How to Write A Philosophy Paper Stage 1--Developing a Paper: * Keep introductory material to a minimum. It is sufficient to orient the reader. A very common mistake is to have an overly long introduction and an overly short body to the paper. * Explain your claims. Don't just repeat them over and over in different terms. Here are some ways to explain a claim or a thesis: * Explain the claims that are opposed to the claim under consideration. * Explain the right and wrong ways to interpret the claim under consideration. * Consider an objection that is based on a mistaken interpretation. Explain why it is mistaken. * Define or explain the terms you use. It is sometimes hard to know which terms do and don't need to be explained. If your defense of a claim turns on a particular notion then that notion needs to be explained. If a lot is hanging on a particular use of a term then that term mustn't be left imprecise. Here are some ways to explain a term: * Spell out contrasting or opposed terms. * Clarify differences from closely related terms. For instance, 'real' as opposed to 'illusory' rather than 'real' as opposed to 'possible'. * Offer arguments to support your claims. Here are some common argument types: * Draw a parallel between your position and another that is obviously correct. * Show weaknesses in your opponent's position. * Show that your position coheres better with the agreed upon facts than other positions. * Show that your position follows from either less controversial premises or from premises that your opponent shares. * Anticipate likely objections and defend your claim against them. * Try to unearth intuitions that support your position. State them in the form of a principle. Spell out what is intuitively appealing in your opponent's position and diagnose his mistake. * When you are arguing, make your assumptions explicit. This is especially important if they are controversial or not obvious. * Give brief, relevant examples. Examples make difficult, abstract philosophical points much clearer. Stage 2--Writing and Revising: * After you have completed a first version of your paper, set it aside for a couple of days and forget about it. This will help you to get some distance from it and so enable you to evaluate it more objectively. * When you return to your paper, reread it carefully. Think what it would be like to read this paper for the first time. Look for gaps in your argument, awkward transitions, unstated assumptions, ambiguities etc. * Also, ask yourself the following questions: * What point is the paper making? Is it stated clearly in the paper? Does the paper argue for that point or for some other point? * What is the structure of the paper? Does it have a clear argumentative structure? * Look at the paper paragraph by paragraph. Identify the function of each paragraph. How does it advance the structure or main point of the paper? Ask yourself if there is a more efficient way to organsie the paragraphs. Are some of them superfluous or repetitious? Do some of them need to be split into two smaller paragraphs? Common Mistakes (How not to Write a Philosophy Paper): * Good English is important. You CANNOT write a good philosophy paper in bad English. Poor grammar and punctuation interfere with your meaning and are generally unacceptable in college level writing. Clumsy or tangled expressions spoil your arguments, insights, and explanations. Bad English is the single biggest reason that students receive low grades in philosophy courses. However, avoid adopting an overly 'literary' or affected writing style; clarity and content are more important than beauty. * Do not be tempted to over-use quotations. Where possible, explain the material in your own words and use the author's words only to support contentious aspects of your interpretation. Never use quotations to pad out a paper that is too short. * You must cite the source of any quotations longer than about 3-4 words (a footnote is sufficient). This includes material obtained from the internet. You must also acknowledge the source of any idea that is not your own. * Avoid fluff, particularly at the beginning of your paper. In many papers, it is possible to delete the first few paragraphs without any loss of content. Your introduction should be short and to the point. Give a concise statement of the issue at hand, explain how you are going to tackle it, and state your thesis. * If your paper is too short, do not be tempted to pad it out with irrelevant or repetitious material. Reread what you have written and ask the following questions: * Have you defined the important concepts? * Have you spelled out the important arguments in sufficient detail? * Have you fully answered the questions in the essay topic? * Have you considered the strongest challenges to your positions and shown why they are unsuccessful? * If your paper is too long, it almost certainly needs to be carefully edited. Do not be tempted to console yourself with thoughts such as, "the page limit is too low", or "reading an extra page or two won't kill my GSI". Keeping the paper within the page limits is a skill that you need to acquire. It will help you to make your writing clear, well-structured and to the point. If your paper is too long ask yourself the following questions: * Do you have a clear thesis? You should be able to state it in one or two sentences. * Do you repeat yourself unnecessarily? * Is your introduction short and consise? It should not be more than a couple of paragraphs long at most. Usually, one paragraph is sufficient. * Does your paper have a clear, logical structure? * Does each paragraph express one, and only one, main point? Are your paragraphs short and simple? * Does each paragraph serve a clear function? Could some of your paragraphs be eliminated without loss to the main argument? If you are very attached to a point of 'interest', consider putting it in a footnote. * Can you express yourself more efficiently by omitting unnecessary words? * Don't be afraid to use the first-person (despite what your fifth-grade English teacher may have told you). Philosophy papers require you to state and defend your own position. Also, avoid jargon. What you write should be clear to someone outside the course.
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