How to Write an Introduction

First paragraph – The main question

  • The first sentence should answer, “what is the key economic friction this paper addresses?”
    • Zoom out as much as possible. You want your first line to appeal to the the widest audience possible.
  • (Explain why the implications of the friction X on outcome Y are not immediately obvious in three sentences:
    1. “The implications of X on Y are not immediately obvious.”
    2. “On the one hand, <bright side>”
    3. “On the other hand, <dark side>”)
  • State why the friction is important
    • Academically, is this a question academics are still stumped on or debating over? (If so, refer to above bullet point) Is this a nascent field on which we lack intuition?
    • Normatively, was a major law just passed or revoked? Was there a major event or troubling trend in an industry?
  • (If it fits here, state why the friction is urgent.)

Second paragraph – The setting

  • What is your setting?
    • “To address this issue, I look at …”
  • Why is it a reasonable, if not the ideal, laboratory to address the question you posed in the first paragraph?
  • (If it fits here, state why the friction is urgent.)

Data and Identification paragraphs

  • Use two or three paragraphs for these two topics.
  • If the data is novel, state that first, then describe how you use it to construct your identification strategy. Ideally, identification in previous papers was limited by their data, and, in contrast,¬†your data allows you pursue the ideal (or close to ideal) identification strategy.
  • If the identification is novel, state that first, and describe what data you use to pursue it.

Results and Implications

  • What are the key results you want your readers to remember? State both the direction and magnitude in the simplest terms possible.
    • “A $y (y%) increase in Y leads to a $x (%x) decrease in X).
  • What are the implications for the issue in your first paragraph, i.e. what is so important about your findings?
    • Is the magnitude or direction surprising, i.e. do they overturn or corroborate intuition?
    • Do your results favor one argument/mechanism over another? Better yet, do they reconcile contradicting predictions?
  • Ideally, your results are simple enough to remember, even if they are rich enough to qualify different arguments.
How to Write an Introduction