Philosophical writing is different from the writing you are asked to do in other courses; these guidelines might be helpful, but do not assume that following them is enough to write a good philosophy paper.


1. What you are trying to accomplish: The virtues of a philosophy paper

A philosophy paper consists in a critical analysis of a thesis and in a reasoned defense of some claims. If you advance a claim, your claim should be supported by argument. If you attribute a view to someone, you should support your attribution with reference to the original text and interpretative remarks. When you make claims about a philosopher you have read, make sure that you support your interpretation with references to specific passages. When you take a specific formulation of a point from a text, use quotations.

The virtues of a philosophy paper are:

2. How to start

Usually, the most difficult step in writing is to start. The opening section should be devoted to explain to the reader what you are up to. But what it is going to be eventually the opening paragraph of your paper is probably the last to be written. When you start writing, the first step is to focus on the topic and try to understand what you are required to do. The first paragraph should be written after everything else is in place: when you have a claim, an argument, and a conclusion.
To start off: Listen to the question first.
You might be asked to write two kinds of papers: one whose aim is mainly reconstructive and exegetical, or one whose aim is to consider an argument for or against a certain thesis.

3. How to go on?

General remarks:

About the structure:

4. Make an outline

A philosophy paper should have a clear structure and its arguments should be well organized. In order to give logical organization you should make an outline of your argument before starting to write. The outline should be very detailed: state precisely your aims and claims, how you want to support them, what arguments you adopt, describe each step of the argument, and say how the conclusion follows. (Example of a first paragraph: "My thesis is that Aristotle holds thesis X. I will argue for this claim on the basis of a critical analysis of Book I. First, I will show that if we interpret Aristotle as defending X, then Y follows. Then, I will show that Y is confirmed by Aristotle's example E, while the contrary claim runs against it.")

5. Make several drafts

A clear exposition and a compelling argument are hard to achieve. Try different ways of organizing your thoughts and arguments before submitting the final draft.

6. Quotations and Footnotes

If you quote from a source, the quotation must be marked by quotes and set off from the rest of the test and footnoted. If you quote an idea without quoting it directly from the source, you should acknowledge it in a footnote. Footnote must the relevant information to allow the reader to find the passage you are referring to (author, title, publisher, date, page/ line)

7. Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

Clearly acknowledge and reference ideas that you have derived from others, especially when you are using secondary literature as sources of interpretation. This is required by academic integrity. Quoting a passage without quotation marks and without acknowledging the author or rephrasing passages from a source without acknowledging the author are serious violation of academic integrity: they result in plagiarism.

Cases of plagiarism will be dealt with according to the University Policy on Academic Integrity.

Links to other hints and tips on reading and writing philosophical papers:

How to Write a Philosophy Paper by Jeff McLaughlin

How to Write a Philosophy Paper by Ashley McDowell

Manual on Philosophical Writing by Martin Young

Peter Horban's How to Write a Philosophy Paper by Peter Horban

Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper by Jim Pryor

Writing in Philosophy from the University of North Carolina

A Brief Guide to Writing Philosophy Papers from NW Missouri