During my Erasmus semester in Palermo, I decided to take the seminar module that is usually done (or rather recommended) before your bachelor thesis (in the Faculty of Economics it is usually done in the 5th or 6th semester). Due to COVID the seminar was completely online, so I was able to do it from Italy, which was a good thing (or at least I thought). I was first skeptical of whether this was the right choice or not, because I’d never written a seminar paper before and I was scared it was going to be too complicated and thus, I wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy my semester abroad. Indeed, it was the wrong decision… I had to spend many hours in the library, Cafés and at home researching, reading, and writing.
I was assigned to the chair of “Economic Growth and Development”, which was my second choice, from my 5 chair options. More about this process can be found here. It might be good that before you list your chair preferences you take some classes with the professors from those chairs, so you get a better idea of whether you like the topics that are covered in that chair or not. Although my first choice was Empirical Microeconomics, due to the fact that I really enjoyed the module “Public Economics”, during my 3rd and 4th semester I took Macroeconomics I and II, and found the topics very interesting, so I was still satisfied that I was assigned to this chair. But I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge, since Macro I and II were indeed not easy.
In the “Economic Growth and Development” chair we had to enumerate from 1-16 the different possible topics and then one topic was assigned to each student. I was lucky enough to not only get my first choice, but a topic that is completely related to why I am studying Economics and what I want to do later in the future. My topic was “Education and Inequality”. Each student got 3-4 articles about the topic they had been assigned and the seminar paper and presentation had to be based on these articles.
For me, the hardest thing was not knowing how to start. Of course, I started by reading the literature and creating a general understanding of the topic, but I didn’t know how to start with the writing part. I didn’t what exactly my supervisor and professor were expecting from me. The task in general seemed a bit abstract to me, since like I said before, I had never written something like this before and I generally struggle with research and writing.
Here I give you 5 steps and some tips on how to do you seminar paper successfully:
- Step 1:Read carefully all the information provided by your chair. In my case the syllabus was the first document that was very important to read into detail. Furthermore, the chair also provided us with two extra useful documents:
- Guidelines for Academic writing: this document explained into detail how exactly an academic paper is written. It covers topics like the structure of the paper, how to cite correctly, etc. This document was very helpful because it gave me a clearer overview of how to write in a correct way the seminar paper.
- Style sheet: this document covered everything that was related to the format and style of the document.
- Step 2: Read not once, not twice, but at least three times the literature/articles provided by the chair. What was very helpful for me was as I read the literature, I made some key notes and kind of a summary of each article, so I had a better idea of the main points that each article was trying to communicate.
- Step 3: Research all the terms, concepts, models, methods, etc. that were not clear to you. You can’t start writing about a topic when you don’t fully understand everything. Therefore, doing additional research is essential.
- Step 4: Start brainstorming about the outline of your paper. Try thinking of and creating the structure that you want to give to your paper.
- Step 5: Contact your supervisor. Once you have one or two ideas of an outline for your paper, contact your supervisor and share it with him/her, so you can get feedback and advice.
- Step 6: Start writing! Once you have decided on the outline of your paper, it is now not that hard anymore to start developing the main part of your paper. Remember: the introduction is written in the end, so don’t try to start by the introduction. You could also already try having in mind your research question, but in my case, I came up with my research question once I was finished writing the main part of my paper.
- Step 7: Contact your supervisor again! Try to meet again at least 2 times more with your supervisor, so you can start sharing with him/her what you have written so far, so you have a better idea if you are going in the right direction.
- Step 8: Once you finished your main part, write your introduction, and then the conclusion. The abstract is the last thing that you will write.
- Step 9: Once you finished writing the paper, read it yourself several times, send it to your supervisor, but also try finding a friend or someone who can give you his/her additional opinion.
- Step 10: Make any corrections you might need to do, make sure you added all your references, tables/graphs, and lastly work on the format and style of the document.
For me, this seminar paper was the hardest task I’ve done during my bachelors, but it could be that it is not the case for someone else. Whenever you feel frustrated or lost, just take a break and try finding a different way of doing things or a different working place to feel inspired. I turned in my paper in mid of January and did the presentation on the topic last week, so now I am finally done with this module. I did it, so you can do it too! Good luck :)