TMA 05 The assignment
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Important: These pages provide guidance on how to write your assignment. Please ensure you read all of this information right through until the checklist at the end.
Before you start work on this assignment, please ensure that you have read the Assessment Guidance specific to this module and are familiar with the advice in Social Sciences Assessment Information. These sources contain support and guidance that you may need in writing your TMA including, for example, advice on plagiarism, referencing and the marking system. Note that failure to comply with relevant guidance could result in the loss of marks or other penalties.
Answer ONE question from Part A, follow and complete ALL the instructions in Part B, and answer ALL questions from Part C. The questions asked in Part A do not apply directly to your own research project. They give you the opportunity to apply the research skills learned in Block 5. Part B gives you an opportunity to discuss initial project ideas with other students. Part C builds on Parts A and B and asks you to prepare your own initial project plan. Together, the three parts of TMA 05 mark the first steps towards your research project.
Please note the word limit for each part of the TMA.
Part A: Research skills (65% of the marks)
Answer ONE question from Part A. Choose either Question 1, or Question 2, or Question 3.
Answer the Question (1, 2 or 3) for the research method that you have chosen for Block 5.
Question 1: Econometrics
Imagine that your research question requires you to analyse the extent to which concentrated market structures cause supernormal profits and inhibit competition. Explore the dataset TMA05_2016.gdt, available on the
‘Assessment resources’ page, which contains data for 80 different industries, including variables concerning price cost margins (two measures, pcm1 and pcm2), advertising intensity (adint) and a five-firm concentration ratio (conc). Using the dataset TMA05_2016.gdt, construct relevant evidence to do the following:
- Produce some descriptive statistics and draw histograms for the variables relevant to the analysis of the research question.
Then analyse the main features of the distribution of each variable and the relationships between them. Are the relationships between price cost margin, market concentration and advertising intensity as economic theory would suggest? (20 marks)
- Write down an econometric model that analyses the impact of market structure on performance, based on the results from part (i) and also on your knowledge of economic theory. Drawing on economic theory taught in this module, briefly explain what sign (positive or negative) you expect to observe for the coefficients of the independent variables in your equation. (15 marks)
iii. Using a suitable econometric method, estimate the model you were asked to write down in part (ii). Report the estimation output and explain your results. Your explanation should include a discussion of the robustness of your model, its
limitations and any additional steps you have taken to check for common econometric issues. (30 marks)
Word limit: 1100 words
Question 2: Collection and analysis of primary data Imagine that you have decided to research the topic of decision-making in households in relation to quality of life OR human capital. Specifically, you want to investigate whether there is support for theories of household decision-making and whether there is any evidence that different approaches to decision-making has a differential impact on either quality of life or human capital formation.
- Prepare a plan for a semi-structured interview – based on theories of decision-making in households – with individuals who live in couples. The plan might include a statement of interview aims, i.e. the research question the interview seeks to address; a set of questions to be asked, which might be grouped into themes if appropriate; and a brief indication of how the findings will be used and analysed.
- Recruit a volunteer to be interviewed, and use your list to undertake the interview, based on your research question. Keep the interview quite short – no longer than ten minutes. To complete this exercise, you will need some results from the interview (in the unlikely event that the first interview is not informative, or calls for a complete rewrite of your questions, it might be prudent to find another interviewee).
iii. Write up your notes on the responses of your interviewee(s).
iv. Code these notes using headings relevant to your research question. If possible, use economic theory to help with your headings and coding.
- Write a brief summary of your findings from the interview(s). vi. Finally, make short notes on the interview experience: what aspects were successful and what would you do differently another time?
Word limit: 1100 words
Question 3: Collection and analysis of secondary data
Imagine that you have chosen to do a research project based on secondary data and materials using the briefing paper ‘Measuring progress and human development’ (which you can access from the ‘Assessment resources’ page)
and you would like to make use of this report as a key source for your project. Read the briefing paper and then do the following:
- Define a manageable research topic, with a possible research question related to the report. The research topic should be related to economic welfare.
- Search for two further sources that will be useful in elaborating your project; you should provide references for these, and explain the criteria you used in selecting them and how they relate to your research topic.
iii. Provide a written statement explaining how you would design your case study, specifying the sections into which the study would be divided.
Word limit: 1100 words
Part B: Group working (15% of the marks)
Follow all of the instructions in (1) to (4) in this part.
- Write a short summary of your current ideas about the research question, methods and analysis to be used, and some possible conclusions that might follow. Mention also the main significant risk or challenge to the project at this stage and say how you might address it. (Up to 600 words)
- Post your short summary to your Tutor Group Forum.
- Read and post comments on at least two other summaries on the Tutor Group Forum. (These comments should be between 100 and 200 words each.)
- Now, as part of your TMA, copy and paste you summary along with ALL your forum posts AND the original summaries to which you were responding.
Word limit: 1000 words. (This does not include summaries written by other students.)
Part C: Initial research plan (20% of the marks)
- Your research question.
- The theory and literature review, which should include at least two references that underpin your empirical work. This should focus on theory and materials from the module, but should also bring in related outside reading on theory, policy and debates.
- A description of your empirical analysis, which might include:
- a description of your research method and data used
- a reflection on how your empirical analysis contributes to answering your research question.
- A statement of some possible or preliminary findings, such as reflections on a pilot interview, a piece of evidence relating to a case study or the results of a regression equation.
- Reflections on the comments by others, if any, on your initial ideas in Part B. If you have not received any comments on your summary, reflect on how the process of reading other students’ summaries and commenting on them has made you revise your own project (or not).
- A timetable indicating the points in time by when various aspects of the research will be completed.
Word limit: 750 words
In the following pages, you will find:
- learning outcomes addressed by this assignment
- student notes for each part of this assignment
- a checklist to ensure you have done everything required for this assignment.
This assignment gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the following learning outcomes:
Knowledge and understanding
You should demonstrate a sound knowledge and understanding of:
- key ideas, theories and debates in microeconomic theory with applications to current issues in various areas, such as consumption, households, production, firms, exchange, policy, environment, finance and labour
- one or more research techniques in economics.
You should demonstrate the ability to:
- define and use key terms and concepts in economics
- construct effective arguments in analysing economic questions
- apply economic theories and models to analyse economic problems and events
- evaluate economic statements and theories
- use diagrams with verbal explanations of economic issues
- interpret qualitative and quantitative evidence, such as case studies and articles, and the results of regression analysis
- carry out a short literature review and a research project in economics using either quantitative or qualitative research methods.
You should demonstrate the ability to:
- communicate effectively complex information and arguments in writing, using appropriate academic conventions
- reference sources following appropriate academic conventions
- communicate the output of your own academic research in writing
- interpret the results of statistical analysis, such as descriptive statistics and multiple regression analysis
- carry out a project using multiple regression analysis (for some)
- access databases, and select and retrieve data sets and academic materials published over the internet
- use software packages to carry out statistical analysis.
Practical and/or professional skills
You should demonstrate the ability to:
- evaluate competing explanations and theories in relation to evidence
- analyse economic problems and issues
- work independently to analyse a research question using either quantitative or qualitative research methods.
Part A of TMA 05 is made up of three alternative questions. You should answer only one part of Part A (either Question 1, 2 or 3). Each part relates to one of the three types of research method you can use for your project: econometrics; collection and analysis of primary data; and collection and analysis of secondary data. You should answer only the question that relates to the research method you have chosen during your work on Block 5.
The link between market structure and performance (profits) is analysed in Chapter 7. In this question you are advised to use price–cost margin (PCM) as a measure of ‘performance’.
Question 1 (i) asks you to produce descriptive statistics for variables that might be used to understand the extent to which concentrated market structures cause supernormal profits and inhibit competition. For each variable of interest, you should produce and discuss descriptive statistics and histograms. You will also need to investigate the relationship (e.g. scatterplot and correlations) between the variables of interest and relate these results to economic theory. You will find relevant theory in Chapter 7.
Question 1 (ii) asks you to specify a model that can be used to analyse the data. You need to justify your choice of the dependent variable and the model specification proposed. The descriptive statistics from Question 1 (i) will help in deciding on your econometric model.
In Question 1 (iii) you need to decide which estimation method is appropriate for your model. You may wish to refer to the document ‘DYEP: Using econometrics’, available under ‘Assessment resources’, and information in the online tutorial on econometrics. You should then estimate the econometric model proposed in (ii) and interpret its results. You should apply an
appropriate estimation method and use this to analyse the statistical significance of each variable and the statistical quality of the model. You should consider what suitable diagnostic tests to run, discussed in Block 5, to see whether there is evidence to suggest that these could undermine the estimation carried out. Finally, you will need to discuss how effective your econometric strategy is in addressing the question of the extent to which concentrated market structures cause supernormal profits and inhibit competition. You will need to consider whether the data and the results provide convincing evidence to answer this question. This will also be a good moment to think about any possible additional variable you would have liked to include in your econometric model to identify the effect of market structure on performance.
One of the most important skills needed for undertaking primary data collection is the ability to carry out interviews. The work in Block 5 on primary data analysis encouraged you to practise this skill, and also provided examples of interviewing technique. This part of the TMA gives you the opportunity to demonstrate and extend your interviewing skills. When thinking about your themes and/or questions, you may find it helpful to think of ways in which you could start and then develop the interview so that it elicits responses that go beyond the obvious, if possible.
We have chosen a topic that you have studied in Part 1 of the module, and a topic for which it should be possible to recruit a volunteer interviewee. For example, if you focus on human capital – a volunteer with any post-school education or training that involves costs would be suitable. The main source for topics and questions on household decision-making is in Chapter 4. The topic of human capital is discussed throughout the module, particularly in Chapter 3 and Chapter 9. Topics related to quality of life, such as welfare, are discussed in Chapter 9.
For this assessment you should submit: your list of themes and questions, your coded notes, your summary of findings and your note on the interview experience.
Your research question should relate to economic theories covered in the module. Make sure you understand the theory you are exploring in your research question. You may find it helpful to draw on Chapter 9, which discusses alternative measures of economic welfare. Remember to ensure that your research topic and research question are not over-ambitious. You will be much more successful if you focus on a small number of analytically
related issues associated with economic welfare – whether this means looking in more detail at an issue raised by the document you read, or comparing material in the summary with material from elsewhere. Either way, remember that it is the economic theory that will help you to delineate a research question. It is possible to gain full marks from using the briefing paper,
‘Measuring progress and human development’, plus two additional references, to answer the questions.
One of the key skills in undertaking secondary-data research is selective searching for secondary sources, and the Block 5 work on secondary-data research provided practice in this skill. In searching for further sources, you may wish to make use of the online activities which guide you through a range of search techniques. This could involve, for example, finding sources that allow you to go in more depth into different explanations for what this
particular study found; finding out more about the study itself; or comparing the study’s findings on your topic with findings from other studies. At least one of your sources should help you to relate this study to economic theory.
In writing your statement you will find it helpful to refer to the guidance on project structure in Week 1 of this block, and also to the sample secondary- data project we have used as the basis for a good deal of the work on secondary-data research.
Part B gives you an opportunity to share your preliminary thoughts about the research project. It is also an opportunity for you comment on the ideas of other students and to receive comments on what you are thinking of doing. Your comments should be constructive and draw on moduel materials wherever possible. The design of a research project is covered in Block 5.
Doing TMA 05 will give you the opportunity to develop an initial plan for your research project, and receive feedback from your tutor.
Your initial research plan should use no more than 750 words. Your research project will evolve as you develop it but the plan is an essential step as it will help you bring your theoretical and empirical interests together with your preferred set of methods for tackling your research question. The plan will help you take stock of where you are at this point and help you understand the key steps you need to follow to accumulate and analyse your data. It should help you start to identify a structure for your final project even if the structure changes in light of what you find or difficulties that you come across.
So the plan is not expected to be a final version that incorporates all the various sections of your project. That said, do use this opportunity to think about how you will relate economic theory from the module to your empirical work, and whether your approach is likely to provide the answer to your research question.
Remember, research is an iterative process and it is likely that you will still be revising your project until close to the final EMA deadline. However, it is imperative that you submit your EMA on time because you will not be granted any extension. So do make sure your research timetable is realistic.
Reflections on the assignment (not marked)
By this stage of the module, you should have a clear initial research plan. You should be working towards a well-defined research question and have some concrete ideas of how will obtain and analyse your data.
Here are some prompts that will help your dialogue with your tutor about this
TMA and your project:
- Is your research question well specified, not too broad, and feasible?
- How confident are you about using your chosen research method effectively for your project?
- Have you changed your ideas as a result of receiving or giving comments on the Tutor Group Forum?
- What were the main challenges you expect to encounter when working on your project and how might you overcome them?