Written Assignments


A guide to format and grading

Dr. McGahagan -- Introduction to Economics


All my courses may involve a number of written assignments.
Unless otherwise specified, they are expected to be three or four pages in length, not including the cover page or bibliography.

The assignments may be of the following types:

  1. summary and evaluation of an assigned reading;
  2. synthesis of lecture or reading material with one or more outside readings;
  3. a brief paper on the significance of a given economic event, or on an important economist, economic policymaker, or entrepreneur.


Requirements for all papers

To be acceptable, all papers MUST
  1. be submitted on the date due, in person, during class. If there is a very strong reason you cannot do this, e-mail me, explaining the reason. I may require a written excuse confirmed by the Dean of Students (Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Jon Gonder).

  2. be stapled in the upper left hand corner; do not use a plastic report cover.

  3. have a cover sheet or title page with your name in the upper right hand corner , the title of your paper approximately centered on the page, and towards the bottom of the page the name of the class, my name, and the date the paper was submitted.

  4. have a bibliography or works cited page -- even if there are only one or two items which could fit on the bottom of the last page of text. Paper can be recycled; don't worry about wasting it. For more details on the bibliography format expected, click here.

  5. have brief, in text parenthical notes to indicate the source of all direct quotes and closely paraphrased material, however brief. These can simply be in the form (Author, page); for example, (Walton and Rockoff, 54). If more than one work by the same author is used, distinguish the works by year of publication or by a very brief title -- for example (Smith 1776, 300) and (Smith 1757, 123) or (Smith, Wealth , 300) and (Smith, Moral Sentiments , 1757).

If a paper does not provide quotation marks and proper acknowledgement of sources in an in-text citation, twenty percent will be deducted from the final grade for each offense ; for failing to follow any other guideline, fifteen percent will be deducted for each offense.

Grading of written assignments


The importance of the first and last paragraphs

The most important two paragraphs in determining your grade are the first and last paragraphs. I especially want to stress the importance of the first paragraph. It should include (if a summary and evaluation of reading) the main point or points the author has made, with a very brief indication of the main evidence the author uses. If a synthesis of readings or a brief paper on an event or person, it should include your main thesis -- what is it that ties these readings together? What is the main point you want to make?

Let me stress the importance of the first paragraph once again -- often, in beginning composition classes, students are told to begin with a catchy story or simply to state a problem. This is appropriate for journalism, where you have to catch the reader's attention, but is not appropriate for an academic paper. In an academic paper, the main thing is to make your point as quickly and concisely as possible, and this means in the first paragraph. If I do not know your main point by the end of the first paragraph, I will automatically move your paper into the C category or below.

The last paragraph is the proper place to restate the main point and to spell out in a little more detail just how the evidence presented supports the main thesis of the paper. If you are summarizing another article, this is the place to give your final evaluation of whether or not the evidence the author has presented is convincing or not.

Sources for your paper

The essays to be given may require or permit the use of sources other than the assigned sources; this is especially likely to be the case for the last two essays. In looking for material on a specific person or event, you should go to Pittcat (the on-line catalog) and to the EconLit database on the library terminals under Business and Economics Resources on the introductory screens. You should use encylopedias only as a preliminary guide; encyclopedia articles are designed to convey common knowledge and not to explore issues in the depth expected in an academic paper. If encyclopedia articles are the only or even the primary source used, your paper will receive no higher than a C.

On-line sources, with the possible exception of journal articles, are not likely to be useful for historical papers.

Focusing and structuring your paper

A very important element in grading written work is whether or not the paper has a clear focus and is clearly structured . Without clarity of focus and structure, the best a paper can expect is a C. Taking the pains to state your main point in the first paragraph does a lot to provide clarity of focus, but a bit more is involved. Clear focus requires the thesis to be one which can appropriately be treated in a paper of three or four pages. This may mean, that after summarizing the author's three main points in the first paragraph, you decide to concentrate on the one point that seems to you most important or most arguable.

A mistake often made by beginning students is to mention too many points too superficially, without discussing any single point in enough detail. Try to avoid it.

Clarity of structure means that the parts of the paper fit together in a logical fashion. To secure clarity of structure, you should use cause-and-effect connections as much as possible, to relate sentences and to connect paragraphs. Papers which are characterized by short, choppy sentences fall into the "C or below" category very quickly; papers which spend an excessive amount of time on simply describing events or presenting biographical information are unlikely to make it to the B category. Explaining why the events are important, and what their relation to each other is, is what economics is about.

Grammar and spelling

Yes, they do count. I will permit two typos and grammatical mistakes without penalty, but will thereafter:
  1. deduct two percent for each typo.
  2. deduct four percent for each serious grammatical mistake, which includes the following categories:
This may seem to be a long list of warnings, but the development of good writing habits will stand you in good stead not only in this class, but throughout your academic career and in your future work.