GUIDELINES FOR YOUR PROPOSAL
GUIDELINES FOR YOUR PROPOSAL
Coming up with a Proposal is the first stage of your research. After your Proposal has been
accepted, you will proceed on to write your First Draft. Writing your paper is about directing
your own learning on a specific subject. The expected outcome is for you to understand the
subject in sufficient depth so as to be able to explain it to your audience (your peers and the
economics faculty) in a clear, precise, structured and self-contained manner. You are not
writing for a general audience, but for a specialized one. Your writing should be of interest to
your peers while it also demonstrates your competencies in economic thinking to the faculty.
Throughout this process, you will have to think and reason like an economist. Thus, this writing
assignment will serve to develop your skills of research and inquiry. These skills will include
information literacy, analysis, and communication. They may also include hypothesis design and
formation, and interpretation of data.
Purpose of a Proposal
While you work on your Proposal, keep in mind that the purpose of writing a Proposal is to
identify a working central idea, sketch out how you plan to develop it, and present it for approval
and suggestions. Your Proposal should give you a sense of purpose and determine the focus and
direction of your future work. Later, you will use your Proposal as the map or “scaffolding” on
which you will develop content. In your Proposal, focus on clarity, coherence, and structure.
Always keep a tidy grammar and orthography and follow conventions for citation (see
Your paper can take the form of an empirical paper, a case study, a report, a policy proposal, a
position paper, a survey of the existing literature on a specific subject, or some other format you
propose. More specifically:
A ‘survey’ refers to the comprehensive review of an issue/topic. 1 This review must include
the current knowledge (state-of-the-art) on this issue/topic; the principal substantive findings;
the main theoretical and methodological contributions to this issue/topic; and an evaluation
or assessment of the literature. Most of the literature will be scholarly, and you will present,
synthesize, discuss, and connect all relevant ideas and articles.2
For example, a paper on how
economics/economists have approached the role economic inequality plays on economic
growth and how and why this approach has changed over time.
1 Note a ‘survey’ here is NOT a STATISTICAL survey or survey questionnaire, which we STRONGLY
discourage. Designing a good survey questionnaire and accessing a representative population sample would require
a level of resources you do not have. It would also require too much time and a level of effort that is well beyond
what is required in this course.
2 Note some of this literature may be empirical or heavy in econometric analysis. You will be required to understand
the main contributions of these articles, not the mechanics of them.
An issue or position paper starts by posing a question (very often a policy question) and
outlines a position or opinion (yours). You will use economic analysis and economic tools to
support your position and discuss opposing positions. These tools may include graphs,
equations, data, and any other you find appropriate (check your previous course notes,
textbooks, etc.). For example, a paper on how applying congestion pricing in city centers
would be the ‘best’ and most efficient mechanism to reduce the various problems derived
from excessive car traffic.
A case study would examine a particular issue in a particular place and/or time. You will first
describe the general frame and the broader scheme within which your case must be
understood. Then you will proceed to analyze and discuss how this case fits into its larger
frame. For example, a paper on the motivation and effects of the current US-China trade war
and how this fits within the theory and practice of international trade.
An empirical paper would require you to have a good grasp of statistics and econometrics in
order to answer a question about an economic issue. You will pose a hypothesis and then use
and analyze data to accept or reject this hypothesis.3
You will still have to tell us (your
audience) what economic theory says about this issue and, also, about the contributions of
other researchers to the issue. For example, a paper on whether minimum wage laws have
had a negative impact on teenage and unskilled worker unemployment in the US for the past
In your Proposal, make the format of your paper explicit and keep in mind that, whatever the
format you choose, you must frame your subject within the field of economics. The purpose
of your written assignment must be to gain knowledge into a topic (and a specific issue within
this topic) from an economics perspective. You will find a non-exclusive list of possible topics
for your perusal at the end of this document. Some of these topics are more general than others;
aim to choose a concrete question or issue within each topic, the more specific the better.
How to Proceed
The Proposal stage is about discovery and examination of ideas. You will need to do active
thinking and engage critically with your subject of choice. This is the phase where you are
‘figuring out’ and refining what you think before you proceed to communicate it in a more
formal way (to be done in the First Draft and Final Version of your paper). These are the steps
you should follow:
1. Identify a topic within economics that interests you (or any topic that can be
approached from an economic perspective).
2. Establish the purpose of your research and the format of your paper.
3. Undertake a background search.
4. Identify a specific issue within the topic.
If you are planning to do an empirical paper, do not attempt to collect your own data (primary data, not the
same as primary source): it would be EXTREMELY costly in terms of resources, time, and effort. You will work
with secondary data (not the same as secondary source) or data and results obtained by other researchers. For more
information on the distinction between primary and secondary sources of data, see
https://www.thoughtco.com/secondary-source-research-1692076 . Make sure the data you need is available at the
Proposal stage (not later!) and that you can freely download it. Data availability will determine the feasibility of
your empirical paper. Check sources of free data at the end of this document and/or consult a librarian.
In step 1, you may start by thinking about a topic or an issue that you brushed upon in a class and
you wished you had learned more about. Or something you read about in the news or social
media that made you curious but you never had a chance to explore more in depth. Or about that
ongoing discussion you have with a classmate or a friend that has never been settled, because
neither one of you did serious research. This is your chance to do so.
In step 2, establish the reason for your research. Do you wish to summarize what is known about
a topic and issue? Or to contribute to the existing knowledge on a topic? To solve a
problem/puzzle? To present the puzzle and its alternative solutions? To disentangle a confusing,
little known or new subject? To weigh in on a debate? To defend a stance in a particular issue?
To …? You may want to pose a question about your subject, determining what evidence is
needed to answer the question, and collecting information and data that will allow you to answer
the question, which takes us to the next step.
In Step 3, do not rely solely on general internet searches to locate literature. A Wikipedia
entry or an article you read in The New York Times or something you listened to on PBS may be
useful sources of inspiration to choose a subject or to brainstorm and think about how to
approach it, but you must go beyond them and make an effort to find scholarly sources of
information and reference (primary sources).4
That is, any source addressed to a general
audience (secondary source) may be a great place to start, however, you must remember who
your audience is and rely mostly on primary sources of research, i.e. technical studies and
scholarly research, such as books, book chapters, edited volumes, and, especially (given the time
available) journal articles, technical reports, and working papers. Sometimes you will find these
primary sources too mathematical or too technical: do not focus on the mechanics, but on the
intuition, the narrative, and their contribution. If you feel lost or are not sure how to approach
your subject, it may be a good idea to consult (the relevant chapters of) a textbook on your
subject; this will give you a good framework for reference and will point to all relevant
connections (and literature) to be taken into account.
In Step 4, try to be as specific and concrete as possible in your choice of an issue. This is
important even if you have decided to do a survey (see footnote 1): narrow down your subject.
For example, if you are interested in ecosystem services, you may narrow it down to “Ecosystem
services in the dry tropical forest.” Or you may decide to work on “Valuation of Ecosystem
Services: the Pros and Cons of Direct vs Indirect Methods.” Any of these will still require you to
tell your audience about ecosystem services in general in your Literature or Background Review,
but you will find that, by focusing on a narrower topic, your work has more direction and
Remember you can access any e-journal (for free) from Stony Brook Library using your
Stony Brook University (SBU) account (consult the last section of our Syllabus). Use academic
search engines such as Google Scholar, Ideas, and EconLit, where you will be able to access
published articles as well as online working paper series such as the National Bureau of
Economic Research (NBER), the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), and NetEc
4 You can also check sites such as The Brookings Institution or Citilab, where they have short pieces of research that
can be very useful for your background research and to structure your thoughts.
(http://netec.wustl.edu/NetEc.html). Use also JSTOR, a great repository of published scholarly
papers, as well as ScienceDirect (http://www.sciencedirect.com), that has journals that JSTOR
does not have and often up to the present issue.5
You can also search more general resource sites
such as Resources for Economists (http://rfe.org).
I recommend you check the following link for sources of US and international data, statistics,
reports, and commentary: https://library.law.yale.edu/news/75-sources-economic-data-statisticsreports-and-commentary. I have also added a brief list of sources of free data at the end of this
document. Keep in mind multilateral or aid agencies such as the World Bank, the Inter-American
Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank and others such
as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Bank for
International Settlements (BIS), Eurostat, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), etc. are also
excellent, sources of free (mostly policy-oriented) research and of a large variety of data sets to
download and work with. You may also want to consult an instructor you know is a specialist in
the area of your interest to point you in the right direction in your initial search for literature.
And last, but not least, consult your librarian; they are specialists and know where to look for
sources of reliable information. They will be happy to help you!6
When you find a document you think is relevant, browse its table of contents (ToC) if it is a
book or its sections if it is an article, and look for useful information or for references to useful
information. If you are using a search engine, do a keyword search; start broad, with a topic,
then narrow your search by using more specific words in your search phrases. You will realize
the more you learn about your topic, the more specific the words you think of become. You may
also choose to do a Boolean search to focus your search.7
When you find potentially helpful
material, do some filtering: evaluate what is relevant, throw out what is irrelevant, work with
what remains, and check for leads about other possible valuable resources. Keep a log of what
you are doing and the sources you consult and use, so you can retrace your steps or consult
your sources again if you need to. Because, as you progress in your research, you will start
forgetting what you have done and where you found what.
Structure and Required Elements
Your Proposal must include the following elements (to be reviewed and worked on later):
1. Tentative title.
Choosing the final version of your title is one of the last things you will do (you read that
right!). However, at this stage you still need to provide a title. It is your presentation card.
Make your title as descriptive and revealing as possible. Be very specific and aim for a title
that clearly reflects the main theme, issue or position of your paper. Use a subtitle if
necessary. E.g. “The Impact of Health on Economic Growth: Effects of the HIV/AIDS
Epidemic on Uganda’s Economy.”
I particularly recommend the Journal of Economic Literature and the Journal of Economic Perspectives; they
usually have excellent surveys on specific topics. Browse through the Table of Contents (ToC) of the last few years
and see what papers are of interest to you.
6 Visit them in person, IM or email them from the Library website, or call them at 631-632-7110. Keep in mind it
may take them some time to come up with leads… or none at all.
7 Remember the three operators of a Boolean search are AND, OR, NOT. When you use AND, the search will look
for anything with all the terms. If you use OR, the search will look for anything with any of the terms. Use NOT and
the search will omit anything with these terms.
2. Purpose of research and type of paper.
What do you want to accomplish? What is the most appropriate format to accomplish it?
State clearly the purpose of your research (check again Step 2 in ‘How to Proceed’ above).
Propose the format that will most effectively attain this objective. For example, if you want
to defend a stance in a particular issue or debate, you will write an issue or position paper.
But if you wish to summarize what is known about a topic and issue, you will write a
literature survey on this subject.
Since you chose your subject, you are clearly interested in it. However, you must convince
your audience your subject merits their interest if you want your paper to be read. In other
words: you must motivate your audience. Explain to your audience why this topic/issue is
worth learning and reading about. Provide a convincing answer to the following: Why is your
subject relevant for the field of economics? Why is it relevant for society as a whole? Why
should we (your peers and economics faculty) want to read about it? Think carefully about
your own motivation, analyze it, and use what you find to motivate your audience.
4. Rough overview.
Later, this will take the form of a proper ‘Literature Review’ or a ‘Background Review.’ At
the Proposal stage, use broad strokes to place your topic and issue within the field of
economics. Where does this topic/issue stand in relation to others in economics? What do we
know about it? What do we not know? What should we know? What is the state-of-the-art
with regards to it? What is the consensus view? Are there any alternative or dissenting
views? Are there unexplored areas we should be aware of? What are the policy implications?
Consulting the relevant chapters of a good textbook may provide you with an excellent frame
for your subject. If so, use your own words to explain it to us, and do not forget to cite and
reference the textbook properly (see the last point of this list).
5. Your original contribution.
Do not be intimidated by this component; it is simpler than it reads. Do you have any specific
question or hypothesis in mind? Are you reviewing a concrete topic (perhaps for the first
time)? Are you trying to establish a link between two ideas? Do you have a specific policy
proposal? Are you planning to do a literature survey and map what is known/not known to
your audience? Do you want to apply a model, a concept, a theory or a technique to a specific
case (a country or an industry, for example)? Any of these will constitute your original
contribution. Make sure to tell your audience.
Explain how you plan to work on your subject. Give us an outline. How will you organize
your ideas, and all the information and research you have gathered?
Are you going to rely on prior empirical work and secondary data sources? Is your analysis
more qualitative, historical, theoretical, etc.? What other types of sources are you planning to
use? Why have you chosen this particular methodology?
Try to break your assignment into sub-tasks and pencil the sequence of actions you will
undertake. And, while you are at it, plan your steps throughout the semester, so you can time
and manage your deliverables more effectively. Writing a good economics paper requires
time. Lack of time spent on research, analysis, organization, etc. will show.
7. List of references, APA style.
In the last page of your Proposal document: provide a list of the readings you have used
while ‘figuring out’ what you will work on and how you plan to do it.
At the Proposal stage, you do not need to do in-text citation (unless you are ready to do so,
which is excellent), but you do have to submit a list of references following the American
Psychological Association (APA) guidelines, which is the style most social sciences adopt.
Follow instructions in the presentation that I have uploaded in the Documents section of
Blackboard. In it, you will also find links to more detailed instructions.
Follow these rules to elaborate your List of References:
1. This section should be in 12pt font size.
2. Each reference should be single spaced; references should be separated by a double
3. Each reference must have a hanging indent of ½ inch.
4. List should be alphabetical by author or editor.
Get used to this style early on and you will save yourself time and effort. Otherwise it will be
more complicated and time consuming to do so later!
Non-Exclusive List of Topics
I have compiled a list of topics to help you decide what you want to work on. This list is by no
means exclusive and you can work on any subject that captures your interest as long as you
approach it from an economics perspective! Some topics are more general than others. For
some, I have included examples of specific issues. Making your subject as specific and concrete
as possible will make your research easier!
1. Beyond GDP.
Are there better ways to measure well-being than GDP? Why would they be better? Why not?
Well-being and the consumption paradox (the Easterlin Paradox).
2. Structural change and development economics.
How does structural change affect productivity and economic growth? Have all countries
followed the same pattern of structural change? If not, how has this pattern changed?
3. Twin deficits.
What are they? What is their impact on the economy? In the short run? In the long run?
4. Monetary policy.
The role of monetary policy in stabilizing business cycles.
How do central banks design monetary policy? What metrics need to be taken into account?
Should monetary policy be independent of fiscal policy? Should it not? Why?
Monetary policy and the zero lower bound. Liquidity traps.
Impact of negative interest rates on bank profitability and asset valuation (‘bubbles’).
5. Technological progress, technology transfer.
What is the role of technological innovation in economic growth? Are there specific policies that
can spur economic growth? Or kill them?
Is ‘premature deindustrialization’ a characteristic of the ‘new’ economic growth model for
developing countries? Is this the case for, say, China?
6. Population and population growth.
What are the economic drivers of population growth?
How does population growth impact economic growth? How does economic growth impact
population growth? What do we know? Case studies?
Are developing countries getting old before they get rich? What are the reasons? Effects?
The ‘demographic momentum’: what is it and why does it matter.
7. Financial system.
Saving, the role of the financial sector within economics.
What is shadow banking? What problems does it pose? What does it solve?
Are advanced economies too ‘financialized’?
8. Small and medium enterprises (SME).
How important are they for production? Employment? Innovation? What specific problems do
they face? Do they fail more than larger firms? How can policies help them?
What is it and does it work? Is there a role for microfinance in rich countries? Are women ‘better’
borrowers than men?
10. Human capital, education, health.
What is their role in economic growth? Does education affect earnings? Employment? Mobility?
Is human capital accumulation more relevant than physical capital accumulation? Why (not)?
11. The gender wage gap.
What is it? Is it closing? What policies can we apply to close it? What policies have been
successful? Does it affect all women equally (by education, ethnicity, motherhood)?
The career cost of children; is there a tradeoff between career and fertility? Is there a ‘motherhood
The ‘double bind.’ What is it? What are its consequences for women in the corporate job market?
12. Minimum wage laws.
Do they attain their intended objective? What are their effects? Do they affect all workers
equally? Why or why not?
13. Universal Basic Income (UBI).
What is it? What is (are) the reason(s) for it? What is its policy goal? Any case studies or
experiments? What have we learned (or not) from them?
14. International trade.
Free trade vs protectionism, what is better? Better for what? Why?
Trade wars. What are their objectives and what are their effects? Why do they happen? Any case
15. Exchange rate systems.
Flexible vs fixed exchange rate systems; advantages and disadvantages. How or why should we
choose a system?
Currency crisis, what is it and what policies ought to be applied? Any case studies?
Monetary unions, what are they? The European Monetary System, advantages and disadvantages.
Migratory flows (internal and external), causes and effects.
Is immigration good for the economy? For employment? For wages?
How important is illegal immigration in the US and what are its effects?
17. Underground or informal sector.
The urban informal sector, what is it? How can we measure it? How large is it? How does it
impact the economy at large?
Entrepreneurship in the informal economy.
18. Income distribution and inequality.
Causes, evolution, measurement, consequences. Policies?
The wealth gap in the US. Evolution. How does it look? What drives it? Can it be closed? How?
19. Are culture and geography important in economics? Why? How? What do we know?
20. Economics of historically disadvantaged groups. How do we measure this disadvantage? Reasons
for it? Consequences? Case studies?
What is indigenomics?
21. The role of the State and the provision of the rule of law as a public good.
The role of institutions in economic growth. What makes an institution ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for the
economy? How do societies come to have ‘good’ or ‘bad’ institutions?
22. Regulation, what is ‘regulatory capture’? What examples of it can we study?
23. Corruption, governance, rent-seeking: causes, impact, policies.
24. Social capital, what is it and what is its role in economic and individual economic growth? How
is it measured?
25. Environmental issues, environmental policies.
Ecosystem services; what are they? How are they valued? Case studies?
Carbon taxes, do they work? Pros and cons.
Cap and trade systems, emission trade permits: what are they, how do they work (or not).
E-waste management, solid waste landfill management.
Air travel: environmental costs. Policies?
26. Management of natural resources.
Case studies: fisheries, forestry, etc. The case of Northern cod.
27. Behavioral economics, behavioral finance.
What are they and how do they differ from economic orthodoxy? How do they affect
fundamental assumptions in traditional economics? What impact does this departure have in
economic theory? In the design of economic policies?
28. Complexity economics, evolutionary economics, what are they and how do they affect our views
on policy-making and forecasting?
29. Heterodox approaches in economics, how are they defined? What can we learn from them?
30. Health economics.
The healthcare system in the US, how does it compare to systems in peer countries (cost,
coverage, effectiveness, …)? Why? Policies?
Relationship between health and inequality.
31. The cost of higher education in the United States. How does it compare to systems in peer
countries (measurement, structure, quality, …)? Why? Policies?
What are they? Are they a true alternative to our current monetary system? How?
What would be the consequences for the overall economy? For monetary policy?
33. Blockchain technology.
Economic applications beyond cryptocurrencies; regulatory issues; potential uses.
34. Cashless societies.
How do they work? What is the role of a central bank in a cashless society? What is the role of
the banking system? How would monetary policy change? Are there any countries close to being
cashless? Does going cashless affect everyone equally (financial exclusion)? Are cashless
systems stable? Do they impact individuals’ spending? Do they make an economy more
vulnerable to shocks?
35. Mobile paying systems.
Digital currency systems. Impact.
36. Sustainable tourism.
What is it? How can it be implemented? Any case studies?
Overtourism, what is it? How does it affect communities? The economy? Policies?
37. Asset price bubbles.
Real estate or financial bubbles. What are they? Can they be predicted? Can they be prevented?
Can macroprudential rules make a difference? Any case studies?
38. Economics of climate change.
What do we know? What should we know? What are the consequences for advanced economies?
For developing economies? Can anything be done? What needs to be done? What has been done?
Environmental justice, what is it? Case studies. Policies.
39. Economics of natural disasters.
What are the costs of natural disasters? What policies are in place? Example of specific issue:
Effects of hurricanes on the economy of Puerto Rico; on Puerto Rico small business.
40. Alternative energy sources: are they viable? Any case studies?
41. The Green New Deal.
What is it? What are its intended objectives? How is it supposed to work? Specific policies?
42. Economics of obesity. Analysis of causes and costs. Any policy proposals?
43. Economics of crime and policing.
44. Organ markets and organ allocation.
How does it work? Should there be markets? How should they work? Are they an improvement
over the current system(s)? Any case studies?
45. Artificial intelligence (AI).
What can machines learn? What does it mean for occupation, employment, and the economy?
What does it mean for commerce and e-commerce?
Self-driving cars: a case of disruptive innovation? Consequences? Regulation?
46. Housing and housing costs.
Evolution of housing costs. Supply of public housing. Housing and inequality. Policies?
Rent control; does it attain its goals? Why or why not. Does it affect housing supply? Land price?
47. The ‘gig economy.’
What is it? Does it exist? Does it impact household income or any other macro or micro
variables? How? Why do workers take gig economy jobs?
48. Any other subject presented and analyzed from an ECONOMIC perspective, using
You can also choose a policy, the importance of and current consensus on:
* Investing in people
* Improving the climate for enterprise
* Supporting small and medium enterprises (SME)
* Integration with the world economy
* Building solid macro foundations
Likewise, aim to narrow down the issue within each category as much as possible!
Free Resources to Find Data
When in doubt about what would be a good source of research or data and where (or how) to find it,
always consult a Librarian. They are the experts. As a first approximation to free sources of data and
research, see the list below.
Census http://www.census.gov — Statistical Abstract of the US
Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA): http://www.bea.doc.gov
National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA)
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): http://www.bls.gov
Consumer Price Index (CPI)
Consumer Expenditure Survey (CEX)
Current Employment Statistics (CES)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER): http://www.nber.org
US business cycles
US Federal Reserve Board of Governors: http://www.federalreserve.gov/rnd.htm
Financial data (e.g., credit, flows of assets, interest rates, money supply)
St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/
FRED II (Federal Reserve Economic Data)
Relatively long time-series of macro variables for the US (e.g., consumer price indices,
exchange rates, interest rates, money aggregates, trade flows)
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): http://www.sourceoecd.org
Development, employment, health, national accounts
The World Bank: http://www.worldbank.org/data
World Development Indicators (WDI)
Global Development Finance (GDF)
The International Monetary Fund (IMF): http://www.imf.org
GDP growth, inflation, unemployment, debt
International Financial Statistics (IFS): exchange rates, trade, government accounts,
United Nations Development Program (UNDP): http://www.undp.org
Human Development Index (HDI)
Human Poverty Index (HPI)
World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER): http://www.wider.unu.edu/
World Income Inequality Database (WIID)
Comprehensive database of measures of income inequality (Gini coefficient) across
several countries and through time
Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS): http://www.ipums.umn.edu
Vast amount of socioeconomic data
US Census Current Population Survey (CPS): http://www.census.gov/cps/
Vast amount of socioeconomic data
National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS): http://www.bls.gov/nls/home.htm
Vast amount of data on labor market activities
Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID): http://www.isr.umich.edu/src/psid
Vast amount of data on households’ income sources, employment, occupation, poverty