Dear Fellow Doctoral candidates,
Today I just bumped into a useful document which I want to share with you.
Name of document: Writing a Philosophical Essay: A Brief Tutorial, compiled and written by Cara Nine with text from Joel Walmsley, Vittorio Bufacchi, Lilian O’Brien and other members of the UCC Philosophy Department.
Contents include the following:
II. What is a philosophy paper?
III. How is a philosophy paper graded?
IV. How to write a philosophy paper.
V. Mistakes to avoid.
VII. Citation Guide, MLA style.
http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/guidelines/writing.html http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/philosophy.html http://unilearning.uow.edu.au/critical/ http://www.liu.edu/cwis/CWP/library/workshop/citmla.htm (MLA citation guide) http://www.tvu.ac.uk/lrs/guides/harvard.html (Harvard citation guide) http://www.scc.rutgers.edu/douglass/sal/plagiarism/intro.html (Plagiarism tutorial)
Martinich, A.P. (1996) Philosophical Writing. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Holowchak, M. Andrew. (2004) Critical Reasoning & Philosophy.
Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield. Strunk, William and White, E.B. (2000) The Elements of Style. Prentice Hall.
Summary of the main points:
The philosophical essay generally follows a very simple structure:
1. State the proposition to be proved.
2. Give the argument for that proposition.
3. Show that the argument is valid.
4. Show that the premises are true.
5. Consider an objection to your argument and respond to that objection.
6. State the upshot of what has been proven.
(Martinich, A.P. (1996) Philosophical Writing. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 53.)
On what criteria the essay will be graded?
Your paper will be graded on three basic criteria:
1. Content: How well do you understand the issues you're writing about?
2. Clarity: Is your writing clear and well organized?
3. Argument: How good are the arguments you offer? How good is your critical analysis? It is worth bearing in mind that some of what makes an argument a good one will take you beyond issues of logical structure and even the truth of the premises. Arguments may be sound, clearly expressed, show good understanding of the relevant issues, and yet, fall short in some respects. Your paper will NOT be graded by whether or not the lecturer agrees with your conclusion. Professional academic philosophers do not even agree amongst themselves about what the correct conclusion is to most issues. But they generally have no trouble agreeing about whether or not someone has done a good job arguing for a conclusion.
What do you need to achieve a good grade?
1. Mastery is the condition of knowing some particular topic backwards, forwards, inside out and sideways. If you haven't mastered a topic, you can't write well about it. You can't master a whole field in a few weeks, but you can master some tiny part of it. This is the reason that most philosophy papers are written about very narrowly defined topics.
2. Original Contribution. Mastery means understanding a topic well enough to go beyond what's already been said to work out for yourself which arguments work and which don't and even to work out effective and relevant arguments of your own. When you've mastered the topic you can talk about other possible arguments, what might be wrong with these arguments, why those particular facts are relevant and what would happen if the facts were different.
3. Critical Analysis: “Being critical involves making judgements and evaluations. Making judgements can involve distinguishing between fact and opinion or evaluating the validity of information sources or the validity of particular theories and/ or their application to particular situations. These judgements need to be well grounded in research, wide reading, and include consideration of all possible viewpoints. Critical thinking in this sense is based on a synthesis of a number of factors, and is not just uninformed personal opinion.” (Unilearning@uow.edu.au/critical)
4. Clarity: You might consider confining yourself to making just one point per paragraph. This may result in short paragraphs, but imposing this kind of discipline on yourself may (i) help you to fully develop each and every point that you want to make, (ii) allow you to better see and assess the argumentative structure of your paper as a whole, and (iii) prevent you from wandering off point.
5. How to organize your essay:
- Problem and Purpose statement: State in clear language at the beginning. Leap into your essay in a purposeful way, and say what you're going to say.
- Roadmap: Every paragraph should be a link in the chain of the argument. It is enormously helpful to add lots of signposts to help guide the reader through the argument (it also helps to show how you're answering the question). You can say what you've done so far, what you're going to do next and so on.
- Precision: Arguments are combinations of expositions and criticism. To criticize a view, you have to state it in enough detail to get the right amount of precision. You have to get it EXACTLY right, so be careful when paraphrasing the views of others.
- Conclusion. End well. Don't babble about what lies outside the scope of this paper or what still needs to be done. End with a sharp, punchy restatement of what you showed. Did you demonstrate what you set out to (and if not, why not, for that too is a conclusion). Don't make feeble rambling pseudo-profound generalizations.
6. Plagiarism: Breaches of the rule against plagiarism are equivalent to cheating in your examination. There is a range of serious penalties for cheating. These are listed in the Guide to Examinations. Please view http://www.scc.rutgers.edu/douglass/sal/plagiarism/intro.html. This website walks you through several academic integrity dilemmas; it may help you to understand what is ethically expected of you while writing your papers.
Hope this helps. Have a good day.
(Source: to read the full text, the pdf document is downloadable under this link: