HELPFUL TIPS FOR WRITING PHILOSOPHICAL PAPERS

Philosophical writings are very difficult and vary greatly from writing exercises in other disciplines. Writing a good philosophical paper is both a challenge and a treat, and is perhaps the greatest test of one’s logical reasoning skills and articulation skills. Here are some key points to remember while writing a philosophical paper.

The approach to philosophical writing is quite different from writing in most other subjects. That is because it is neither a research paper based on empirical analysis nor an exercise in literary self-expression which can be an articulation of subjective expressions. It is also not a simple literature review of what various scholars have had to say on a particular topic. Most importantly, it is not to present your personal feelings or impressions.

However, at the same time, philosophical writing is about defending a thesis or hypothesis. Thus, it needs the same rigor in establishing an argument, developing a hypothesis, and then logically defending one’s hypothesis. Arguments lie at the core of philosophical writing, and they are rarely simple arguments. Instead, they often are large, complicated, and sophisticated treatments of fundamental problems or abstract questions in which logical reasoning must be the guiding principle to arrive at logically sound conclusions.

The main trick to writing a good philosophical paper is maintaining focus, being consistent, and clarity in thought and articulation. Philosophy papers usually involve both ‘exposition’ and ‘evaluation’.  In course of exposition, you explain the view or argument under consideration and the views of other thinkers who have worked on this subject.  The evaluation part of the paper is your chance to do some ‘philosophy’ of your own, where you engage with the central question with ‘rational persuasion’.

The key to a well-articulated paper is a logical organization. Logical organization refers not only to one’s arguments but also for planning out the paper. An effective structure requires carefully developed paragraphs and sections, where every paragraph or section must be self-explanatory, continuing a strand of discussion from the previous one and logically leading to the next. The style must be precise, consistent, and focussed. It is suggested to break down sentences that are excessively long and convoluted or paragraph too packed with details and rapid turns of thought, as it creates challenges for readers to digest complex information.

It is critical to have the consistency of terminologies, especially technical ones. Using synonyms is a slippery slope as each has different connotations. Use specialize terminologies used by philosophers whose arguments you are considering, define each one extremely carefully, use it with consistency in your own arguments, providing explanations of even subtle differences in the ways in which different philosophers use it, and more importantly how you interpret it.

Lastly, do not fall prey to the temptation of name dropping or lengthy quotes. Even if you find a heavyweight philosopher who is a kindred soul, your paper should rely on your arguments and not what your fellow thinker has said! Formulate your arguments and articulate them well to establish your credentials as an expert in philosophical writing.

How to write a paragraph

Organizing thoughts into a coherent piece of writing can be a daunting task. The best way to pin those ideas down and put them into a form that others can follow is to use an outline. The tried-and-true I-II-III A-B-C outline works whether you have to churn out a paragraph, a page, or a paper. Here’s how to use it for a strong single paragraph;

Write the numbers 1-5 on a piece of paper.

  1. Next to #1, write your answer to the question, or your opinion on the topic, in a complete sentence. For example, if asked to write a paragraph about your favorite person, you might write, “My favorite person is my mother.”
  2. Next to #2, write one reason in support of your answer. For example, on the favorite person paragraph, you might write, “She knows how to help with homework.”
  3. Next to #3, write another reason in support of your answer. You might write, “She takes me wherever I need to go.”
  4. Next to #4, write a third reason in support of your answer. You might write, “She is very good at reading stories.”
  5. Next to #5, rephrase your answer or opinion from #1. You might write, “My mother is a wonderful person to me.”
  6. Copy your sentences #1-#5, one after the other, on your final sheet of paper. And there you have it — a coherent five-sentence paragraph: “My favorite person is my mother. She knows how to help with homework. She takes me wherever I need to go. She is very good at reading stories. My mother is a wonderful person to me.”

The example used here is a very simple paragraph for an early elementary assignment, but the same technique can be used for a more advanced open-ended question. Just answer the question in the first sentence; write one reason for that answer in the second; another reason in the third sentence; a third reason in the fourth sentence; and rephrase your answer for the fifth sentence.

Ten Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing

Whether you’re composing a blog or a business letter, an email or an essay, our goal should be to respond clearly and directly to the needs and interests of our readers.

Follow these ten quick tips to improve your writing whenever you set out to inform or persuade.

  1. Lead with your main idea.

As a general rule, state the main idea of a paragraph in the first sentence–the topic sentence. Don’t keep your readers guessing.

  1. Vary the length of your sentences.

In general, use short sentences to emphasize ideas. Use longer sentences to explain, define, or illustrate ideas.

  1. Put key words and ideas at the beginning or end of a sentence.

Don’t bury a main point in the middle of a long sentence. To emphasize key words, place them at the beginning or (better yet) at the end.

  1. Vary sentence types and structures.

Vary sentence types by including occasional questions and commands. Vary sentence structures by blending simple, compound, and complex sentences.

  1. Use active verbs.

Don’t overwork the passive voice or forms of the verb “to be.” Instead, use active verbs in the active voice.

  1. Use specific nouns and verbs.

To convey your message clearly and keep your readers engaged, use concrete and specific words that show what you mean.

  1. Cut the clutter.

When revising your work, eliminate unnecessary words.

  1. Read aloud when you revise.

When revising, you may hear problems (of tone, emphasis, word choice, and syntax) that you can’t see. So listen up!

  1. Actively edit and proofread.

It’s easy to overlook errors when merely looking over your work. So be on the lookout for common trouble spots when studying your final draft.

10.  Use a dictionary.

When proofreading, don’t trust your spellchecker: it can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it’s the right word.