• Nadine Rinderknecht

How to write a digital economy paper

Updated: Dec 28, 2021

The digital economy not only leads to new opportunities but also to a multitude of challenges. But what should you consider when writing a legal paper on the digital economy? Here are my 7 tips.

Figure 1

Tip 1: Apply old solutions to "new" problems

At first glance, the digital economy seems to raise a myriad of new issues - and thus an increased need for new solutions. But on closer inspection, in many cases the "new" problems posed by the digital economy are not much different from well-known problems. Even if one would rather reinvent the entire law, the first thing to discuss is the application of existing approaches. In many cases, these can be applied to the new problems and only need to be modified in a few points, if at all.

However, if the new problem does not fit the old approach in many points, a new regulatory approach may well be justified. However, this is only the case if convincing arguments can be provided. If you are not convinced of your own solution, you should rather go for the established one.

Conclusion: Even in the digital economy, the wheel does not always have to be reinvented. It is often sufficient if old solutions are simply adapted in some aspects.

Tip 2: Discuss "new" problems with reservation and put them into perspective

This tip has certain similarities with tip 1. Here, too, it is a question of a certain restraint, albeit not with regard to new solutions, but to the discussion of new problems. The fast pace of the digital economy means that many developments are still recent in nature. Or that they have not yet occurred at all, but the doctrine (or part of it) suspects an increased risk potential. Often, however, these are still assumptions and not yet facts that have already been soundly analyzed (e.g., economic/psychological analyses). In such a case, one can - and should - certainly discuss the emergence of new problems and propose suitable solutions. However, this should always be done with the caveat that the situation is still unclear at present and that further analyses are required.

Conclusion: For new problems, one can certainly discuss a (new) solution. However, the factual importance of the problem may have to be put into perspective.

Tip 3: Address both advantages and disadvantages

The introduction to this paper already states that the digital economy not only has disadvantages, but also advantages. If the paper focuses on disadvantages, the advantages should always be briefly mentioned at the beginning. This makes for a more balanced and global view. Some authors, however, criticize the fact that many papers focus on the problems. Instead, they call for a stronger emphasis on the benefits that the digital economy or technologies can have on law (and vice versa). For example, according to Thibault Schrepel, (competition) law and blockchain can benefit significantly from each other when they work together (see for example here). Conversely, if the focus is on the benefits, the disadvantages should also be briefly addressed.

Conclusion: The advantages or disadvantages of a development/technology should not be forgotten.

Tip 4: Don't lose the overview

The digital economy, especially if you haven't dealt with it before, can seem overwhelmingly vast and complex at the beginning. The first thing to do, therefore, is to get a global overview of recent technological and legal developments. Useful for this are, for example, essays on the developments in a legal field in a given year (see, for example, here) or a compilation of must-read papers (see, for example, here). Once a general overview has been achieved, however, it should not be lost. All too often, papers get lost in the details and lose sight of the big picture. However, a holistic view is essential for new developments, otherwise no appropriate solutions can be found.

Finally, in my opinion, an overview should also include a temporal element: as a result of the fast pace of the digital economy, today's solutions are in danger of becoming obsolete tomorrow. Therefore, an overview of rather futuristic developments and technologies should also be built up (e.g., emerging technologies, new forms of economy). At the same time, one should only look into the future in the short and medium term, otherwise the criticism of science fiction threatens.

Conclusion: A broad overview of (new) legal and technical developments should be developed.

Tip 5: Write interdisciplinarily

An interdisciplinary approach is a useful strategy, especially in complex constellations. This is especially true for the digital economy, where law meets technology and economics. Therefore, papers should also be listed in the bibliography that do not deal with law but exclusively with technology or economics. In addition, one can also draw inspiration from other disciplines and/or base a legal analysis on them. Last but not least, facts from other disciplines can also be used to underline legal arguments (e.g. "Technology XY provides a gigantic market growth of XY% per year and will therefore probably be able to gain increasing legal importance").

Conclusion: Looking beyond law to other disciplines can add value to your paper.

Tip 6: Have a subsidiary paper

This tip is especially useful for those who have only been working on the digital economy for a short time and have not yet been able to accumulate in-depth knowledge. However, if you have already come up with an interesting research question that, however, is highly complex and requires extensive knowledge, I think a subsidiary paper may be a good idea (e.g., for writing a fundamental criticism). This is a paper that is filled with thoughts and notes over a longer period of time, while one continues to study the digital economy (also in the context of other papers) and thus gradually gains a better understanding of it. In this way, very sophisticated solutions can mature from the initially immature notes. The prerequisite for this, however, is that you must be prepared to question your old thoughts at any time and, if necessary, delete the notes if they are no longer convincing.

Alternatively, you can of course wait with the challenging paper until you have the necessary knowledge. However, I have made the experience that already at the beginning some valuable thoughts come up. If you do not write them down, you run the risk of forgetting them and not being able to develop on them.

Conclusion: If there is an exciting but challenging research question, it should be pursued in a subsidiary paper.

Tip 7: "Pushing" yourself forward

This last tip will not fit all personality types. Some like to stay in the known and safe, while others need the freedom of the new and uncertain. If one deals with the digital economy, as a result of its fast pace, there is the (dis)fortune that new areas are always opening up that have been covered little to not at all in the legal literature. The new and uncertain thus dominates the digital economy more than other fields. But you can push it even further in the direction of unknown space....

To me, at the beginning, it felt like standing in a vast crowd where people were close together (yes, this metaphor also applies in Corona times...). But the further you looked ahead, the less people there were. So if you want to "push" your way to the front into the free area, you should read not only the newest, but also the most innovative papers. Your own paper can then build on these forward-looking thoughts (e.g. combination or further development of the innovative solutions). This approach not only has a positive effect on farsightedness (see tip 4), but in the best case it also allows you to move towards an area that has not yet been explored. Ultimately, though, this tip is more along the lines of "How to write an innovative paper?" which is covered in more depth in the post How to write an innovative paper.

Conclusion: In my personal opinion, there is nothing worse than writing an ordinary paper. Make the difference and "push" your way to the front!

Do you agree with my tips? Or do you have suggestions? Feel free to write it in the comments!


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