You will choose a topic, find some data and quantitative information about it, perhaps form a hypothesis, explore "what-if" questions, make estimates, analyze data, and draw conclusions. In other words, you will use many of the techniques and ideas of this course to make a quantitative analysis of a topic that interests to you.
You may work with a classmate and submit a joint paper.
If there's a topic that would work well in another course you are taking you can consider writing about it if you clear that in advance with me and the other instructor.
What should I write about?
The best way to do well in this assignment is to write about something that really matters to you. Here are some ideas suggested by classmates from previous semesters. (This is not a list for you to choose from, it's a guide as to the kinds of topics that might - or might not - work.)
What would it take to open a beauty salon? A bike store? A photography business? Can my garage band make enough money to support me? Can my rugby club or softball league break even sponsoring a tournament?
Each of these questions led to a good paper. The authors had to collect information (often from personal or job experience or a friend in the business), build a spreadsheet, ask what-if questions and analyze the outcomes. They were successful because they had access to the data and enough knowledge of the activity to make sense of it.
Your business plan probably has two parts. The first is the estimate for the startup costs. The second is the estimate of the cash flow in and out once the business is up and running. I strongly suggest you focus on the second part. For startup costs, just imagine you will have to borrow the money, and put the monthy loan payment down as an expense in your monthly cash flow spreadsheet. You can vary that amount to see how much you could afford to borrow.
This is a common question and a common topic. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn't. Much more than the cost of a mortgage is involved. The best papers start by imagining lifestyles and family structure and trying to quantify those in some sense before plugging in numbers. This New York Times article and calculator came along a little too late for earlier classes, but if it's still available you should pay attention if you're really thinking about this topic. www.nytimes.com/2014/05/22/upshot/five-questions-you-need-to-ask-yourself-before-buying-a-home.html
There are lots of numbers on the sports pages. Students (mostly guys) really care about them. That's a good place to begin. But it's only a beginning. I've never seen a successful paper that tries to answer questions like "do the teams with the highest salaries win the most?" or "are superstars worth the big bucks?" I have seen a few good sports papers. If you want to try one you have to start with smaller questions. And you must be careful to find real data to think about. You can't use the paper just to sound off about your own firm opinions.
This sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. To do it well you have to collect data on your actual income and expenses over a reasonable period of time, estimate things you can't pin down exactly, take into account large expenses that don't happen every week or month, build a spreadsheet and then ask and answer reasonable "what-if" questions. There are many web sites that offer Excel spreadsheets you can personalize and fill in to create your budget. Look at several and find one that matches your needs. Don't try to build your own from scratch. Two students made really good use of this exercise in the spring of 2014. One discovered that by rearranging her spending priorities she could in fact save enough for a much needed family vacation. A second discovered that he could not afford to move from his parents' home to an apartment - but when he showed them his analysis they were so impressed by the work that they offered to subsidize his move.
Can I afford to buy a car? Is it better to drive to school or take the T? Often asked, usually not answered well. I've suggested to students tackling it that they try to quantify the parts of the decision that aren't monetary: time, convenience, ... but no one has taken the suggestion. You should also consider several alternatives - occasional taxis, zipcar - not just a simple comparison of commuting costs.
You can do a good paper on a current controversy only if you phrase the questions narrowly enough. One common error is to write a paper that's just a platform for expressing your own opinions, perhaps quoting experts with whom you agree. I've seen that done on the legalization of marijuana, on the incidence of rape or domestic violence, and on the cost of incarceration (from a criminal justice major). You can't do justice to global warming in a paper for this course. You probably can't do justice to energy independence. You might be able to manage income inequality. On any of these topics you'd do well to argue both sides of an issue, using data to support contradictory opinions before you come to a conclusion.
In your spreadsheet, you should separate startup costs from ongoing income/outgo. The income/outgo part is more important. Do that first. Assume you will borrow money to get started, and include paying off that loan as outgo from your running business.
Along the wayThe paper is due at the last class of the semester. But there are deadlines along the way that you must meet. Watch the homework assignments for due dates.
How will I grade your paper?
Here is what I will look for:
How long should the paper be?
The correct answer is simply "as long as it needs to be to make your argument, not longer." So the actual length depends on the complexity of the questions you are asking.
I expect about 5 pages, double spaced (but not big type and large margins and almost all graphs). Your paper may include some graphs or tables, but most of it will consist of the words you choose to explain your questions and conclusions.
Here are some suggestions for structure (not topics)
Don't just go out and grab some numbers from the internet and paste them into a document. Your paper should tell a story - one you care about. It doesn't need to be long, but it does need to be interesting - I hope compelling. I would like to find out things I didn't know before - things that aren't generally accepted as common knowledge. So if you write a paper that says there are more poor people than rich people or that smoking causes cancer I won't be very impressed.
Be sure to acknowledge your sources. I will NOT be happy
much everything comes from wikipedia, or from the first hit in your
google search. Data you find on the web that comes from a real
publication (rather than existing just on the internet) is generally
more reliable. So you should acknowledge your sources' sources too:
instead of "I found this at such-and-such-a-website" you should be
able to say "The data at such-and-such-a-website comes from
such-and-such a government publication(or scholarly study, or industry
propaganda organization)" Use a standard style for citing references
the suggested link in the section about grading for more information.
From: Ethan Bolker
To: email@example.com CC: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Question about Term Paper Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2009 07:51:13 -0400 (EDT) Kasey Good question, so I'm ccing the answer to the whole class. When you use a quote (or even just an idea) from a book you put the reference in a footnote. You should probably do the same for each table or graph you have included in your qr paper. If there are lots of numbers in one paragraph, one footnote will probably do. The important idea is that you make it possible for the reader to check that you have quoted things correctly., Remember too that when you get stuff from the web you need to think and write about where the web site got its data, since you can't believe everything you read on the web. A paper that just copies a lot of stuff from wikipedia (even if you tell me that's where it's from) won't do. Ethan Bolker > From: email@example.com > To: firstname.lastname@example.org > Subject: Question about Term Paper > Date: Wed, 15 Apr 2009 21:45:59 -0400 > > Hi professor, I was jsut getting to work on my term paper the last > few days and I am so used to writing papers for Enlighs classes > that I find myself being crazy....Do we have to cite things if we > are getting our information from websites and stuff...like numbers > and percentages....Or can we just tell you at the end of the paper > what websites we used? > > KASEY MERCURIO
How can I get help?