How to Write an Economics IA Commentary
Commentaries make up the internal assessment component of the IB Economics Course. This component is worth 20% of your final mark, but given the flexibility and time you are offered, there should be no reason why you can’t score a high mark in this section.
The best part of commentary writing is that you can decide which concepts to write on. You decide which articles to choose. Furthermore, you are under relatively no time pressure, which gives you ample opportunity to revise and refine your commentary.
This article is designed to guide you through:
· How to choose an economics article
· A systematic method of writing a commentary
· A note on definitions
· Key points to remember
Choosing a good article
In one sentence, this is the best advice I’ve heard about economics commentaries:
«A good commentary turns non-economics into economics»
What does this mean?
It means that the article you choose should be predominantly «non-economics», i.e. uses everyday language. However, there should be an opportunity for you to apply your economics knowledge to the article.
Given this, follow these guidelines when finding your article:
1. Don’t choose articles that have too much existing analysis
Articles written by economists, or articles that have a significant amount of analysis of the topic already, are often not good commentary pieces. This is because too much of the evaluation would have been done for you and you will simply be rewording the article with little input. It is better to find articles from everyday news reporters who have little economic input and analysis.
2. Articles must have something that you can evaluate
The best articles are ones where there is some controversy, for instance:
· Should a tax be placed on that good?
· Should that monopoly be regulated?
· Should the government impose a tariff?
· Is raising interest rates a good idea?
· Is this country’s economic growth unstable?
Whatever the article is discussing, you must be able to discuss and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of something. As such, often articles describing policy choices are good for writing commentaries on.
It is thus not recommended to choose articles that just list a bunch of statistics regarding something that has happened to the economy.
3. Only have one focus for your evaluation
750 words is not enough to evaluate multiple situations and policy choices effectively. Ideally, choose an article that reflects this – i.e. only describes one situation/policy. If this is not possible, then highlight the relevant part of the article that you will discuss.
4. Choose your concept before looking for the article
Think about the concepts in the area of the syllabus that you are most confident about evaluating. What this means is that you can confidently list and explain at least 3 advantages and disadvantages of the policy/situation and illustrate these with diagrams.
Good topics that are evaluation rich could be:
· Implementation of price floors and ceilings
· Taxes (Australian carbon tax is a good one)
· Buffer stock schemes
· Regulation of monopolies and oligopolies
· Monetary policy decisions
· Fiscal policy decisions
· Economic growth implications
· Decision to implement protectionism (Often tariffs)
· Decisions to influence the exchange rate
· Receiving aid
· Growth vs development
Finding the article:
Once you’ve decided on your topic, finding the article should be fairly straightforward. You simply search Google for related articles on the topic. You may need a bit of trial and error. If you get stuck, try this approach:
Country + topic
E.g. Russia tariff, China ceiling price, Australia carbon tax
Google now has a search function for news articles.
If possible, have some diversity with regards to which countries you discuss, i.e. don’t talk about China for all of your articles.
A systematic way of writing the article
This approach will work for the vast majority of articles that you find. Note that this is similar to the approach described in «How to get full marks in an IB economics essay».
1. Summarise the important aspect of the article in 1-2 sentences (preferably 1)
Assume that the moderator has already read your article, so you do not need to spend too long explaining what the article is about. With only 750 words available, every word needs to count. So keep this part as succinct as possible.
The main purpose this sentence is to let the examiner know what part of the article you deem to be most important.
2. Show your intention to evaluate and what it is that you will be evaluating
Leave no doubt in the examiner’s mind, right from the start that you intend on evaluating. Commentaries that are purely descriptive with little evaluation should be avoided and helps to prevent you from falling into that trap.
This should only be 1 to 2 sentences.
3. List and explain advantages
The more detailed the explanation of the advantage, the fewer advantages you need to discuss and vice versa. Aim for at least 2 and at most 3, although in rare instances you may only have one advantage that you discuss in length.
With practice, you will intuitively work out how the length and detail that each advantage needs to be discussed in. Ideally, include one diagram per advantage discussed.
As you become more advanced in your essay writing, it is often useful to qualify these advantages as well. Rather than simply writing «One key advantage is that the policy will reduce unemployment,» write «Given that the economy is likely to be experiencing a deflationary gap, an key advantage of the policy is that it will help to bring the economy closer to full employment.»
4. List and explain disadvantages
The principles behind this are the same as for advantages.
5. Weigh up advantages and disadvantages
It is often the case that the advantages and disadvantages do not carry equal weight. Depending on what is being evaluated and the economy in consideration, it is often more appropriate to lean one side or another rather than simply writing «it depends.»
This is essentially your conclusion. For the vast majority of evaluations, this should be a tentative conclusion, i.e. «It is likely to be advantageous overall» rather than «It is definitely advantageous overall.»
For evaluations of policies, it may be powerful here to consider some alternative policy options. Remember also that doing nothing is a possible policy choice.
A note on definitions
Marks are awarded for correct definitions and as such it is important that you define key economic words in your commentary. However, with a tiny word limit, definitions incur an opportunity cost, the next best alternative forgone when an economic decision is made.
As such, a decision needs to be made as to which terms you will define. Keep the following in mind when deciding how and what to define.
1. Definitions should be integrated as smoothly as possible
For instance, if you were to define ceiling price:
The Chinese government has imposed a ceiling price on pork. A ceiling price is defined as the maximum price that can be charged on a good or service.
The Chinese government has imposed a ceiling price, the maximum price that can be charged on a good or service, on pork.
The 2nd approach saves words and flows better.
2. Don’t define absolutely every single economic word in your essay.
You simply don’t have enough words to define everything. Not all economics concepts are critical to your evaluation. Often, if you find yourself defining words like supply, demand, price or quantity, you’re defining too much.
For the most part, you show your understanding of the economic concept, not by quoting a text book definition, but by using it correctly in your analysis.
To get an idea of what needs to be defined, do some Data Response questions and look at what is defined in part a).
Don’t let your commentary suffer death by definition.
3. Avoid using footnotes
Footnotes are included in your word limit and it will often cost more words to write a definition in full as opposed to smoothly integrating it into your commentary.
Key points to remember
1. Your commentary’s purpose should be to evaluate. Evaluation should not be the «extra» part you add on for bonus marks.
2. Your analysis must be targeted to your article
Basically, imagine if I took your commentary and switched your article for another article on the same topic. If your article still «works», then your article isn’t targeted.
Be careful when using generic arguments such as, «A recession will mean a decline in demand for the product». If the product is alcohol or cigarettes, this is unlikely to be the case.
Furthermore, if you’re saying, «The monopoly is should be regulated by the government», make sure that the monopoly isn’t already being regulated. Similarly, if you’re suggesting that the government lower interest rates, and the interest rates are already close to zero (e.g. Japan), then your argument is flawed.
Draw diagrams to reflect the situation of the economy. For instance, if the economy in your article is currently in a recession, draw your AD/AS diagram illustrating this with a deflationary gap. Do not have AD intersecting SAS at the full employment level of output. If your article’s industry is a net exporter, draw the world price above the equilibrium domestic price.
The internal assessment component should be the easiest component to score high marks on. You have the flexibility of time and you basically get to choose your own exam question.
Hopefully this guide will give you the necessary direction and to help you achieve your IB Economics goals.
Executive Tutor – Australian IB Tuition
Founder – IB Blueprint