Writing a philosophy essay may seem a daunting task, especially if you understand that a quality piece of writing is always a result of hard work and determination. Preparation and research stages are simply crucial here — after all, nothing good was ever accomplished in half an hour. So, we’ve collected a list of tips on philosophy essay writing. If you pay close attention to all of these do’s and dont’s, you’ll have a chance to create a truly stellar work that shows your complete grasp of the topic in question.
One of the most important points to remember when writing a philosophy essay is that this paper is very much different from most other types of academic assignments. You cannot approach it as you would a research paper or a literary analysis, for instance. Neither should you treat this work as a factual report on what others before you had to say on the subject. Obviously, a philosophy paper cannot deal with the latest findings on a topic — because, in case of this particular work, there will be no latest findings on the subject. It does not mean, however, that a philosophy paper should be a collection of your personal ramblings on the subject. Instead, it should be a rational, factual defense of a chosen thesis. What does that mean, in practice?
First and foremost, it means that you should have a thesis. If it helps, think of it as a position you take. After all, each notion will have at least two sides of the argument to it. So, your goal is to choose one and try to make your reader agree with the position you take. Obviously, you will have to provide reasonable ground for that — but we’ll get to that later.
At this point, you are to focus on what you are about to prove. It may sound simple, but in practice, choosing a thesis statement is a challenging thing to do. When you are given a task to write a philosophy paper, you usually have some general idea of the thesis you are going to prove. You should, however, see these thoughts exactly as they are — general, rough ideas for your work.
The difference between a rough idea and a thesis is that the first one is not clearly formulated — not yet, anyway. A thesis, on the other hand, is a statement that can be clearly and FULLY expressed in a single sentence — two sentences tops. If right now, you cannot formulate your ideas in one or two sentences, it means that your thesis still needs a lot of thinking over.
Once you formulate the thesis, you are to start looking for ways to convince the audience in your point of view. To put it simply, you will have to provide rational ground for your ideas. Think of the process as presenting a series of arguments backed up by some factual evidence. It is important to mention that students make quite a lot of mistakes on this stage. Some think that if they agree with the thesis, the readers will, too — by default. So, they do not put much thought into their arguments and the evidence for them.
The approach, however, is a faulty one. The fact that you agree with one side of the argument does not mean everyone else will. If everyone agreed, there would be no argument at all. So, the safest path to writing an A+ philosophy paper is assuming that your reader is as intelligent as you, but does not share your views on the subject. This is the only way to come up with some really impressive arguments and the evidence to prove them. In other words, think of readers as your opponents — and do not underestimate them.
Another common mistake a lot of students make is trying to cram all possible arguments on their subject into just one academic paper. They believe that including a lot of argumentation will highlight the simple fact that they’ve done a thorough research on the subject. While the latter one may be true, you have to remember that research for the sake of research is NOT the point of a philosophy paper. Here are some other reasons why this approach will not work:
- plenty of arguments approach the subject from plenty of different perspectives, which makes it very hard for the reader to keep track of your reasoning;
- when presenting a vast list of arguments to prove your point of view, you will inevitably include both strong and weak perspectives on the subject. As a result, you may create an impression
- that you simply cannot see any difference between them, which will reflect negatively on your grade.
- finally, having too many arguments to prove just one thesis within one academic paper will not give you a chance to present enough reasoning behind your ideas. This, however, is the
- ultimate goal of a philosophy essay. Plus, a paper with a variety of ‘thin’ arguments will only look superficial, which will, once again, affect your academic result — and not in a good way.
So — we cannot stress this enough — it is important to carefully choose your topic. Even though you will have to analyze a lot of material on the subject, only the most important and convincing parts should find their way to your paper. At the same time, it is important to remember that your reader will only have access to the information you include in your work. So, if you’ve been influenced by some piece of writing that has been omitted in your paper, do not expect the reader to understand this.
To put it simply, you cannot expect your readers to read your mind; the only thing they will be reading is the paper, and it is simply essential to make your point clear. Neither will your readers have a chance to ask any additional questions if they find your reasoning unclear. So, your paper will act as a stand-alone document. This may sound challenging, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. All you need to do is present your arguments clearly, coherently, and make sure any evidence you include in your paper does not raise any objections to the issues you are trying to prove.
In a nutshell, a philosophy paper should be clear, intelligent, and grammatically correct. Logic and precision are critical here. This is, in essence, what a philosophy paper is about.
Now, let’s take a look at the things you should AVOID when writing a paper on philosophy.
Top mistakes when writing a philosophy paper
We already covered several widespread mistakes when writing a philosophy paper. Here is a fuller, more detailed list of DON’TS you should watch out for.
Long intro. Your reader is usually your professor who knows quite a lot on the subject you are about to discuss. But, even if you are writing a paper for a more general audience, you are still not supposed to take too much time (and space) to introduce the problem. It will only create an impression that you are trying to fill in the requested word/page count, nothing else. Even more so if you start rambling about how important your problem is and how philosophers have been arguing about it for centuries. While this may sound unusual for academic writing, you may want to skip introduction for good. Jump right to your thesis statement and be done with it.
Wordy citations. Too often, students include way too much external material in their work. Once again, this creates an impression that you are simply trying to fill in the pages. The goal, however, is to present your own interpretation of the subject. Sure, you will need to refer to external sources now and then; however, you should only include quotations when it is absolutely necessary. The general rule is not to include over 10% of total work volume in quotes. However, you’d better even include less — if possible, of course.
Not taking a side. You cannot take a neutral position when writing a philosophy paper. Remember, your goal is to convince the reader in your point of view, and this means you should have a very specific viewpoint, to begin with. You cannot just state that many great minds have been debating over the issue for decades, and you are not qualified enough to present your humble opinion. Even if this is how you really feel, try not the make this kind of attitude reflect in your work. Stand YOUR ground.
Not taking it seriously enough. Some debates may sound silly; but, you have to remember that no debate ever starts without a good reason. The simple fact that you do not understand what the fuss is about usually means that you do not truly understand your topic. If this is your case, you might go back to the research stage. Of course, you are not obliged to be dead-serious, but you still should not take the topic too lightly.
Leading with a question. Even though rhetoric questions can be a great way to engage the reader, you should better avoid them in a philosophy essay. Neither should you present any arguments that pose an indirect question or are based on generic assumptions. Here is an example: if you state that abortion is murder and, therefore, immoral, you expect the reader to just simply accept that the abortion equals murder. This is one of those traps many beginning writers fail into — believe the reader will share their points of view, no questions asked.
Attacking the opponents. A very important thing to always bear in mind when working on a philosophy paper is that you can never — ever — attack your opponents. Even if you strongly disagree with a particular stand on the subject, you still have to present a rational, reasonable ground for your perspective. Your philosophy essay is totally not a place to call names — no matter your feelings on the subject. The goal here is to show why exactly your opponents are mistaken, not to offend them. Name calling will have the exact opposite effect — it will only show your reader that you cannot properly stand your ground. Which will, once again, affect your academic score — and not in a good way.
Additional tips on writing a philosophy paper
Even though writing a philosophy essay is a challenging task, it is still a piece of writing. This means there are plenty of ways to tackle it, just like hundreds of students before you did. Here are some useful tips that should help you save a lot of effort on the writing stage and boost your chances of receiving a top mark.
Careful structure and organization. The best way to achieve this effect is to prepare an outline for philosophy essay and stick to it while writing. Even if you have managed to write essays without an outline before, this is not the best idea for this particular type of paper. Remember, every argument you make should logically follow the previous statement you made. In other words, there should be a logical progression to your work. Ideally, you should prepare a detailed outline for your paper a couple of days before you start writing. This way, you will have a chance to revise your thoughts anew and spot out any logical errors and inconsistencies your future paper may have.
Proper word choice. First and foremost, you should, by all means, avoid slang and jargon in any form of academic writing. Then, there are the terms. If there are any particular notions you do not understand, a dictionary is your best friend. Then again, there is the spelling. You cannot rely on your text editor corrections — even though they can be pretty helpful. So, it is important to allow yourself some extra time for editing and proofreading.
Factual support for your claims. Once again, you cannot expect your reader to agree with you. On the contrary, imagine that the reader is constantly disagreeing and doubts every single assertion you make. So, you’ll have to provide a lot of evidence — preferably, factual one — to convince the audience in your point of view. Whenever you are to make a statement, ask yourself this simple question: “why should my reader accept this?” Also, try to make sure you are not building your paper on generic assumptions — this is a very misleading course, as a rule.
Proper referencing. Plagiarism is a very big deal in the academe, and even if you do not plan to plagiarize, the instances of unintentional ‘stealing’ are not uncommon. Unintentional plagiarism may include not giving a proper reference to the original author, for example. You may also fail to properly paraphrase ideas you’ve come across while your research, which will also be detected by the plagiarism checking software. While the latter one can be double-checked online for free, the first mistake has to do with not paying enough attention to the academic formatting requirements. Double-check with your professor which format you are supposed to comply with and stick to it.
Reasonable defense of your arguments. To put it simply, you are to expect objections to every statement you make. Imagine that those objections will be made by an intelligent reader, and get ready to answer them intelligently. By anticipating objections and including opposing arguments in your paper, you have a chance to structure a truly impressive piece of writing. The trick here is a healthy reaction to criticism. Do not expect everyone to agree with you and do not feel bad about opposing viewpoints.
Ruthless editing. Finally, you are to be your own worst editor. There is always room for improvement, and you should never think of your first draft as the final piece. Chances are, you will have quite a lot of rewriting to do, so don’t feel sorry about removing any parts of already written information. Once again, it is important to allow yourself a couple of days for the editing stage.
If you take all of the above suggestions in mind, chances are — you will come up with a truly top-notch philosophy paper. If, however, you still feel that the assignment is way too challenging for you, there is no shame in asking for help. Sometimes, turning to a essay writer can save you quite a lot of time. And, if philosophy is not your major, this might be the most reasonable thing to do.