to write an excellent comprehensive paper, what topics and techniques must an economist learn? One of my former professors wrote a paper I read, there are theories, calculations, and empirical tests. As far as I am concerned, general equilibrium calculations were used, and time series analysis was also used. On the other hand, what skill set is necessary for mathematical modeling in a paper? I try to make a list, -DSGE,-GE -time series analysis, -RBC, and -intermediate game theory are on my list now. Apart from focusing on micro or macro, to write some comprehensive papers, what tools are necessary for an economist or what do you recommend to learn... thank you


1 Answer 1


This depends on exact subfield or even topic you are interested in. For example, there are people who only work on theory, and there you only need strong math background and nothing else. If you work on applied economics you don't need as strong math background but you need good programming skills.

Generally speaking:

Theoretical Work

Requires very strong mathematical background, regardless whether we talk about micro or macroeconomics.

In macroeconomics there is probably slightly more focus on differential equations than in micro but you still need it for micro.

Important areas of study are:

  • Linear Algebra
  • Advanced Calculus (e.g. multivariate calculus, calculus of variations...)
  • Differential Equations
  • Control Theory
  • Topology
  • Real Analysis
  • Set Theory

This list is not exclusive, but note depending on what topic you work on some of the above are not as important. For example, if you wanna work on DSGE models you don't really need to know set theory. However, in micro set theory can be important.

Applied Work

You don't need as strong math skills as for theoretical work, but you need to be familiar with programming in R or Python or at least know decent programs like Stata at very least. You still need to know some of the math above but not so deeply as for theory. For applied work you mainly need:

  • Linear Algebra
  • Advanced Calculus
  • Statistics & Econometrics
  • Strong Programming Skills (preferably R or Python)
  • Good Database Skills

However you should still understand enough of the math used in theory in your field to be able to test some theories unless you want to just be purely applied economists, but best empirical papers usually refer to some theories.

Numerical Modeling

Here you need similar math skills to theoretical work plus:

  • Discrete Math
  • Good Programming Skills (however here mainly in Matlab, Octave, Python or Julia)

However, again you don't need to know everything above at the same time, it depends on what topic exactly you want to write paper about.

For example, in applied work, time series analysis is mostly important in macro and cross sectional or spatial analysis in micro with panel data analysis being somewhat important in both.

  • $\begingroup$ For theory "you only need strong math background and nothing else." Why do you think so? Asking for a friend, $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2023 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ For applied work, I would emphasize econometrics over programming, though it depends on what one means by strong programming skills vs. strong econometric skills. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2023 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker well what other skills you need for pure theory paper? I suppose you could add good interpersonal skills (for coauthors) and good writing skills. $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Sep 23, 2023 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ @RichardHardy I would say they are equally important. Knowing properties of various estimators is not helpful if you don’t have a way of actually carrying out estimation. $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Sep 23, 2023 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ @1muflon1, if that is what you call strong programming skills, then by all means they are needed. But it seems to me the programming skills needed to carry out estimation can be acquired quite fast, unlike a decent understanding of econometrics. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2023 at 6:49

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