Writing Philosophy

Philosophy term papers are almost always argumentative essays: you’re making a The-Philosopher-1635claim about a topic you think is important and then supporting that claim with philosophical argument and evidence, in an attempt to convince your reader that your claim is both true and important. Here’s how to write such a paper.

1. Create a provisional outline. Think of all the questions your thesis/claim must answer. Some of these questions cannot be answered until others have been answered. This should begin to suggest an order for an outline. Once you have arranged the questions in a logical order, jot down answers to these questions in complete sentences. These answers are the outline for your paper. In a polished draft of your paper, each of these answers should have at least one supporting paragraph devoted to it.

2. Support your answers through direct quotation or paraphrasing of the text(s), and by devising your own illustrative examples or analogies. Quote only as much text as you need to support or illustrate your answer. Introduce and explain how direct quotations support your answer. Use appropriate and uniform notations to separate what you are saying from the quotations and paraphrases. Original examples and/or analogies testify to your engagement with the topic.

3. In answering some of the questions raised by your topic, your answers went beyond your understanding of the text(s). You expressed an opinion about or even criticized the text(s). You must support your opinions and/or criticisms using sound arguments, with true premises and conclusions that follow. Give me reasons to believe what you are saying about the text. Have you addressed the obvious objections that could be raised against your thesis? Think—do philosophy.

4. Next, connect all of your paragraphs with transitions that connect the ideas of one paragraph to the ideas in the next. Make your paper flow in a definite direction. Guide your reader smoothly through the logical development of your ideas.

5. Write a strong conclusion that reiterates in a non-repetitive way the importance and relevance of your claim and its larger implications in an innovative, forceful, memorable fashion.

6. Re-read your introduction to make sure your paper has kept the promise(s) you made in your draft introduction; if not, address these deficiencies in the body of your paper or modify your introduction. Your introduction should still not exceed 1-2 double-spaced pages (depending on the assignment), and should (a) provocatively and concisely introduce the topic so as to entice the reader into the essay, (b) plainly state your overall claim or thesis about the topic, (c) outline in a clear and orderly way how this claim is supported in the body of the paper, and (d) straightforwardly state the relevance and importance of this claim. You have just completed a rough draft.

7. Last, polish your rough draft. Re-read your paper carefully. Make sure your sentences are complete and coherent. Check your spelling, both with spell-check and visually. Eliminate grammatical errors, and check your punctuation (avoid semi-colons if you don’t know how to use them). Then proof your paper again by reading it aloud to yourself and a friend in order to hear how the paper flows, then make more needed corrections. You have just transformed a rough draft into a polished draft, and it is ready to hand in.