Writing Precise Explanations of Graphic/Tabular Display of Economic Data
Purpose: This assignment asks for short, precise explanations of economic data displayed in graphs and tables.
Background and Pedagogical Rationale: This assignment emphasizes precise thinking and language. Students are often insensitive to the units of measure employed in data presentation. They might look at a graph displaying GDP trends and claim that GDP is falling, when, in fact, the rate of growth has simply declined. They have similar problems with totals and averages.
Unfortunately, it is apparent that students do not grow out of this problem naturally. Our department's advisory board complains loudly about the "sloppy thinking" that characterizes young hires. They go on and on about how junior members of their teams prepare terrible numerical graphics for presentations and then go on to talk about the poor quality of data contained in these presentations—wrong units, wrong periods, bad conclusions.
In order to receive a good grade on this assignment, students need to be sensitive to the units of measure in each source and be precise in what they need to measure. Also, because students are often insensitive to selection bias, they need to be aware of how dependent results can be to the sample selected for observation.
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
- Macroeconomics, Principles and Policy, William J. Baumol and Alan S. Blinder, 10th edition, Thomson South-Western, 2006.
- "Developing Economies Face Reckoning as U.S. Stumbles," Wall Street Journal, Patrick Barta and Marcus Walker, January 24, 2008
- "Declining International Inequality and Economic Divergence: Reviewing the Evidence Through Different Lenses," Francois Bourguignon, Victoria Levin & David Rosenblatt, Economie Internationale, 100 (2004), p. 13-25.