A Guide for Writing Philosophy Papers

I. Format:
A. Essays and Term Papers are required to have a separate title page, be double spaced in a 12 point font and otherwise should follow the Format instructions in the University of Saskatchewan's English Department's Requirements For Essays. (Indenting the first line of paragraphs is preferred over leaving an extra space between paragraphs.)
 
B. You must provide references for your work. Instructions for providing references is also available in the University of Saskatchewan's English Department's Requirements For Essays and in the Online Citation Styles Index. Students should note that not all references are of equal value. In particular, citing a personal (as opposed to professional) web page where the author of the ideas or words are unknown is about as valuable in backing up your claims as citing a comment by some stranger overheard in the hallway; these are not particularly trustworthy sources.
 
C. You may refer to yourself using 'I', 'me', 'myself' etcetera. However, expressions such as "I believe that . . .", "It is my opinion that . . .", or "I think that . . ." are to be avoided. Unless you are addressing your family or close friends, your audience will not be interested in your opinion for its own sake. If you mean to suggest that your audience should be so interested in your opinion, then you would seem to have an inflated ego. Alternatively, these expressions come across as wishy washy, as if you were avoiding providing a proper defense of your stance by hiding behind subjectivism. Such expressions seem to announce: "Don't ask me to defend this claim, since it is just my opinion and you can have your own opinion too." But in philosophy one is to provide reasons for (proper defenses of) one's claims. One is to try to convince or persuade one's audience that one's own view is right or best and should be adopted. Better to use expressions such as "My position is . . .", "I hold that . . .", or "I argue that . . ." and these really are best kept to a minimum. They are most appropriate when signaling to the reader that one is switching from describing someone else's view to one's own.
II. Content: Demonstrate your ability to do the following: A. Introduce the topic or issue, the point you are aiming to make, and how you hope to fulfill this aim. Including a thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph is good practice, and part of introducing your topic.

B. Describe accurately arguments and positions other than your own which are relevant and significant. Identify main points and express them clearly. Philosophers are mainly interested in arguments, but being able to distinguish arguments from positions is essential. If you are critiquing an article, you should provide both an overview and a focus.

C. Analyze the concepts of the issue, primarily those within the arguments and positions described. Point out key terms or points; indicate their meanings or interpretations. Isolate the crucial argument (focus), and point out wider implications. In the analysis you should consider the strength of the arguments for and against the position at issue, developing arguments of your own to decide between them. Ultimately your analysis should form the major portion of a sustained argument toward the position you are trying to establish.

D. Critically assess the overall strength of the arguments and positions presented by criteria such as: 1) method; 2) internal consistency; 3) fallacies of reasoning; 4) correspondence to reality; 5) practical application.

E. Conclude by summarizing and demonstrating an awareness of the limits of what your arguments have achieved.

III. Form: As you write always keep in mind: F. The outline or organization of your paper.

G. The relevance of your comments to the topic or issue you are supposed to be addressing, either the assigned question or your chosen aim. Explain how your comments relate to the issue, and if the relationship is too complex or vague omit the comments or try another connection: the point being not to get sidetracked.

H. The clarity of your comments prevents your audience from having to guess at what you mean or taking what you say the wrong way to the detriment of your argument. Consider whether your words really do express your thinking.

I. The justification for your claims. Support every step of your thinking with good reasons. A well supported claim is of worth even if your opponent disagrees with the claim itself.

(For points H. and I. ask yourself frequently: "What do I mean?" and "How do I know?") J. Possible criticism of your argument and position. Showing awareness of possible criticisms of your view is important. Better that you point out the weaknesses than that your opponents do. Defend yourself against these as far as possible.