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Starting the Senior Thesis in Economics (HC): Home

This guide provides strategies for developing a thesis topic.

Developing a topic

When you enroll in ECON396 as a senior economics major, the instructors that jointly teach the course will discuss ideas for developing a thesis topic.  Here are a few strategies to help you get a jump start:

  • Expand upon your Junior Seminar research

The Junior Seminar was introduced to the Economics curriculum to help launch students into their senior thesis research.  If you’ve taken Junior Seminar and enjoyed the topic of your research paper, you should consider expanding it for your thesis work.

  • Items in the news

A great source of interesting thesis topics are news items that come across traditional and social media outlets.  In order to turn such an interest into a feasible topic, you need to (1) develop a narrow research question drawn from the broader area of interest; (2) review relevant scholarly literature that can serve to underpin your topic; and (3) determine whether data exist or can be generated to study the question empirically.  

  • Start with data

Sometimes you will encounter a rich data set from which you can develop an interesting economics question.  This method can serve you well when you have a general interest in a field (e.g., healthcare, FDI, microfinance, ESG), but not a particular question.  Finding a rich data set in your field of interest and reviewing its codebook can often generate questions of interest.

  • Haverford’s Thesis Archive

Consult Haverford’s digital thesis archive to see theses written by students in previous years.  Reviewing past theses can also spark ideas.

  • Talk it out

Speak with professors about nascent thesis topics to gauge whether they think pursuing such a topic seems feasible.  If you’re a junior, speak with seniors who are currently in the process of working through their thesis to get their thoughts as well. 

Creating search strategies

Take concepts from your reading and consider the topics you want to explore.  What potential connections do you see?  What factors do researchers focus on in their publications?  Then, turn those ideas into search terms.  Tutorial   


Scholarly articles are the primary means of refereed information dissemination in the field of economics, and EconLit is the authoritative tool for indexing this information.  Using search strategies you learned in previous economics courses or through the tutorial above, conduct a search for your topic in EconLit to gauge the breadth of previous research on your topic.

Look for appropriate data

The vast majority of economics theses are empirical in nature; that is, they utilize pre-existing data or user-generated data to explore a question quantitatively.  Approach the search for data by first seeking out pre-existing data that attends to your question.  At this pre-ECON396 stage, any work you do to identify prospective data sources will place you in a strong position, since the identification, acquisition, and cleaning of data are among the most challenging aspects of the thesis process.  Consult the Senior Thesis Course Guide for recommendations on some of the most consulted data sources.

Make an appointment with Norm Medeiros

Norm is the Economics Librarian and will be happy to discuss your ideas at any stage of your thesis research. Email him to make an appointment.

Subject Guide

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Norm Medeiros
Subjects: Economics