Professor Hauptli's Guide To Writing Philosophy Papers:

     Copyright © 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli

General Comments:

Few students enjoy writing papers.  Indeed, one might argue, causing suffering intentionally is wrong, and I certainly will cause much suffering in assigning papers in this course.  My response to this argument is that there is a long-term good which will arise out of this suffering--students will be better able to formulate, express, and argue their views.  Successful communication requires that one have clear views and that one be able to clearly state them to others.  Of course, communication may take many forms.  One particularly perverse form (in my opinion) is present-day media advertising.  A philosophy paper is the antithesis of such communication.  Rather than attempting to seduce their audience, the authors of philosophy papers seek to provide reasoned arguments which will clearly characterize the important aspects of the view under discussion, indicate its underlying rationale or justification, and critically compare it to alternative views.  In short, such a paper is an argument--a collection of statements which clarify, ground, justify, and substantiate a given view or position. 

The paragraph is the basic component of such papers.  Each paragraph should advance the overall argument of the paper (and each sentence within a paragraph should advance its argument).  In general the paper itself has a thesis and each paragraph has its particular thesis--a sub-thesis which is one of the steps the author takes in arriving at the general thesis.  If after reading or writing a paper (or paragraph) one can not clearly state its thesis, the paper (or paragraph) has misfired--it has not attained its objective.  If one can formulate the thesis of a paragraph but can not relate it to the general thesis of the paper, the paragraph has still misfired--it is extraneous.  When later paragraphs also fail to provide this sub-thesis with a significant role, it can only be seen as "filler."  Producing a paragraph (and a paper) which does not misfire is not easy--revision, rewriting, continued concentrated thought, and perseverance are necessary.

Types of Philosophy Papers:

An unacceptable philosophy paper consists of a mere statement of opinion.  Such a work presents no argument or critical exposition and discussion.  While it may be of interest to others whether you believe in a deity, believe that abortion is wrong, or think that there are no moral absolutes; your statement of such (no matter how eloquent or detailed) will not suffice in meeting the requirements in this course. 

A step above such a paper would be one which provides an excellent exposition of the basic theory of the philosopher being studied.  This sort of expository paper is not yet at the acceptable level for the assignments in this course, but it does provide the basis upon which an acceptable paper can be built.  Essays which simply delineate a philosopher’s arguments on a topic are expository, rather than  critical ones.  Essays which limit themselves to such an exposition can not earn an A, and generally receive no better than a B- grade.  In this course your papers are to be critical papers—they are not merely to inform the reader as to the views of the philosopher(s) in question. 

A significant step above the purely expository paper is the critical exposition or critical analysis.  Such a paper has a thesis—it argues for or against some point.  It develops reasons for maintaining that the philosopher's view is adequate (or inadequate); that it is (or is not) subject to some basic flaw, contradiction, or problem; or for maintaining that philosopher A's view is superior to philosopher B's view.  In my courses the assigned topics are designed to elicit this sort of critical exposition and analysis.  If you focus your attention carefully upon the topic you choose (that is, if you are consciously and explicitly addressing the assigned issue), you should find it natural to develop such a paper.  A core element of such papers consists of a careful exposition of the relevant topics, arguments, and theories--such an exposition of the thinker's views should be guided by a consideration of what you need to explain to critically address the issue at hand. 

How great a step above the level of an expository paper any particular critical exposition or analysis rises depends upon the sorts of arguments adduced.  "My mother (sister, priest, guru, etc.) says..."—known as the "illicit appeal to authority"—is not a worthwhile argument here.  Appeal to an authority outside her or his area of expertise constitutes the fallacy of the appeal to illegitimate authority.  Appeal to authorities within their areas of expertise can help, but any sufficiently interesting philosophical problem or issue will always have authorities on all sides of an issue.  Thus, the fact that an appropriate expert holds your sort of view provides no good reason, in and of itself, for you (or for anyone else) to hold this view.  On the other hand, an expert should have some reasons and arguments for the view in question.  Citing these is a much more positive move than simply citing the authority.  An uncritical acceptance of the authority's reasons and arguments is almost as bad as merely citing the authority however—a philosophy paper should offer a critical exposition, scrutiny, and evaluation of the reasons appealed to or cited.  To critically consider the reasons and arguments offered for (and against) a view or position is to move from the level of expression of opinion and exposition of a position to that of philosophic argument. 

One of the most common forms of such critical analyses is the paper which critically surveys, and then critically compares and contrasts the views of two (or more) philosophers on an issue or problem.  Here one does not simply detail the views of each and then state one's own opinion (paragraphs 1-5, say, discussing the views of philosopher A, paragraphs 6-10 discussing the views of philosopher B, and paragraph 11 stating one's own opinion).  To critically exposit, compare, and contrast the philosophers' views and arguments one must consider the interplay of the various views and arguments, and one must consider how they "tell" against one another.  Here one considers how the arguments and points which one philosopher raises undercut or support the other's views. 

It is extremely important to note that a central core of any critical and analytical philosophy paper will be the clear and careful exposition of the position under consideration.  While it is possible (in archery, for example) to hit a target which isn't clearly identified ("I shot an arrow in the air; where it landed, I do not care"); it is not possible to do this when one is writing a critical and analytical paper.  The target (argument[s], thesis, etc.) must be clearly identified or surveyed, and it must be clear to your reader how the considerations you bring to bear (arguments, sub-arguments, examples, etc.) critically bear on the view under critical scrutiny.  Even a very explicit (and completely cogent) argument will not be effective if it is not clear how it bears on the topic at hand.  Of course, it is not essential that one clarify all aspects of a thinker's thought, but it is necessary that you familiarize the reader with the relevant theses (those which bear directly upon the topic you are dealing with).  If the paper is a critical comparison and contrast, the various relevant theses and arguments of the different thinkers must be sufficiently surveyed before the comparisons and contrasts may be drawn out. 

Of course the critical enterprise need not be simply a comparative one—one may develop and raise one's own arguments and objections.  Often such papers delve into a particularly difficult topic, and they may take on the character of critical expositions—that is, they may concentrate their critical attention upon clarifying the arguments which the authors are presenting.  It is important to note that this is not a "lesser" sort of paper—after all, one can not successfully critique a position unless it has been clearly (and correctly) characterized; and this is often difficult in and of itself.  In offering such a critical exposition, the writer is, in effect, arguing that the thinker(s) under consideration holds the position defended in the paper instead of holding some other (presumably less plausible) position.  These papers are especially appropriate where one is dealing with an extremely complex philosophical position or theory.  Such critical expositions try to both clarify the theory or view in question and consider critically its adequacy, sense, utility, etc.  A perfectly appropriate “strategy” for such papers is to examine another individual’s exposition, clarify what it attributes to the philosopher in question, and then critically consider whether you feel the interpretation “fits the text,” and whether its critical perspective on the original text is appropriate or correct.  In writing such a paper you must not only clarify the views of the author(s) in question, but you must also offer your own critical assessment of whether we should accept, reject, or remain neutral regarding this orientation, view, or position.  Much of what was said above regarding the construction of critical analyses applies to these papers. 

In critical papers and expositions, the objections and criticisms which are raised generally fall into one of two categories: either one points to an "internal" difficulty in another's arguments or views, or one points to an "external" difficulty.  In the former case one finds an inconsistency or infelicity in the philosopher's views or arguments and argues that this undercuts those views or arguments.  In the latter case one maintains that the philosopher's views and arguments run counter to views which we (and, presumably, this other individual) should accept.  The critical argument contends that this provides a reason for rejecting the other's views and arguments.  Whether the critiques offered are internal or external, it is important that one clearly develops them, that one clearly indicates how damaging they are to the philosopher's position, and that one attempts to consider possible counter-claims (or defenses) which the criticized philosopher might offer.  In short, critical consideration amounts to the analysis of the reasons for and against a given viewpoint.  A critical paper need not be negative--the critical examination or exposition of a philosopher's views can lead to a defense of the position under consideration as easily as it can lead to a repudiation of that position.  Of course, a critical paper may also lead to a position which identifies both the strengths and the weaknesses in a position. 

As one develops such critical comparisons and expositions to greater and greater extents, one finds one's essays growing more and more original.  Finding fault with each of the various positions examined, or finding differing sorts of faults in each, one begins to argue for modifications and begins to synthesize.  Eventually, one is advancing one's own views (thought they are, perhaps of necessity, still offered relative to those of others) and one is attempting to justify one's own views.  At this point it is especially important that the writer be open to (and critically consider) possible objections to the view being advanced.  These putative objections are often suggested by the views of others but they may also arise given one's own recognition of the weaknesses inherent in one's own view.  Ultimately one may be led to articulate, develop, and defend an original thesis or view.  This is the most difficult sort of philosophy paper and it is not expected that students will write such papers in this course. 

The following description of a philosophy paper provides a commendable summary characterization of what an excellent philosophy paper is like:

usually, a philosophical proposition or thesis is propounded as worthy of belief, and reasons for and against it are considered.  Among the reasons in favor of the thesis are: general and acceptable statements from which it follows; other acceptable things it fits in with or alongside of; its consequences, which are acceptable and so support it; instances of it or examples that fit it and so provide some evidence for it.  Among the reasons against the thesis that are considered are: possible objections to it (these are replied to, weakened, undercut, or somehow avoided); possible counterexamples (these are neutralized or used to modify the thesis into another proposition that is not subject to that counterexample, so that now it is the modified statement that is propounded as worthy of rational belief).  One reason against a thesis p deserves separate mention: that an alternative proposition q, the best or most plausible alternative to p may be more worthy of rational belief that p is.  The practice is to raise particular objections to q, difficulties or counterexamples that are deemed sufficient to eliminate it or show why it should not be accepted.  Rarely is it said that the objections to q are no worse than those to p but that p has better reasons in its favor.  And more rarely still is q given the same full-scale examination that p receives.  Still, all this adds up to a sustained consideration of the reasons for and against the thesis, leaving the reader in a better position to believe it rationally.1 

My Expectations Regarding Students' Papers:

I expect that students will have carefully and critically read and mastered the relevant material--note that it will usually take more than a single reading to master the material.  Reading, especially in philosophy, should be an active and interactive endeavor.  Students should not simply race through the material, they should endeavor to critically understand and interact with it.  The assigned paper topics will deal with material we have discussed in class, and I expect (and require) that students attend these lectures.  The purpose of the lectures is two-fold: to facilitate the students' mastery of the material, and to facilitate their critical skills.  Just as reading is an active and interactive endeavor in philosophy, so listening should be.  The readings and lectures should provide the student with the foundation which allows them to write a paper which will meet, and may exceed, my expectations. 

In my courses students are required to write critical, analytical philosophy papers.  I believe that a grade of "A" indicates excellence, and that is what I expect in an "A" paper--the exposition and argument should both be clear and developed; and the paper should be largely free of compositional infelicities.  A paper which provides only an exposition of the philosopher's views is not a successful critical analysis, and, as such, can not garner a grade higher than the "C" range.  Papers which abound with compositional errors are viewed with disfavor, and since these can often hide the exposition and argument, the compounding of such errors can seriously affect a paper's grade. 

In order to facilitate my goals of enhancing each student's ability to provide balanced exposition and examination of philosophical problems, positions, and methodologies, I provide detailed comments regarding the compositional, expository, and the critical elements of students' papers.  I review the comments from earlier papers prior to reading later ones so that I can assess continuing progress and problems.  Where students take multiple courses from me, I review my comments on papers from prior semesters prior to reading the first paper for additional courses so that I can more carefully assess their continuing progress and identify any continuing problems. 

As students write their papers (and, of course, while they are reading and thinking about the current readings, lectures, and discussions), I encourage them to endeavor to integrate the knowledge they have acquired in their other philosophy courses (both those taken with me, and those taken with my colleagues), and from the other courses they have taken with the material they are currently studying in my courses.  Part of what is involved in developing a critical perspective is the ability to integrate and inter-relate materials from a variety of sources, disciplines, and areas.  In class (and outside of class) I am happy to attempt to answer questions which are related to such integrative attempts.  I am generally willing to seriously consider paper proposals which attempt this activity in lieu of one of the assigned topics in my courses, but students need to clear such topics with me in advance--this helps ensure that students don't harm their grades by trying to take on a project far beyond the level of difficulty appropriate for the course (I have carefully selected assigned topics that have been carefully assessed for their appropriateness). 

When you write a paper for this course, I want you to write a critical analysis or critically expository paper.  These papers should: (1) clarify the position being examined; (2) elaborate the argument(s) for or against the position in question; (3) carefully assess the adequacy and strength of the argument(s) by considering possible responses, counter-arguments, or counter-examples; and (4) offer your own overall assessment of where the arguments for and against the position being considered leave us--should we accept, reject, or remain neutral regarding this orientation, view, or position?  The above detailed characterization of such papers should help you understand my expectations (those desiring high grades will endeavor to approach the highest ideal, while those who are not so motivated may choose to set their sights somewhat lower). In short, students' papers in my classes should:

address an assigned topic in a manner that clearly displays its purpose, thesis, or controlling idea,
clarify the relevant elements of the philosopher’s theory so that they can be understood by other students taking such philosophy courses,
support the thesis with adequate reasons and evidence,
show sustained analysis and critical thought,
be organized clearly and logically, and
show knowledge of conventions of standard written English. 

It is hard to write such papers, and so I offer five overall recommendations which past students have found helpful as they confronted their writing assignments in my classes:

First, it is often difficult for the writer to know what "level" she should be aiming for.  In writing papers for me in this course, you are to assume you are writing the paper for other students who understand some aspects of philosophy, but who have not done the particular reading or heard the particular lectures which you have been exposed to in this course.  This means that you will have to clearly survey or recount the relevant aspects of the positions and arguments you are concerned with, and it means that you will need to clearly develop the critical arguments you offer.  You are not to presume that your reader is someone who is already fully familiar with the topic you are concerned with.  Frankly, this will make your job both harder and easier.  It will make it harder because it is difficult to clearly and adequately explain the arguments, positions, problems, theories, and topics, which you will be concerned with.  This requirement will make your job easier because, as you will see when you begin such writing, it makes it necessary that you take a substantial portion of the paper to clearly set out the arguments, positions, etc., which are under consideration.  This is important as one of the reasons I have for asking you to write the paper at this level is to force you to sufficiently clarify the issues under consideration. 

The second general recommendation which I offer is that you work hard to make sure that what you write addresses the assigned topic.  Where you have a choice of topic, make the choice and then let the topic be your guide--make sure you are clarifying the relevant portions of the view(s) under consideration (see immediately above), that you have clarified the problem you are to address, that you are developing a critical response to the problem or issue, and that your conclusion clearly indicates the overall stance you are taking. 

The third general recommendation which I offer is that you probably find it easier if you don't start out trying to write the "introductory paragraph" (or paragraphs), but, rather, by writing the descriptive (or "expository") "body" of the paper--the portion where you are clarifying the topics, arguments, and issues which are to be subjected to critical scrutiny.  Only when you are clear about what the philosopher(s) under consideration are saying will you be prepared to deal with their views critically (this is the point of the archery metaphor above).  Unless you are certain what tack you are going to take, it is generally advisable to begin with the "descriptive" aspect of the paper.  Indeed, doing so will constitute part of the "research" which goes into your writing--it will help you identify strong and weak points, problems, and important points of critical focus. 

The fourth general recommendation I want to offer is that you begin writing early enough to allow for a full editing process.  I hand the paper topics out so that you have a significant amount of time (usually two week-ends) before the papers are due.  I do this because I assume that you will need a substantial amount of time to write a good paper, and I expect that you will have to engage in significant rewriting, revising, and polishing activities.  Writing well requires a willingness to rewrite and edit, and I expect well-written papers.  After you have developed a good working draft, you need to work it into a good paper.  You need to read each sentence you have written carefully and consider whether it should be rewritten so that it makes its intended point clearly. 

As you revise your paper, consider both the clarity of the sentences and the organization of your discussions and arguments.  Constantly ask yourself whether you are being clear, whether you have sufficiently developed your points, and whether your reader can follow your train of thought.  Remember that in this class you are to be writing your papers for other students who have not heard the lectures or read the material which you have heard and read.  As you rewrite and edit, ask yourself whether your friends, for example, could understand the problem, the arguments, and the thesis you are defending given only what you have written.  An unedited paper is like an unfinished piece of furniture, it can fill up space, and it can be quite serviceable, but it is not a finished piece of work which the crafts-person may be proud of.  Indeed, students often find it helpful to have one of their friends read over their drafts and make editing suggestions.  I encourage this activity. 

Finally, I recommend what I call "oral proofreading" as a help in this editing process.  This technique can expose awkwardness and direct your attention in the editing and revising process.  What you do here is to read your draft aloud, word for word, exactly as they appear on the paper or screen before you.  Where the sentences are incomplete, where they can not be easily read, or where what you hear offends the ear, you revise (then re-read and revise again).  Often it is hard to proofread because you are involved in your writing and can not pay adequate critical attention to what you have said since you know what you wanted to say.  Oral proofreading forces you to pay attention to what you have actually said (rather than what you wanted to say). 

Note that I provide detailed comments regarding the compositional, expository, and the critical elements of such papers, and I review the comments from earlier papers prior to reading later ones so that I can assess continuing progress and problems. 

Grading Remarks and Style Suggestions:

The following points are meant to clarify some of the abbreviations I will be employing in my marginal comments as I am grading your papers and exams.  Many of the examples offered come from previous students' papers.  I recommend that students pay attention to the marginal comments which I make on their papers.  You should consider whether or not I am correct when I indicate that a passage is awkward or better stated in a different manner.  Critically considering both my marginal comments and your sentences, will help you when it comes time to write your next paper (whether for me or for another instructor)! 

Agr: lack of agreement (of pronoun and antecedent, of subject and verb, or of number).  There are a variety of ways such errors may arise, but in each situation the sentence changes number, tense, or fails to refer or agree with the earlier sentence (or part of the sentence) it depends upon (or refers to).  A careful proofreading which keeps track of who/what is being spoken of will usually allow you to avoid such problems.  If you start out talking about [an] egoist, you must continue the sentence in the singular (which means using ‘believes’, ‘says’, etc.).  If you start out talking about [several] egoists, you must continue the sentence in the plural (which means using ‘believe’, ‘say’, etc.).  Similarly, if you start out in the past tense (“was born in”), then you must continue [absolutely in the same sentence, generally in the same paragraph] to write it that tense (“was abandoned,” “went to school,” etc.—not: “is abandoned,” “goes to school”).  Failure to abide by this convention yields awkward and messy writing.  If you use pronouns, make sure they agree with their antecedents (if you are speaking of Alice, then you need to refer later to her; while if you are referring to Alice and Tom, then you need to refer to them as you go on—changing from singular to plural, or vice-versa, introduces awkwardness and confusion).  Similarly, if you begin talking about “other people,” then when you get to talking about their opinions or beliefs, you must use the plural—the only way it makes sense not to is if you are speaking about a single belief (or opinion) they all have (if they all together owned one dog then you would speak of “their dog,” but if they each own a dog, then you must speak of “their dogs”).  Examine the spots marked “Agr” and the spots where I change the “number,” “tense,” etc. in your paper and rewrite them so that they avoid this problem.  Cf., Andrea Lunsford, The Everyday Writer, Florida International University Edition (Fourth Edition) (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009), Chapters 32 and 33f. 

Awk: awkward.  Examples: "One can word a point in such a way that it is said so complexly that even the most acute intellect has tremendous difficulty discerning it," and "One can also saying things in not so good language."  An oral proofreading (see above) can help you detect such passages, and it can help you in the revising and rewriting process. 

: apostrophe required.  There is a difference between plurals and possessives--students should know the difference, and students' papers should show it (note: possessive nouns use apostrophes and possessive pronouns do not).

Better: ______: what follows the `better' indicates what I believe to be a preferable way of phrasing the point.  I sometimes use the notation "Better?" when I am less certain that I have found a preferable phrasing.  I make such marginal comments in an effort to encourage the revising and editing process. 

, : missing comma Review chapter 38 of Andrea Lunsford, The Everyday Writer, Florida International University Edition (Fourth Edition) (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009), pp. 370-382. 

Clarify: the passage or point needs clarification.  Internally unclear passages are usually awkward (hence "awk"), but passages and arguments may also be unclear in that they are under-developed or in that their argument is not easily grasped (in which case the comment  I use is: "Clarify").  Remember, papers and paragraphs (even sentences sometimes) are to have theses which are to be clarified, developed, and defended.  Where the reader (or, even worse, the writer upon reading his or her work) can not clearly formulate the thesis, or understand how the passage relates to the overall thesis, further clarification is necessary. 

Elab: elaborate.  The point needs elaboration.  Undeveloped arguments do not help the overall argument as much as could be the case. 

FtNt: indicates a missing (or inadequate) footnote/endnote/parenthetical or bibliographic reference.  Such references are called for whenever you cite another person directly.  I have no preferred or required style and do not care whether you use footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliographic reference style.  I use the following form in my footnotes:

     Author, Title (City: Publisher, Date), page(s). 

Reference notes should contain sufficient information to allow your reader to locate the relevant passage if she or he wishes.  If you use a bibliographic reference style which employs parenthetical notations in the body of your paper, make certain you offer full bibliographic references at the end of the paper which clarify where the citations are coming from.  Clearly, following a citation with something like "(Our Text, p. 12)," is not sufficient--it clarifies only for a few individuals what you are referring to--while you and I know what you are talking about, such references are not supposed to be only for "those in the know."  Please note that when you are referring to a work in an edited collection or text, you can not simply cite the name of the editor, or the title of the collection or text.  You should follow a format something like this:

Author [not editor], Title [of cited author's work], in [name of edited text or collection], edited by [name of editor] (City: Publisher, Date), Page(s). 

After all, you are citing the author and not the editor! 

If you are referencing an on-line source, then provide the reference and date of access.  For example:

Bruce Hauptli, http://www2.fiu.edu/~hauptli/WritingPhilosophyPapers.html, accessed on (insert date). 

Frag: sentence fragment.  Everything punctuated as a sentence should be capable of standing alone. 

Garbled: Sometimes there is a compositional rule which is violated (perhaps the use of a “wrong word” or of the wrong form of the root word), but most of the time the words employed in the combination in which they are employed don’t convey what you want to say.  Reading these passages aloud often exposes their brand of awkwardness, and this is, thus, a valuable diagnostic tool when you are in the final editing and proofreading state of your writing. 

Garbled Quote: indicates that the citation has been garbled.  You have inadequately represented the author's thought, changed the meaning, or have miscopied. 

Indent: indent long citations.  Generally speaking, a quotation which takes up four or more of the lines of your paper should be set off from the rest of the paper.  When one indents in this fashion quotation marks are unnecessary--the device of indentation already sets the passage off from the body of the text. 

Irr: irrelevant.  Do not fill up your paper with a philosopher's father's and mother's names, attributions of fame, etc.  Under most circumstances such sentences (for example: "Plato, teacher of Aristotle and pupil of Socrates, who lived in ancient Greece...") are merely "filler." 

NPE: not proper English.  Among the many things which bring out this comment are "irregardless," "ain't," "He be good," and "them guys." 

Proofread: do not subject me to your typing errors (I will treat them as yours no matter who did the typing), or failure to edit.  Good writing requires careful proofreading and editing.  If you are proofreading the final copy you are going to submit and discover mistakes, go ahead and correct them in pen--you need not retype (or reprint as long as you make your corrections clearly. 

Rednt: indicates the passage is redundant

RQ: rhetorical question.  Instead of saying: "Is this a contradiction?  I think not," say "This is not a contradiction."  The problem with rhetorical questions is that philosophy papers should clarify, defend, and argue.  To ask questions (even leading questions) is not to argue or clarify however.  Instead of raising questions, assert your points.  In his Freedom Evolves, Daniel Dennett maintains that: "I advise my students to be on the lookout for rhetorical questions, which typically mark the weakest link in any defense.  A rhetorical question implies a reduction ad absurdum argument too obvious to need spelling out, the perfect hiding place for an unexamined assumption that might better be explicitly denied.  One can often embarrass the asker of a rhetorical question by simply trying to answer it: “I’ll show you how!”"2

Run-on: indicates a run-on paragraph or sentence.  Since the goal in writing these papers is clear-cut argumentation and exposition, such passages are counter-productive.  Run-on sentences and paragraphs often string several points together--jumping from one to the next without developing them. 

Sp: (or a single underlining of a word): misspelled word--use a dictionary when you are not certain.  If you are connected, and who isn't these days, then you can always consult my favorite on-line source: http://dictionary.reference.com/

Note: you should not assume that your word-processor or spelling-checker will do an adequate job of proofreading for you.  You must do the job yourself.  Many programs do not catch redundancies (the same word twice), and no programs I know of will tell you when you've used the "wrong word" (`than' for `then', `too' for `to', etc.)--see "WW" below!  Before you print out your final draft, make certain that you have checked to see that what will be printed is what you want to have printed.  If you can not proofread effectively on the screen, print out a draft copy and review it carefully.  As noted above several times, and oral proofreading is a generally effective technique which too few students employ.  It is an easy tool to add to your skill set, and it pays off richly. 

T: indicates a tense inconsistency.  Do not begin a sentence with what Plato said, continue it by discussing what he says, and end it discussing what he will say. 

Unness: indicates the word or phrase is unnecessary.  Such words often produce awkwardness!

What?: asks "What does this say?"  Your statement is intensely unclear, is ambiguous, or seems to be wrong. 

WW: indicates you have used the wrong word.  This comment is appropriate when you use `to' for `too' (and vice versa).  Amongst the most common of such errors are: `believe' for `belief', `weather' for `whether', `than' for `then', and `site' for `cite'.  As noted above, most word-processors will not catch such errors, and if you have several "ww"s in the marginal comments, then you need to begin to train yourself to look for these possible errors as you are proofreading.  In her The Everyday Writer, Florida International University Edition [(Fourth Edition) (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009)], Andrea Lunsford claims this is one of the top twenty most common errors in paper writing (see pp. 4-5, and Chapters 22 and 59). 

X: the statement in question is wrong.  This is used most frequently where students misconstrue or misinterpret the views of the thinkers they are considering. 

A double-loop drawing: indicates that the letters or words are transposed--the material in the first "loop" belongs after that in the second. 

 : indicates a paragraph break is necessary. 

|_____|: indicates a word, phrase, or space is missing.
    /\

Double underlining: indicates that a letter should (or should not) be capitalized, or that a title should be underlined or italicized.  Titles of articles, dialogues, and short essays should be enclosed in quotation marks, titles of books, plays, and journals should be underlined or italicized.  Watch out for a tendency toward over-capitalization.  While proper nouns and the names of days and months should be capitalized, the Capitalization of Other Words (when not at the beginning of a sentence) is a largely Archaic Practice (five violations of the “rule” here).  For more on this, consult Andrea Lunsford, The Everyday Writer, Florida International University Edition (Fourth Edition) (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009), Chapter 44, pp. 407-412. 

/: indicates that these words should be separated. 

These comments are not meant to dictate a writing style or method of composition.  In the past I have received term papers, dialogues, plays, and short stories all of which have been fully appropriate.  Depending upon the particular assignment (and your inclinations) you may find yourself writing any one of a number of different sorts of "papers."  Whatever form your paper takes, of course, your "product" should have a thesis and a critical argument which supports that thesis.  Since this is a philosophy class, the thesis should be a philosophical one.  Since you will be given rather detailed assignments for each paper, of course, they should address one of the assigned topics. 

Bibliographies are not required.  If you have consulted a large number of works you may wish to include one however. 

Some Common Mistakes Which You Should Avoid:

By far the most common mistake students make in writing papers is that they do not proofread or edit carefully.  A sloppy product does not deserve (and will not receive) a good grade.  Spelling errors, gross awkwardness, and easily detectable "typos" all detract from your paper, and from your grade.  All of these are easily correctable however--provided you allow yourself sufficient time.  Check your spelling (if you are using a computer, use a spell-checker), then check for typos and stylistic errors.  As I noted above, one technique which I frequently recommend to students is what I call an oral-proofreading.  Here one reads one's draft aloud word for word exactly as they appear on the paper.  Where the sentences are incomplete, where they can not be easily read, or where what you hear offends the ear, you then revise and rewrite. 

The next most common mistake made by students in writing philosophy papers arises because they do not sufficiently clarify the views under consideration.  Review the remark above regarding the intended audience for these papers.  If the view is not adequately clarified, then it will be hard for you to critically assess it, and it will be difficult to judge how successful your argument(s) for or against it are. 

Although it certainly is a minor mistake, too many students feel they need to give their papers the uninspiring title "Paper # 1" (etc.).  Such a title is not really worth expending ink upon!  Title pages are not required (but you need to have your name on the paper), and you should number the pages--if there is a title page, then the first page of text should be numbered "1").  As noted in the syllabus, I expect that your papers will be typed. 

Finally, too many students make the simple mistake of not working to ensure that the papers which they write address the assigned topic!  Keep the assignment clearly in view as you write your paper!  If you are not writing on the assigned topic, you must have received permission to write on another topic, and the first thing I will likely ask you for if you seek permission is clear statement of the topic or problem you wish to write on! 

Regarding Plagiarism:

When you engage in plagiarism you present as your work the opinions or arguments of someone else.  Plagiarism is dishonest since the plagiarist offers for credit what is not her or his own.  It is also counter-productive because it defeats a purpose of education—the improvement of the student's own powers of thinking, reasoning, and expression.  Plagiarism may even occur when one expresses another's sequence of ideas, arrangement of material, or pattern of thought in one's own words.  We have a case of plagiarism when a sequence of ideas is transferred from a source to a paper without a process of digestion, integration, criticism, and inquiry in the writer's mind and without acknowledgment (I have borrowed this statement, with permission, from the FIU English and Sociology/Anthropology Departments' descriptions of plagiarism).  Academic misconduct occurs when the norms of inquiry are violated.  Examples include students who present false Doctors' notes, who pretend that they have a family or medical emergency, or who seriously hinder other students' scholarly activities.  I assign a course grade of F when I confront cases of plagiarism or academic misconduct, and I generally bring such students before the appropriate disciplinary body.  The University’s policies on Academic Misconduct and Code of Academic Integrity may be found on the FIU web-site. 

Penalties for such actions range from not being able to use the forgiveness policy to over-ride the failing grade, to dismissal from the University!  Students should not live under the illusion that it is difficult to prove plagiarism or misconduct.  Contemporary web-based search engines make it easier than it was ever before to detect such activities, and I routinely filter passages I am suspicious of through one or more such filters. 

Some Final Comments:

Many instructors allow late papers and willingly assign incomplete grades.  I am not one of them.  Extraordinary excuses are sometimes accepted.  It is assumed that papers will be handed in by the designated time on the due date.  On these points see the course syllabus. 

Please do not use fancy plastic binders (simply staple the pages together or use a paper clip). 

Your papers should be printed out double-spaced and it is also very helpful if you number your pages--it makes the commenting process easier on me.

I recommend the following writing resources:

Andrea Lunsford, The Everyday Writer FIU Edition (latest edition) (Bedford: St. Martins, [fourth edition was 2009])--available in the FU Bookstore. 

W. Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style (New York: Macmillan, 1959), and

B. Schneider and H. Tjossem, Themes and Research Papers (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1962). 

Notes: (click on note number to return to the text for the note)

1 Robert Nozick, The Nature of Rationality (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1993), p. 72.    

2 Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves (N.Y.: Viking, 2003), p. 6.  

Hauptli's Web-page 

File revised: 01/24/2014