Writing a Philosophy Paper
The first thing to understand is that an essay on philosophy differs considerably from essays on other subject matter. The reason is that it is not the type of paper for expressing yourself. Neither is it a research paper nor a report. Its aim is not to describe the most recent findings from various tests and/or experiments. Finally, it is not a paper where you offer your own personal impression or feelings. It is, however, your chance to defend your thesis with logic and reasoning. So, what is meant by this?
It means you must establish a particular viewpoint – one that you want your readers to accept based on persuasion, justification and sound reasoning.
Before beginning your paper, state clearly what you are attempting to demonstrate or prove. This is harder than it might seem. A vague idea about what you plan on establishing is not sufficient. Vague ideas are ones that are not generally very well thought through, not expressed well enough and, consequently, are likely to be misunderstood or not understood at all. Essentially, you should state exactly what you intend to prove in one concise sentence. If this proves too difficult, it is possible you are not sufficiently clear about it yourself.
Next, you must decide how to convince your readers about the correctness of your thesis. Put simply, you must persuade them with rational or logical argument. It is here that students often make one or several mistakes. They sometimes think that because they genuinely believe their thesis to be true and accept it, there is no need to thoroughly argue it. However, how will those with a contrary viewpoint react? It is best not to underestimate your readers’ intelligence; they may know the subject matter well but not agree with your view.
Thinking your argument will be strengthened by mentioning every viewpoint you found to support it is another frequent error. Writers sometimes use this approach, which is known as the "fortress," when in fact it will not produce the best results. The following points explain why the fortress technique is not necessarily a good one:
- Readers may struggle to keep up with too many arguments/points of view, especially if these vary in nature/direction.
- The most prominent arguments will be the strongest and weakest ones. So, be discriminate and only take the best couple of arguments forward to avoid giving the impression you are unable to distinguish good arguments from bad ones.
- Attempting to cover too many diverse arguments will cause you to spread your writing too thinly. Cover fewer arguments in detail rather than too many in a sparse fashion.
To create an effective philosophy paper, think about the topic clearly and carefully. Remember, the reader can only understand your thoughts from the words you put on paper. Therefore, they will not know if you intended to say something but neglected or forgot to and they cannot guess what you might have said to them face-to-face. Your paper must stand alone because that is all that is available.
Any philosophy paper that is not clear, comprehensible and free of grammatical error cannot be classified as good. Accuracy and clarity are vital.
Suggested Tips for Writing a Philosophy Paper
- Meticulous organization. Create an outline showing your main points in logical order so that the reader can follow them easily.
- Choose your words carefully. Select words that will precisely convey what you mean. It is vital to use a dictionary rather than choose words you think will do.
- All claims should be supported. Put yourself in the place of a reader who is constantly questioning your argument/viewpoint. This should help you argue your position more robustly.
- Acknowledge sources. If you paraphrase or use quotations, cite them. Using the ideas, arguments or words of another person without acknowledgement is plagiarism, which is dishonest, contrary to the rules of all academic establishments and may endanger your education or bring it to an end.
- Expect opposition/objections. If your stance is worthy of argument, it is likely some readers will reject, criticize or oppose it. Demonstrate the robustness of your position by anticipating a couple of the strongest objections and countenancing them.
- Be ruthless in your editing. It is rare for a first draft not to need significant improving/rewriting. Clear, concise sentences are usually the result of ruthless editing.
One last word – you should proofread your work a few times. Additionally, get another person to read it to see if they can fully understand it. Use their feedback to do a final polishing.
Do not just settle for getting your paper done and off your “to do” list. Be proud of it. The ability to think clearly should be evident in a well-written paper and that surely is what you want to demonstrate.
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