How To Write A Philosophy Paper: Online Guides


Some philosophy professors, realizing that many of their students are unfamiliar with writing philosophy papers, provide them with “how-to” guides to the task.

I thought it might be useful to collect examples of these. If you know of any already online, please mention them in the comments and include links. If you have a PDF of one that isn’t online that you’d like to share, you can email it to me and I can put in online and add it to the list below.

Guidelines for Students on Writing Philosophy Papers

Jasenko Đorđević, “Creation of Adam” (pencil carving)

 

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Martin Lenz
2 years ago

This looks like a great collection – thanks! – Much of my blog is devoted to different stages writing. So try to browse it using the tag “writing”. – Assuming that one of the crucial problems in writing is cutting the paper topic down to size, this post might make for a good start: https://handlingideas.blog/2018/09/02/how-do-you-turn-a-half-baked-idea-into-a-paper/
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Sara L. Uckelman
2 years ago

I have advice for master’s students writing seminar papers here: http://diaryofdoctorlogic.blogspot.com/2017/08/advice-to-masters-students-writing.htmlReport

Avram Hiller
Avram Hiller
2 years ago

This Prezi by Angela Mendelovici is helpful.
https://prezi.com/m/z4h1_fwilbxj/a-sample-philosophy-paper/
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Erich Hatala Matthes
Erich Hatala Matthes
2 years ago

The best (and best illustrated) guide is surely the Pink Guide by my colleague Helena de Bres. I am not biased at all.

https://sites.google.com/a/wellesley.edu/pinkguidetophilosophy/Report

RJ Leland
RJ Leland
Reply to  Erich Hatala Matthes
2 years ago

Seconding Erich’s rec, but without the same-institution bias. #PhilosoFlea!Report

Unknown Philosopher
Unknown Philosopher
2 years ago

I routinely direct my upper-division students to Michael Tooley’s guide:
https://spot.colorado.edu/~tooley/WritingEssays.htmlReport

RJB
RJB
2 years ago

Sorry if this is off-topic, but can anyone recommend a guide on how to write a philosophy paper for peer-reviewed journals? Report

DS
DS
Reply to  RJB
2 years ago

A philosopher wrote a book on this:
Watson, Richard. 1992. Writing Philosophy: A Guide to Professional Writing and Publishing.
Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

It’s old, but very good advice. I good see usefully assigning it to first year students in grad school, or seniors in a capstone who have to write a senior thesis.

I wrote a paper aimed at helping undergraduates write research papers in philosophy inspired in part by the work of Watson. It is in Teaching Philosophy: “Philosophy as a Conversation: Teaching Research Skills to Philosophy Students”

In the article I basically survey every published writing guide for undergraduates as well as some online ones, so it may serve as a good reference list for the purposes of this discussion thread. Report

Joona Räsänen
Joona Räsänen
Reply to  RJB
2 years ago
Memo
Memo
2 years ago

Prof. Millgram’s advice is good:
http://elijahmillgram.net/ppradvc.pdfReport

Paul
Paul
2 years ago

“A Guide to Philosophical Writing” by Elijah Chudnoff
http://hwpi.harvard.edu/files/hwp/files/philosophical_writing.pdf
Professionally typeset PDF booklet, funded by the Harvard Writing Center. Particularly strong on argumentation, narrative, and style.
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AAJC
AAJC
2 years ago

This paper from Bennett and Gorovitz is part paper, part guide, but I’ve found the guide part useful: http://web.nmsu.edu/~jvessel/ImprovingAcademicWriting.pdfReport

David Ebrey
2 years ago

I wrote up a three-page guide for graduate students and other academics. Originally it was intended for people working on ancient Greek philosophy, but almost all of the advice carries over to other areas.
https://sites.google.com/site/davidebrey/EbreyAcademicWritingAdvice.docx
Caleb Cohoe interviewed me about it here:
http://endoxa.blog/2018/11/13/academic-writing-advice-with-david-ebrey/Report

James Arnold
James Arnold
2 years ago

Bob Hargrave?Report

Dan Weiskopf
2 years ago

Artist and philosopher Adrian Piper has “Ten Commandments of Philosophical Writing”:

http://www.adrianpiper.com/docs/10CommsPhilWriting.pdfReport

Chris Sistare
Chris Sistare
2 years ago

I wrote the following in response to a ‘Writing Center’ request as to what might mark differences between philosophical writing and that for other disciplines.

“What distinguishes philosophical writing from other forms of academic writing?”

I think there is probably greater emphasis on argumentation than in some other disciplines; an insight or clever idea is great, but it must be adequately supported. Clarity and precision in writing are also very important, since any looseness or ambiguity can undermine or obscure the meaning of a claim. I certainly think we prefer more spare prose than is desirable in some other disciplines. Along the same lines, we prefer that students skip grand historical or literary introductions (“Plato was one of the most famous Greek philosophers and everyone should read his works.”) This sort of comment is not likely to be relevant to the analysis of ideas or theories.

“What are the characteristics of a good philosophy paper?”
1. Clear thesis.
2. Persuasive, logically coherent argument in support of the thesis.
3. Organization that moves the argument forward and does not distract the reader.
4. Clarity, clarity, clarity.
5. Honest consideration of opposing views or counterarguments.
6. Stick to what is relevant/abjure irrelevancy.

“What are the most common mistakes you encounter in students’ papers?”

Aside from poor writing in a general sense, lack of clarity and precision are frequent problems; poor argumentation [or none], poor organization, and weak conclusions (“But, that’s just my opinion.”) are also common problems. I also find that some students try too hard to be impressive; in such cases, the result is often verbosity and convoluted sentences that obscure the meaning of the claims.

“Other concerns/matters?”

One pet peeve of mine is the use of ‘feel’ in place of ‘think,’ as in “I feel this position is …”

I often find that students cannot distinguish between what is relevant to their thesis and what is not. Here, I am thinking not so much of the historical/literary commentary, but of the inclusion of everything the student knows about the thinker or issue in question.

Of course, all of this presumes that the student understands the materials and issues. 

“Is there any other information about philosophical writing that would be important for writing tutors to know?”

Students need to accept, if not understand, our emphasis on primary texts and the importance of engaging those texts in their written work. This seems to be very difficult for us to communicate to students. (This might be the result of the reliance on textbooks in high schools or in other disciplines; that is one explanation we have discussed.)

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Torsten Wilholt
2 years ago

For the benefit of Daily Nous readers teaching in German, I would like to point out Dietmar Hübner’s splendid (and inexpensive) book: Zehn Gebote für das philosophische Schreiben. It’s not available on the web for free, but given that there is not such an abundance of good online resources on this topic in German as there seems to be in English, I thought it may be permissible to draw attention to it in this context. Dietmar (who is my colleague and a good friend, for full disclosure) does a great job in not just laying out the ground rules, but also explaining why they matter.Report

Nancy J. Matchett
Nancy J. Matchett
2 years ago

The Pink Guide To Philosophy (from Helena de Bres) has a section on ‘How to Write’ that belongs here too.

https://sites.google.com/a/wellesley.edu/pinkguidetophilosophy/how-to-write-1Report