Department of Economics
If you can't communicate, all your thoughts, ideas,
innovations, and creativity stay trapped in your mind.
What do economists write?
Each person within our discipline probably has a slightly
different approach. My area is labor economics. The course I teach
is personnel economics, which is really a combination of labor
economics and human resource management. I teach a completely
case-based course which means we focus on cases instead of a
textbook, and write reports and memos based on these cases.
What's a case report?
A case report is a tool for analyzing a business problem. The
idea is to apply what you know about economics to a real-life
scenario using a basic problem-solving process. The report is
broken up into specific sections: introduction, problem statement,
analysis of alternatives, and then your recommendation (which is
really like your conclusion section.)
What's the point?
The main purpose of a case report is that it helps build a
bridge between theory and practice. In classes, we often focus on
quantitative theory using a lot of equations and graphs. It often
seems like just a bunch of numbers. And students ask, "How would I
actually apply this in the real world?" A case report is a chance
to see those theories in action.
What is the real-world application of that?
Most students are taking economics because they're business
majors who have to take economics, and most of them are going to
find themselves in managerial roles someday. When they're out there
working, it is important for them to make informed choices - they
will be dealing with real people, real money. So in a very broad
sense, a case report is a way to practice making managerial choices
that students will - five, ten years down the road - have to be
So managers will be writing case reports?
What they will do is write memos, which is essentially the
executive summary, if you will, of a case report. But the thing is,
when you're out there working, your boss is not going to read a 20-
to 30-page report. He's not going to sit through 50 PowerPoint
slides. What he's asking for is the recommendation - the
conclusion. The bottom line is, to come up with a recommendation
that holds water you have to go through that case analysis process.
It's a thought process more than anything. It may not even be
written. But that boss - if you give him the one-page memo - will
expect you to be able to explain it and justify it very quickly.
And the only way to do that is if you've come up with alternative
ways of solving the problem. You have to think about the pros and
cons of each alternative and then come up with a recommendation in
order to become reasonably confident that you're coming up with a
realistic and appropriate answer. That's a problem solving process,
which is what a case report really is.
What if you follow the process and reach the wrong
There's never a perfect solution. Some solutions are
better than others, but there's never a perfect solution. There is
never an answer.
Some problems economists solve have a very specific solution:
"The answer is seven. You should price such and such at seven
dollars." But in real life, when you go out there in the business
community, you wrestle with decisions all the time. There is no
perfect guaranteed answer that is going to work for everybody. You
have to accept that. You do the best you can with the information
you have at hand, you think about it from multiple perspectives,
you figure out what the objective is, and you come up with a
solution that most closely achieves that particular objective.
Beauty in a case report is recognizing the enormity of problems,
the fact that there are no easy answers, there is no perfect
solution. That opens your mind. Right? That's my goal. It's all
about the process.
What are the consequences of not mastering this process of
good writing in economics?
If you don't have a good decision making process backing you up,
you tend to make uninformed decisions that hurt not only yourself
but other people. So it can affect your ability to get a job, your
ability to keep a job, and your ability to excel at a job.
The other thing is communication. You can have a great problem
solving process, but if you can't communicate that to anyone so
they can understand it, you're back to square one. When you say,
"writing in econ," okay, I don't really think of it as "writing in
econ." I think of it as writing. Writing effectively is
communication. And if you can't communicate, it doesn't matter how
smart you are. All your thoughts, ideas, innovations, and
creativity - stay trapped in your mind.