Phil 100, Lecture 1A, Introduction to Philosophy
Tips for Writing Good Papers and Exams
- Organize your paper in two main sections. In the first, explain the
view of the philosopher or philosophers you are writing about. In the second,
develop your own argument for the conclusion you agree with. Before you begin
writing, you may want to write your argument out in premise and conclusion
form and ask yourself whether or not the argument is valid and sound. Play
devil's advocate and try to anticipate possible objections or problems.
- Write in your own words! Quote sparingly, and even then explain what
the quotation means. Be very careful about plagiarizing bits and pieces of
wording. We should not be able to find more than three or four words in a
row that appear exactly as they do in the text or in my lecture notes unless
they're in quotation marks. Never ever ever include any sentence in your
paper that you yourself do not fully understand—we'll be able to tell.
- Avoid "fluff." Fluff is anything which is not directly relevant to
either presenting the views of the philosopher(s) you are discussing or developing
your own argument. Unfortunately, writing instructors often advocate putting
fluff in the opening and concluding paragraphs of a paper to make it "flow
better." They are crazy. Don’t listen to them. In an exam of this size,
you need to get right to the point and keep on it until the very end. Don't
worry if your essay is slightly shorter than what we've recommended.
- Avoid half-assed conclusions/saying nothing. Here is an example of
a half-assed conclusion that really amounts to saying nothing at all: "Metaphysical
questions are very difficult to answer and no one can say with certainty
whether what Descartes had to say is right or wrong. There are good reasons
supporting both sides of the debate. Perhaps we will never know." This is
an annoying cop-out which really amounts to not even attempting to do what
was assigned. It's OK to be undecided with regard to philosophical issues,
but if you are, you need to be clear about why you are, i.e., you must say
what issue is unresolved and why you are unable to resolve it. What you cannot
do is to not even try to address the question, or conclude prematurely that
no one can answer it just because you were unable to do so.
- We encourage you to use gender-inclusive and culturally-sensitive language
in your papers. (This will not be a factor in grading.) Also, proper use
of grammar, spelling and citation methods are expected. (This also will not
be a major factor in grading unless your writing is so poor as to detract
from the clarity or meaning of what you are trying to say.) Use complete
sentences. If you need help with these things, let us know.
- CLARITY, ACCURACY, and LOGICAL SOUNDNESS are much
more important than PROFUNDITY.
- This is an exam, not a group project. We always encourage
you to discuss philosophical issues with your classmates, but when it comes
to actually composing your answers to these questions, you are expected to
- Please feel free to ask us if you have questions or need help. That's
what we're here for.
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