Quantitative Writing in Economics

Initial Publication Date: June 24, 2010

Original module on economics developed by Steve Greenlaw

The Data Game

With assistance from John C. Bean, Nathan Grawe, and Dean Peterson

Writing as a Tool for Enhancing Student Learning in Economics

  • Writing isn't just a means of assessing student learning in economics; it's also a powerful tool for producing student learning in economics. That's always been a purpose of student research papers—to induce students to explore in depth a specific topic related to a course. But writing can be effective for learning almost any aspect of economics, including topics normally covered in class lectures. That's the premise of "writing to learn". Incorporating writing in this way does not require the instructor to be a writing expert, only an expert on economic thinking.
  • Writing demands active, thoughtful engagement with economic ideas and leads to deeper learning – something that may be missing when students are simply assigned to read a text, or listen to a lecture.
  • Writing enhances students' general academic skills. Additionally, writing ability is essential for professional communication in most fields that economics graduates will enter. McCloskey (2000) observes:
"An economically trained person is likely to spend most of his or her working life writing papers, reports, memoranda, proposals, columns, and letters. Economics depends more on writing ... than on the mathematics and statistics usually touted as the tools of the trade."

Using Quantitative Writing to Enhance Student Learning in Economics

  • While writing is an effective tool for learning nearly any subject, quantitative writing (QW), the written explanation of a quantitative analysis, is the type of writing most important to learning economics.
  • Quantitative writing is valuable in economics because, by asking students to analyze economic data and make economic arguments, it mimics what economists do in the real world. Hansen (2006) has devised a well known set of proficiencies, the command of which define a solid undergraduate economics major. Quantitative writing promotes many of Hansen's Proficiencies. learn more about why QW enhances student learning

Getting Started with Quantitative Writing Assignments

  • If you have never incorporated writing in your teaching, how do you get started? You begin by realizing that your job is not to teach writing, but to use writing as a tool for teaching economics.
  • Quantitative writing can be assigned at all levels of the undergraduate economics curriculum, from principles to senior theses. QW assignments can range from short one-paragraph pieces to lengthy research projects. Their purpose is primarily to make students think more deeply than they otherwise would.
  • Many problems that students do routinely in economics can be configured as QW assignments.
  • The challenges of using quantitative writing in one's teaching are real, but economists can learn how to manage them by adopting common practices of our colleagues in the composition field.learn more about how to use QW assignments in economics


  • References on Quantitative Writing are available here.
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