How to Write a Philosophy Paper

by
Istvan Berkeley Ph.D.

University of Southern Louisiana

Part Three of a Three Part Series
Part One: Reading | Part Two: Planning | Part Three: Writing | Back to Essays Page




General Points:

1) A good paper has a good introduction and conclusion. The introduction should outline the problem(s) which the paper is concerned with. The conclusion should sum up the arguments offered in the body of the paper and explain how they deal with the problem(s) discussed in the introduction.

2) Within the body of the paper, arguments should be presented in a concise, coherent, and orderly fashion. It is important to ensure that each argument fits well within the overall structure of the paper.

3) The arguments presented in the body of the paper should be valid. When a premise or point requires substantiation, references should be given, or examples should be cited. Remember, however, there is a finite limit to the amount of justification which can be offered for each point or premise. Use common sense to determine what is sufficient in a particular context. Generally speaking, the greater importance of a premise to the overall argument of a paper, the greater the requirement for justification.

4) Possible objections to the point of view which you are arguing for should be considered. you should show why these objections are not fatal to your position. It is important to make the objections against your position as plausible as possible.

5) Try and be original in your papers.

6) Make sure that everything in your paper is relevant to your argument. Try to be as concise as possible.

7) Make sure that all material quoted, either directly or indirectly, is accurately referenced. In extreme cases, not following this guideline can amount to plagiarism.

8) Keep within the prescribed limits of length and so on for the particular assignment.

References:

All papers which draw upon published sources should contain a bibliography at the end of the paper. The correct formats for entries in a bibliography is as follows;

Books:

Author(s) Surname, Initial. (Date of Publication), Book Title, Publisher (Place of publication).

E.g.:

Clause, S. (1891), An Enquiry Concerning Reindeer Driving and Chimney Diving, Crimbo Pubs. (North Pole).

Papers:

Author(s) Surname, Initial. (Date of publication), "Paper title", in Journal name or Anthology, Vol. number/Issue number, pp. <pages>.

E.g.:

Simpson, B. (1989), "Philosophy and Skateboarding", in Philosophia Absurdia, 6/12, pp. 666-777.

In the paper itself, works in the bibliography may be cited by author and date. (e.g., See Simpson (1989: pp. 689-670),or simple footnotes (e.g. Simpson1). Citations may be given either in the body of the text or in footnotes, depending upon which is most appropriate.

Quotations:

ALL QUOTATIONS MUST BE REFERENCED. Short quotations should be included in the body of the text, surrounded by double quotation marks. E.g. Descartes maintained that "The Blazers are the finest hockey team on the face of the Earth."1 Longer quotations should be indented. E.g. When considering this point, Thatcher noted that,

The purpose of political rhetoric is not to tell anybody anything. The point is rather, to sound important and thereby persuade people to cast their ballots in your favour. Policies are always subservient to polemics.1

There are various conventions which apply to the material included in quotations. Words or phrases omitted from quotations should be indicated by three dots. Dots should also be used when a quotation does not begin or end at the start or finish of a sentence. E.g. ". . . . it may be the case that wombats are good pets, . . . but they are seldom much use if they are constipated. . ." would be a way of quoting portions of the sentence,

"Some have suggested that it may be the case that wombats are good pets, despite being prone to homesickness, but they are seldom much use if they are constipated as this ruins their disposition."

Occasionally it is necessary to make small changes to a quotation in order to make it fit with the main text. Such changes should be indicated by the use of square brackets. Square brackets should also be used to indicate remarks which you wish to insert into a quotation. E.g. "He [Descartes] was occasionally accused of being a Rosicrucian".

Outlines:

When beginning to write a paper, it is always a good idea to write a detailed plan. This helps to keep the text relevant to the question and makes that actual process of writing considerably easier. It is often the case that one discovers problems with one's argument in the planning process. They are much easier to rectify at this stage.

Outlines are also useful in helping decide where paragraph breaks should come in your paper. Each paragraph should correspond to at most one particular point in your outline. Paragraphs should contain the arguments which pertain to those points. Avoid making paragraphs over long however.

Style:

When writing philosophy papers, whenever possible, you should avoid using the first person. When you do use the first person, justification for your assertions should be offered. The fact that you believe something to be the case is of little philosophical relevance unless you also give your reader a good reason for believing what you do too. One locution to avoid at all cost is "I feel. . .". The goal of a philosophy paper is to, as for as possible, get at the truth. There is no guarantee that one individual's intuitions on a particular matter are truth conducive.

When arguing a point, remember that repeating a proposition over and over again, even if it is worded slightly differently each time, does nothing to make the point more persuasive. Repetition is simply a waste of space. If I was to say in a class, "Black is white, black is white, black is white, therefore, black is white", would you be persuaded?

It is also important to be careful with your use of conclusion marker words and phrases such as 'thus', 'hence', 'therefore', 'it follows that' and so on. These words and phrases should only be used when you wish to indicate the conclusion of an argument or a sub-argument. When using the, be sure to carefully check that the conclusion you wish to draw really does follow from the premises that you have put forward.

Finally, above all, use common sense when writing papers.

End of Part Three of a Three Part Series
Part One: Reading | Part Two: Planning | Part Three: Writing | Back to Essays Page



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