The Reference-Driven College Paper

(Or Why Your Students Should Read the JACF)

The main objective of college finance courses should be critical thinking in financial settings. Instructors assigning papers therefore should be concerned about not just writing fundamentals, but also students’ ability to develop well-reasoned arguments that are expressed effectively. 

Finding the right reference materials is likely to be an important first step toward identifying important topics and issues in finance, and then formulating and expressing cogent arguments about them. Unfortunately, paper writers too often begin by selecting topics that sound interesting, followed by information searches that tend to yield either popular articles that are short on analysis, or academic publications with solid analysis based on quantitative content well over their heads. Students should instead be encouraged to take the “middle way” of the reference-driven approach: that is, find analytical materials written at a level they can comprehend and choose topics supported by those sources.

The ideal tools for building the critical thinking of undergraduate finance students can be found in two sources: the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, which presents articles written with practitioners in mind by academics, as well as edited transcripts of roundtable discussions between academic theorists and corporate practitioners; and the subset of finance articles in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Both of these publications are written mainly by top academic thinkers, but without the complicated mathematics that can discourage students. The author also offers access to files that facilitate the search for articles in the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, based on topics, phrases, or authors. Click here to access a searchable list of articles for the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, 1988-Present, or here for a list of Journal of Applied Corporate Finance topics.