10 Tips to a Better Philosophy Paper

These tips are based on common mistakes. Just verifying that you have incorporated each of them into your work will put you well on your way to writing better philosophy papers.

Tip 1 Get Started Early

Sometimes you can wait until the last minute and still do a decent job. This is rarely the case in philosophy. Philosophy requires time to reflect.

Tip 2 Take Notes as You Read

Write down what you think about relevant scholarly material, jotting down your ideas as
they come to you. Have these notes in front of you when you write your outline.

Tip 3 Focus on the Question, Focus on Your Answer

Everything that you write should be aimed at addressing a prfound question. Your thesis is your answer to that question. Your argument supports that thesis. Almost everything else is irrelevant!

Tip 4 Assume Your Audience is Extremely Dull

You might think that your professors, having read a great deal of philosophy, will immediately pick up on your hints and suggestions. We aren’t that smart. Write your paper as if you are explaining your point to an utter buffoon. Explain every point you make as completely as possible.

Tip 5 Don’t Try to Cover Too Much

Great philosophy papers state something simple and humble, and then argue well for it. Don’t try to solve the biggest problems in philosophy in a 5 page paper!

Tip 6 Say What You Are Doing Often

Keep the reader informed as to what part of your argument you are in. The purpose of every paragraph should be insultingly obvious to the reader. For example, you can say things like:

  • I shall be arguing for this thesis on the following grounds:
  • A good example of this point is…
  • One response to this objection is that
  • As a result of the above argument, it follows that

Tip 7 Use Overly Simple and Concise Language

Don’t use language that is long or overly refined unless you absolutely have to. Slang is not appropriate, but your sentences should be short and easy to read.

Tip 8 Don’t Say Anything You Can’t Support

Every sentence you write that isn’t absurdly obvious should be supported, and not by just saying, “I believe that X.” You must persuade your audience, by giving an argument, considering alternatives, giving examples, citing sources, etc. Avoid sentences like “Since the dawn of time, mankind has…” since it is rather unlikely that you will be able to adequately support a sentence like this.

Tip 9 Use Only Scholarly References

Terms in a philosophy class may have precise or technical meanings that are not the same as ones you will find in other fields or in a dictionary. Stick to scholarly sources, and ask your professor if you are not sure what those are. Wikipedia is a fine place to start learning about something, but it is not an adequate reference for philosophy papers.

Tip 10 Always Cite Your Sources and Quote Sparingly

A few quotes in a five page paper is fine, but beyond that, stick to paraphrasing. But don’t forget, you must cite every word or idea in your paper that is not your own.

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