Econ 479

The Art of Writing, the Science of Economics

The Question of Citation

As I said in our first class meeting and in the syllabus, this is a class without footnotes. That is to say, the writing that you will do in Econ 479 is not sourced in the way that research papers for your other courses are, citing chapter and verse—or, more to the point, page numbers and URLs.

In this class, instead, we are concentrating on real-world writing: op-ed pieces, white papers, speeches, memoranda. By convention, none of these uses footnotes. (How would you footnote a speech, after all?) Yet I am also asking you to cite authorities in backing up your threefold arguments (see the preceding post). Am I contradicting myself? Am I asking you to do the impossible?

Why, no.

In a formal paper, we cite authorities to back up our arguments thus:

People tend to be irrational in making economic choices. When the price of eggs falls by a few cents, for instance, shoppers load up, buying more than they can easily consume. Yet when the price of eggs rises by the same amount, the same shoppers cut back their consumption more than two and a half times.1

The source is then given thus:

1. Brafman, Ori, and Rom Brafman, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior (New York: Norton, 2008), 15.

In the kind of writing we’re doing in Econ 479, we cite authority by means of formulas such as “according to,” “in the words of ____,” “as _____ has observed/noted/argued,” and so forth. We would make the preceding point thus:

People tend to be irrational in making economic choices. Consider, as the Israeli economists Ori and Rom Brafman have demonstrated, that when the price of eggs falls by a few cents, shoppers load up, buying more than they can easily consume. Yet when the price of eggs rises by the same amount, the same shoppers cut back their consumption more than two and a half times.

There. You’ve credited the observation, freeing yourself of the charge of plagiarism. You’ve worked in a mention of credentials as well.

As we proceed, I’d like to see your work peppered with phrases such as, “According to Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke,” “as the economic theorist Ludwig von Mises observed,” “The Wall Street Journal reports that…” Such formulas lend authority and specific weight to your arguments. And you haven’t used a single footnote in making them.

So, a footnote to this note on notes: I will henceforth not read any papers that contain footnotes.

Advertisements

Written by gregorymcnamee

February 15, 2008 at 4:05 pm

%d bloggers like this: