implementation goals: (1) restructuring the senior capstone project; (2) redesigning and updating existing writing assignments; (3) developing writing-based materials to be implemented into the current TA training program; and (4) offering two workshops each semester on topics such as “Providing Constructive Feedback on Student Drafts,” “Developing Grading Rubrics,” and “Integrating Five-Minute In-class Writing Activities.”

For its second-edition Writing Plan, approved in Summer 2018, Economics continued its focus on supporting capstone-level writing by redesigning ECON 3951: Major Project Seminar and developing a capstone-level writing assignment in Econometrics for students pursuing a B.S. degree. Additionally, Economics developed a student-facing Canvas-based resource for students that included materials on presenting and interpreting results, effective statistical communication, econometric techniques, and choosing and working with theoretical models (e.g. cross-sectional growth regressions, etc.).

In its third-edition Writing Plan, approved by the Campus Writing Board in Fall 2022, Economics focuses on ensuring the sustainability of course structures and student-facing writing resources developed as the department implemented previous editions of its Writing Plan. To this end, the department will assess changes made to writing assignments and writing instruction within both of its online capstone-level courses and use assessment data to improve instruction and resources. The multimodal assessment strategy begins with course-and resource-based satisfaction surveys. From there, assessment teams composed of the department’s WEC Liaison, a group of undergraduate students, faculty members and instructors, a University Librarian, and WEC Consultant Pamela Flash will convene a series of meetings to analyze assessment data and make next-step recommendations.