How to write a decent philosophy paper…

Thinking Cat (1)

First of all — you should know the basic conventions for paper formatting… among the common ones I see students mess up:

  • Paragraphs — unless you’re explaining one very complicated idea, you should probably have at least 2 or 3 paragraphs per page of text.  A paragraph has ONE central topic sentence and the supporting sentences for that topic.  Each section of your paper should have at least two or three paragraphs.
  • Citations — if I ask you for an original example, then it doesn’t need a citation.  If you’re using/applying OR quoting ideas from someone else, it needs a citation.
  • Use standard English spelling, grammar, punctuation etc — if you don’t know those things, figure it out — this is college… to be honest, I learned most of that in about 4th grade, if you didn’t — then look it up.


  • Dictionary definitions — there are only a few reasons to use one… IF you are using a word in a non-standard way, supported by the dictionary — then that’s fine.  IF you are writing ABOUT dictionary definitions, then use one.. otherwise, find the relevant section of your class reading and use that.
  • Make sure you know the meaning of the terms in the paper prompt — when I ask for a specific objection, I’m giving you a break — look it up, write about it — and you’re done.
  • While I’m on the subject of objections — here’s what makes something an objection… it’s a situation that a) is permissible, or even encouraged by the theory and b) it’s an intuitively bad thing — so, it’s a reason to think the theory isn’t a good one to follow.
  • It’s always better to over-explain than to under-explain.
  • Use the words of others sparingly, and explain them in your own words.  Things like “When Steck says …. she means ….., which has the following implications….”

In general — make sure your paper actually answers the sections of the paper prompt in a substantial way —

When  you’re done with your first draft — take a look at it.  Look to see how much space you’re allotting to each section of the prompt.  Look to see where you quote people and how much space you use explaining the quote etc.

Now — go write!


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