Philosophy Paper Writing Guidelines

Below are some of the guidelines I discussed in class on how to write a philosophy paper. Adhering to all of the following does not guarantee an A paper, mind you. However,  it will help you eliminate some of the common mistakes that students make when writing a paper for me.

1. Support you claims! The whole point of a philosophy paper is not to tell me your opinion on a certain topic, but to explain to me why you think what you do. So make sure that all of your substantial claims are supported. Otherwise, leave them out!

2. You should have one main point--or thesis--to your paper. Make sure that this point is clearly stated, and is supported with arguments.

3. Do not use empty terminology. Often, when we are unclear what is going on, we think that adopting empty jargon will help express what we are trying to say. Resist the temptation! Anytime you feel yourself using an "ism" or any type of jargon, ask yourself: Do I know what this means? If you do, then clearly spell out the definition for me (jargon-free). If you don't, then leave it out.

4. Do not use hyperbolic, empty phrases. For example: "since the dawn of time, sexism has abounded....", or "since man first roamed the earth, he has wondered whether God exists...", or "throughout all of history, human beings have grappled with issues of personal identity". First of all, it is doubtful that any of these statements are true. Second, even if some of them are true, it is unlikely that any of them are verifiable. Third, and most importantly, even if some of them were true and were verifiable, they would be irrelevant to any topic I have posted for any of my classes. This is philosophy, not anthropology. I don't really care what has been going on since the beginning of time. (Unless God has been going on since the beginning of time. That would be kind of cool to know. But I bet it would be really hard to prove in a 3-5 page paper. Still, if you think you can swing it, then by all means...)

5. When writing a paper, you need to pretend that I have never been to lecture, and that I don't know what you are talking about. Take time to explain the views, and elaborate on them. Be clear and explicit. Remember, this is my only way to find out what bits of the course material you know and understand. So, show off please.

6. Stop using MSW thesaurus! Anything you can say with big words you can probably say much more clearly with small, simple words.

7. Stop writing intro and concluding paragraphs!! This is a 3-5 page paper. You do not need to spend a half page telling me what you are going to say, several pages saying it, and then a half page telling me what you just said. Your first and last paragraphs should be doing some real work. They should say something, or make a point, argument, etc., that is not simply restated elsewhere in your paper. So if your first and last paragraph aren't doing any work, take them out.

8. CITE YOUR SOURCES!!!! All of them. Failure to do so will likely result in charges of plagiarism, as well as a life fated for nothing but despair, misery, and unendurable, impending doom. Don't do it.

9. NEVER use a dictionary to answer philosophical questions!!! You should only use a dictionary when you don't know the meaning of a word, not when you are trying to discover the metaphysical nature of something--e.g.,what's good, evil, righteous, pious, beautiful, etc. If living the examined life simply involved looking things up in the O.E.D, I seriously doubt it would make life worth living.

Page Last Updated: Sept. 26, 2006
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