Stylistic advice for thesis students

by Doug Klein, Economics Department, Union College 

(Short version)

  1. Write from an outline. Your outline should be visible in your text as headings and sub-headings. The whole paper, and each section should begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion. This helps keep both you and the reader (me) on the right track.
  2. Remember that you can never get in trouble for using too many footnotes! You may use any of the following forms:

    Magazine or journal citations (put the author's last name, publication date, and page number, if citing a specific page, in parentheses). See any article published in the American Economic Review, or other reputable economics journal, for examples of this reference style. If you use this method, all works cited must be in your bibliography.

    Web sources. Give the author, title, and date as you would a magazine article. Also give the web address (URL).

    Footnotes, at the bottom of each page. This is the preferred style.

    Refer to a good style manual such as the one by Kate Turabian for the proper format for notes. Be sure you are using ibid. and op. cit. correctly.

    WARNING: If your footnotes or endnotes consist of long lists of ibids, your outline is probably not right.

  3. It is often useful to put statistical data into a table or a figure, or present some theoretical point in a graph.

    Figures and tables should each be on a page of their own, and should have a number, a title, and the source(s) listed at the bottom. The figure or table should be on the page following the first reference to it in the text, or in an appendix. You may use photocopies of existing tables or figures, provided you make them neat, clearly label them with number and title, and credit the source. If the source in which you find a table gives the source, you should cite both sources: where you found the information, and where that author found it. Do not submit pages which have been glued or taped, but rather submit photocopies.

  4. Avoid slang, contractions, and other informal phrases.
  5. Number your pages.
  6. Grammar rules to watch out for:

    Please avoid the passive voice (it is shown...; it was found...; etc.) Be sure to specify the identity of the subject of the sentence.

    Use possessives correctly.

    Be sure pronouns (it, they, he, she, them, their, this, that) have clear antecedents. (I.e., what is it, who are they, etc.) Try to avoid, where possible, use of the first person singular pronoun (I).

    Keep tense of verbs consistent. If you are telling a story, tell it all in the present, or all in the past tense. Don't mix tenses.

    Be sure subject and verb agree in number (one person says, two people say).

    Check your spelling. Use the computer spell-checker if you have one, but proofread anyway. The computer won't pick up the difference between there and their, for example, and won't pick up grammar errors.

    Economize with words. Make it a game to use the fewest words necessary to get your idea across.

    Don't confuse fewer and less. Fewer refers to countable items (e.g. fewer people in a room, or in a country), less refers to something not countable (less water in a glass, or I am less upset than you).

    Don't confuse effect (noun, usually) and affect (verb).

    As you proofread your paper, look for non-sequiturs (sentences, paragraphs or ideas which don't logically follow from what comes before). Sometimes these result from errors in your logic, and sometimes they result from cutting and pasting with your word processor. In either case, they make reading difficult.