You’ve been given an economic research essay topic for your assessment task and completed your research. Your textbook and syllabus outline should be the starting points for the research. Make sure you read the criteria on which you will be assessed.
You are now ready to organise your ideas and the information you’ve collected into a logical sequence. But where do you start? It is useful to begin with an essay outline.
The Structure of the Essay Outline
The beginning of an essay is the introduction containing your main ideas that you will make. It is important that these main ideas refer to the question and that you define the key terms. The end of an essay has the conclusion. The middle or body of the essay contains the arguments, supported by evidence, examples, relevant graphs, and statistics. The essay should logically progress towards the conclusion.
The outline is like a road map. It should be constructed to keep you on task as you research and write the essay. A good outline will ensure that you write a logically constructed essay that supports your ideas and helps to prevent you from wandering off the topic. It should contain the key terms in the essay question. Make sure you understand the meaning of terms such as outline, explain, discuss, analyse and evaluate. These terms will determine your approach to the essay.
Construct your outline by listing all the important points you want to cover in your essay. Refer to the syllabus and the concepts related to the question. Begin by brainstorming the key terms. Use your textbook and syllabus as a guide. You will find definitions in your text in blue and key points listed for each topic. For example, aggregate demand and its components are found in Chapter 12 of the HSC text. Your text lists and explains the components of aggregate demand and shows the related concepts in blue. These terms give you the key points you can use in your research essay. You should provide one main point for each paragraph. Start with the introduction, under which you will write out your main statement and work through logically, point by point, until you reach the conclusion. Rank your points according to their importance. Keep in mind the question and the method of organisation you intend to use.
Group related ideas together under general headings and arrange them so they flow logically. Show the links between the concepts. It may be useful to number each point, ranking their importance (e.g. A 1 2 3 B 1 2 3); add supporting statistics and/or graphs that are relevant. Alternatively, you can simply use points in order of importance. Show the key links between the concepts and decide which key definitions, graphs and/or statistics you will use with each point. While doing this refer back to the question to stay on track.
eg. Components of aggregate demand
o biggest component of GDP
o graph – consumption function
o disposable income
▪ interest rates
• real interest rates
▪ economic conditions
Some essays read as if each point had been written on a pack of cards, then the pile thrown up in the air to determine the order. Be clear why one point follows another: each point in your outline should link with the next point. Support your main points with statistics, graphs, contemporary or hypothetical examples as appropriate. Discard anything that is not useful or relevant to your arguments. Use a logical order.
One of the most helpful things about a detailed outline is that it will quickly make clear to you where the gaps lie in your understanding of the topics covered by the question. If you don’t yet have enough support in one area, you will know that you have more research and thinking to do. Sometimes this extra research will unearth new facts or ideas and enhance your essay. Don’t forget to acknowledge your sources of information. Remember what you learned in the BOS course “All My Own Work”.
Introductions are important because first impressions are often the most persuasive. In an introduction, you set out a plan for what will follow. However, there is more to writing an introduction than merely summarising the question or listing the points of your essay; you must find a way to open the topic. There are several ways to do this, but a simple and effective method uses the analogy of a triangle.
Imagine an inverted triangle, like the one illustrated.
In this model, your introduction begins with the general and moves towards the specific, as the sides of the triangle narrow toward a point. Ask yourself how the specific question you are answering in the essay relates to important economic issues. Know the key concepts and economic issues in your syllabus. For example, if you are writing about aggregate demand you might begin with the business cycle to illustrate the how changes in aggregate demand affect economic stability and this can later be narrowed to the specific question.
The essay question does not exist in isolation; it arises out of a set of economic ideas and contemporary issues. Your introduction can provide this background to these contemporary issues and ideas. Ask yourself what concepts and issues your examiner expects you to cover, what sections of the syllabus does it refer to and what do you need to demonstrate in order that he or she understands the context for your essay. The introduction is a good place to define the key terms used in the question or to highlight an important statistic. Avoid rewriting the question because doing this does not demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the topic and thereby
wastes time and effort.
By the time you reach the end of your introductory paragraph, you should be ready to state the main points of your essay. The introduction should not give away all your evaluations and conclusions, but you should give your reader a clear idea of what you will be writing about.
The middle section is a sequence of paragraphs that support your arguments, or provide the information you outlined in your introduction. It should follow the logical sequence you set out in your essay outline.
The important thing at this stage is to ensure that you construct paragraphs that are unified -one topic per paragraph, each topic suitably and sufficiently supported with graphs and/or statistics. Refer back to the question frequently so you do not get off track. If your outline has been carefully thought out, the sequence of paragraphs will make logical sense. Make sure that any graphs referred to in the paragraph are labelled correctly and explained.
Telling the examiner what you wrote about can often be the hardest part of the essay, especially if you are not exactly sure what you have said. If you have made your points throughout the essay and referred continually back to question, you should be able to write confidently a specific conclusion. If you cannot find a way to sum up what you have written then your essay has been unclear.
What you say in your conclusion should include the key aspects of the question and match what you said when you introduced the essay: it should be a restatement (but not a repetition) of your argument, ideally in a way that shows more fully and clearly what you have been arguing. If the process of writing the essay has changed what you are arguing, and this is often the case, you may have to reword your main points in the introduction. When writing the conclusion be sure to refer back to the question so that you remain on task.
As the diagram above suggests, the triangle of the introduction is rotated in the conclusion. Instead of narrowing, you expand. Begin by restating your main point, retracing the steps of your argument. By doing this you remind the reader of how the components of the essay fit together into a logical sequence. Because this paragraph is a conclusion, you must present your arguments in a final and most persuasive form. In the introduction you were giving the reader an idea of what was to follow, defining key terms and referring to the important issues. Because you have made all the points in the main body you are able to state your opinions succinctly.
The conclusion is a final analysis or evaluation. Avoid repeating the introduction word for word and ensure that your conclusion is clear and confident with reference to the key concepts of the question. Last impressions are important as they reinforce first impressions.
In the introduction you explained the key concepts in terms of a contemporary economic issue, so in the conclusion you can demonstrate how this issue has been addressed. For example, an essay on aggregate demand might end with a statement about the consequences of economic booms and busts if aggregate demand is not managed with appropriate economic policies. Avoid making a claim in your conclusion that is unsubstantiated or unmentioned anywhere else in your essay.
Remember that the conclusion is the last thing the reader looks at. Do not allow a strong essay to peter out with a weak conclusion. Always end with a definite statement.
Refer to the Appendix in the HSC text for more details about HSC examination requirements for essays.