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[Language - English] - Writing Skills - How to Write a Philosophy Paper

[Language - English] - Writing Skills - How to Write a Philosophy Paper



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Published by: FFr on Jan 15, 2008
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How to Write a Philosophy Paper
How to Write a Philosophy Paper
 byJeff McLaughlin Ph.D.University College of the Cariboo
Part Three of a Three Part SeriesPart One: Reading|Part Two: Planning| Part Three: Writing |Home 
The process of writing a good philosophy paper can begin when you areevaluating the works of others; that is, you can learn by example.Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, not all ‘classics’ are good candidatesfor you to follow. What follows here are just a few suggestions on how towrite your own paper. Of course, any requirements or recommendations of your Professor will take precedence over these instructions. 
Your Title
Although the first thing a reader will see is the title of your essay, the choiceof title is perhaps best left for last. This is the case because a title shouldgive an good indication as to the nature of the work – and you’ll have abetter idea of what this is when the paper has been completed.Why should the reader read your paper and not someone else’s? Make thetitle informative but not too specific – it’s a title, not a wordy thesisstatement. Feel free to personalize the title but don’t make it wildly
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How to Write a Philosophy Paper
outrageous!Let’s image that you are writing a paper in Epistemology. One possible titlewould be:
Problematic? Definitely. ‘Truth’ is far too generic, and a bitpompous to boot. How about:
The Correspondence Theory of Truth
. –Better; but it is still too broad and it doesn’t provide the reader with a senseof the paper’s purpose.
The Correspondence Theory of Truth: A Defense
 – This is even better as it gives the reader an indication as to what you’reexamining and hints at what your point of view will be. Of course, it’s notvery sexy but we leave that possibility up to you.
 Your opening
Your opening paragraph(s) should set the stage for the rest of the paper.You are providing your reader with a contextual roadmap of what they canexpect. It provides the reader with some indication as to why the topic isimportant, what the general problem is (or has been) and what your generalthesis will be. If you have the space, you may wish to provide a brief glimpseof the main points you will be making- but be careful, you don’t want tospend 1/3 of a short essay just explaining what the essay will be about. Justlike your title, you may want to write the first paragraph last. This is due tothe fact that you may not be quite sure what direction the paper willultimately take and what the various arguments will be. Thus, instead of trying to force your paper to comply with the limits that you set out in a pooropening paragraph, just sketch the start of your paper to begin with andthen jump right into the main text. Of course, the creation of an outline priorto this (see ‘How to Plan your Paper)will benefit. Once you’ve written the firstdraft, then you can go back and tweak the opening paragraph.
Your text
While the opening sentence of each paragraph should be a new idea or anexpansion of a previous one, it must flow naturally from the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Take care that you don’t jump around from point topoint without warning the reader – otherwise the reader will be lost as towhere you are going and what you are trying to accomplish. Of course, thereare many different approaches to write your essay, and sometimes it justbecomes a matter of what works best for you, the topic and what yourinstructor wants. For example, you may want to present the issue, yourviews, then the possible objections and your responses; or you may wish todevelop these things all in tandem. That is, present an argument and apossible objection then resolve the criticism and move on.
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How to Write a Philosophy Paper
 The central sentences of a paragraph will provide details and expand theclaim being made while the final sentence will leave the reader with a strongsense of what this key point is as well as setting up the next paragraph.Paragraphs should not be overly long however. As a general rule, stronger arguments should be reserved for later on in yourpaper. Start with the more fragile or the less significant ones first, and thenbuild up your case. You don’t want to end on a weak note since the lastthings you say will be the first things that the reader will remember. Don’t beafraid to offer an
weak point – so long as you are able to recognizethat it is a difficulty and are able to successfully respond to it. For example,let’s say your claim is that ‘any form of euthanasia is immoral and it shouldnever be an institutionalized practice because physicians are in the businessof curing people, not killing them’. One objection (and there would be many)might be the fact that this blanket prohibition means that there will bepeople who will be suffering needlessly: “Is it fair to force an elderly womanwho is terminally ill to be in a constant state of pain until her death?” To thisyou might reply that not permitting euthanasia doesn’t mean that we shouldstop caring for patients. Perhaps a new drug regiment can be put intopractice to ease her pain; perhaps legalization of medicinal marijuana isneeded, and so forth. 
Your conclusion
Your conclusion should pull the pieces of your paper together for one final ‘send-off’. This is the last chance you have to grab the reader. Theconclusion is used to restate your thesis and main arguments with referenceto the specific concerns of your paper as well as to the general topic. Itshould complete what you started in such a fashion that the reader can walkaway gaining some insight into what you were trying to do all along. 
Your paper’s characteristics
Let’s assume you are writing a relatively long argumentative paper
Whenconstructing your paper be sure that:
The course concepts and presentation of others’ views are clear andaccurate.
You attempt to be original.
Any use of others words or ideas directly or indirectly are clearly cited.(see ‘How to cite your sources’ below).
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