Choosing a topic for your thesis
Some advice from the Master's committee at the Department of Economics.
What can I write about?
You can write about almost anything. One rule of thumb is that you can write about anything that is written about in economic journals. The topic does not have to be ‘serious’, there are published papers about: the market for football players, the deadweight loss of Christmas (that receivers’ willingness to pay for a gift is less than the price paid) or whether professional football players are better randomizers than others. As long as economic theory or methods can be used to analyze the problem, it is fine.
Choose a topic you find interesting and exciting, and a method you know and like to work with. Choose a problem from your preferred topic and solve it using your preferred method.
Big and small problems
It is fine to write about the big problems: Why do we still have poverty, do economic incentives have an effect and what has economics to say about morally motivated behavior? But you should reformulate it to a smaller manageable problem; If you want to write about poverty, you may choose a problem like: has poverty increased or decreased over the last 20 years. To study incentives, a more narrowly defined problem could be a survey on the effects of penalties to reduce crime.
How to find ideas for a suitable problem: You may get ideas from courses. Do the lectures or textbook trigger your curiosity about some topic? You may discuss them with the teacher or contact people at the department.You can also use the library and the internet.
There is an excellent library page at http://www.ub.uio.no/fag/oekonomi/ (in Norwegian)
The Journal of Economic Perspective has good surveys on most topic. These are usually accessible also for non-experts in the field. (This journal is available electronically on the Library’s web pages)
Google has an special search engine for academic papers. Most of the papers you find there are immediately available for download. See: Google scholar
Today’s newspaper may give you plenty of ideas for a thesis. If you need inspiration to find a topic for your thesis, make it a habit to browse through the newspapers daily with a potential topic in mind.
What kind of thesis to write
There are three main categories:
A mixture of all three is often a good choice. The thesis could e.g. write something about what we currently know about this problem, add a theoretical discussion suited for the smaller specific problem in question and discuss this in light of existing empirical evidence, perhaps using econometric methods.
If you choose a survey it should not be purely descriptive. Define you own perspective for the survey (otherwise there may be dozens of similar surveys already). Discuss and compare the different results in the literature. If different papers reach different conclusions, discuss why. Do not be afraid to take a stand in a question where different papers reach different conclusions, but make sure to argue your point.