A computer is one of the most important tools an economist has. Economists use computers to analyze lengthy data sets, prepare charts, write reports, conduct research and manage data. For students preparing for careers as economic scholars or researchers, computer skills are just as important as knowledge of economic theory and quantitative analytical methods.
Economists use spreadsheet software such as Excel to enter, store and manage a full range of economic data. In addition, economic and financial research often involves a meticulous review of information displayed on spreadsheets. Needless to say, working with computerized spreadsheets is an important skill for economists and financial analysts. Economic researchers sometimes use spreadsheet programs to conduct basic types of statistical analysis, such as descriptive statistics and exploratory data analysis.
Spreadsheet software programs can conduct a range of basic descriptive and inferential statistical procedures, but were not designed for the advanced statistical procedures conducted by many economists, such as time series regression techniques and factor analysis. For these and other procedures, used for analyzing extensive data sets with dozens of variables and thousands of individual cases, economists use specialized statistical software packages such as SAS, SPSS, Stata and RATS (Regression Analysis of Time Series). The massive data sets and complex quantitative methods used in economic research require that economists master at least one statistical software program.
The growth of the Internet has placed an ever-increasing volume of information at the hands of researchers in all disciplines, including economics. With the Internet, economic researchers can access reports from the Federal Reserve System, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and papers from leading economic scholars. Academic economists even use the Internet to develop and deliver course information to their students. Economists in and out of academia must be able to navigate the Internet.
Word Processing and Presentation Software
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that economists spend a lot of time preparing presentations and writing reports. These tasks involve using computers, as economists use word processing software to complete reports and programs such as PowerPoint to prepare presentations, complete with charts and graphs. Academic economists use PowerPoint for class presentations and lectures, while economists in business and government prepare PowerPoint presentations for company leaders, foundations that give research grants, agency leaders and legislative committees. In short, computers not only help economists with research and analysis, but help them present results as well.