Guidelines for Writing Philosophy
Michael F. Goodman
Philosophy / Humboldt State
Advice on writing (and "hints about what I look for and how I grade"):
- 1. All sentences need to be grammatically correct. Spelling needs to be correct, as does the use of punctuation marks. Sentence structure and length are important for the reader being able to stay in the flow of the work.
That is, do not use too many commas and parenthetical remarks and do not make sentences too long. You may use Modern Language Association guidelines on these items or The Chicago Manual of Style.
- 2. I would say that you should not include more than 2 medium sized (2-3 sentence) quotations per page in the research paper (on the Weekend Questions, no quotes will be allowed).
- 3. Be careful to avoid the common fallacies of reasoning (you can find these in most introductory Logic texts, e.g., Hurley, Layman).
- 4. A common oversight of many people, when they write philosophy papers, is to give an opinion and then fail to explain why they hold the position they hold. You should give your reasons for holding the beliefs you hold
(when you write in philosophy). This is not always easy, I admit that, but it is a must.
- 5. Give the paper some identifiable structure by breaking it up into sections (e.g., Introduction, The Argument, The Reply, The Rebuttal, Final Words...).
- 6. Give your opinion. While the majority of the paper ought to be devoted to an exposition of the topic you have chosen, including the principle writers and their arguments (say, 60%), you yourself need to weigh in
on the matters at hand. Realizing that almost all written work in philosophy can be seen as "work in progress" and that one may change one’s mind as new evidence presents itself, you need to give your own considered,
and reasoned, position on the matter(s) about which you are writing.
- 7. I am intolerant of: Gender-biased language, fallacious reasoning, out of context quotation, careless rendering of the position one is attacking, hidden premises, rhetorical questions, assumptions about what is
and is not obvious.
- 8. I am a pretty hard grader, by and large. I do not take points off, however, for trivial things. A couple of ungrammatical sentences here and there are not important. Too many typographical errors leads me to
infer that the writer did not take proper care to proof read the paper. This is important because it indicates an incautiousness that will eventually poison philosophical reflection. I take the same point of view
when it comes to sentences that are not carefully written; they indicate a lack of thoughtfulness to me, a failure to mindfully consider what one is trying to communicate. It is by no means the case that I am asking for a
publishable paper by you, not even a paper presentable at a conference.
However, I am asking you to write a paper that betokens serious reflection of the matters taken up in the project, a paper that brings to light the problem you are working
on as well as its significance, a paper in which the distinctions are made that will lead to a better understanding of the problem itself, attempts to solve (dissolve) the problem, or the failure thereof.
- 9. Get started early in the semester to allow yourself some leisure in your research.
- 10. You are welcome to give me a rough draft (2-3 pages) in about the 13th week of class. I will make comments and try to be helpful with regard to many of the things discussed here.
Some specific "do's" and "don'ts" when writing for me:
- 1. Quotation marks:
- a) All quotations of other writers should be in double quotes, as so: "It was many and many a year ago..."
- b) When referring to a word or phrase or sentence, always use single quotes, as so: 'Arcata' has six letters.
- c) To highlight a word or phrase or sentence, use double quotes or Italics, as so: The sentence "Arcata is north of Berkeley" is made up of five words. Or, The sentence Arcata is north of Berkeley is made up of five words.
- d) In text, footnotes, and bibliographies, the titles of articles or chapters in books must be put in double quotes, as so: Quine's paper, "On What There Is," has been cited over five thousand times since it was published.
- e) In text, footnotes, and bibliographies, the titles/names of books and journals must be written in Italics, as so: Quine's book, The Roots of Reference, contains an elaboration of his thinking on semantic ascent.
- 2. Singular/plural:
- a) Do not mix singular and plural forms of reference in the same sentence. The following sentence is incorrect in this regard: An individual should always stand up for their rights. The general term "an individual"
is singular; the word "their" is plural.
One proper way to rewrite this sentence would be this: An individual should always stand up for her/his rights.
- 3. Footnotes/endnotes and Bibliographies:
- a) Footnotes and endnotes must be constructed in the following way: Name of author (last name first, then first name, then middle initial/name (if given)), title of paper/essay or book, name of publishing
company (including city of publication), copyright date, page number(s). Example of book reference: Pynchon, Thomas, Against the Day. New York: The Penguin Press, 2006. Pages 478-479. Example of a paper
published in a journal: Kment, Boris, "Counter-factuals and Explanation," in Mind, Vol. 115, No. 458, April 2006, pages 261-310. (With journals, no need to give the city.)
- b) In bibliographies, the same information is given, except that the page numbers are not given.
- c) In footnotes and endnotes, if you cite the same work two times in a row (or three or four...), instead of giving the same information as in the first note, simply write the word "Ibid" (without the quotes)
and then the specific page number.
- 4. Examples:
- The giving of examples in papers is very important. Examples must be original with the writer and should not be a repeat of the example(s) given by the person you are writing about. It is never enough to simply repeat,
in one's own language, what another is saying. Examples need to be designed in such a way that they make the point or points being made by you or the person you are writing about. Examples should not themselves create controversy.
They need to be straightforward, not too complicated (otherwise you get bogged down in details), and should be made easily understandable.
- 5. Logical Symbols:
- If you will be using logical symbols in your paper, to construct symbolic arguments or to represent ideas in symbolic terms, be sure to provide a key to the symbols. Something like the following suffices:
Key to Logical Symbols: '(x)' = universal quantifier; '($x)' = existential quantifier; '=' = identity; '®' = material conditional;
'®®' = strict implication, etc.