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The Papers...

The paper writing tips below are designed to articulate the scope and requirements for all papers in PHIL 211-51. Be sure to look at the grading rubric near the bottom of this page so that you know how your work is being evaluated..

Step 1 - Basic Resources:

Paper Writing Tips

The following notes are designed to get you started on writing the two philosophy papers due during the semester. While there are no absolute rules for great writing, some basics must be followed to make a paper readable. 

Citing Sources: You will be held accountable for citing all sources used in your paper including our class text, films, internet sites, photos and other research texts. Papers without adequate citations will receive a 10% grade penalty. Papers without bibliographies will incur an additional 25% grade penalty. That's a whopping 35% penalty so document your sources well!

Here are links to excellent sites that give advice on how to write a paper in philosophy:

  1. Dr. James Pryor from Princeton University publishes a short "how-to" site for writing philosophy papers @ It is absolutely the best paper writing information you can find on the web.
  2. The next site is entitled Writing in Philosophy and it is designed by Will Buschert who teaches at the University of Toronto. Be sure to check out the advice section for helpful tips on putting your paper together.
  3. Research & Writing: This site takes you through the process of writing a research paper step-by-step

Submitting Your Paper in D2L -Help:

You are required to submit your paper two ways:

  1. For detailed help with D2L, please see Clarion's D2L help site here.


Paper Structure - General Guidelines:


Citing Sources:

You are responsible for citing sources in you paper each time you either summarize or quote the ideas of another author. Below are three examples taken from our course:Example #1 Citing an Internet web site or source found on the Internet:

Example #2 Citing Plato's works:

Example #3 Citing works from our class text, Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy

Example #4 Citing works from our class lectures.

Doing a bibliography:

Every research paper should include a bibliography page; some instructors call this a "Works Cited" page, but the content is the same. Note that a bibliography is quite different from a citation and both should appear in your paper.

Here are three of the most common bibliographical entries you will use in our course.

Example #1 Internet web site or source found on the Internet:

Example #2 Bibliography for Plato's works:

Example #3 Bibliography for our class text, Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy

Example #4 Bibliography for class lectures

Getting Started: Do's & Don't's...

§ Write down any ideas you are having about writing on the subject at hand. The 80's catch word for this activity was "brainstorming" and it signaled us not to worry - at least initially - about the order/organization of ideas.

è Write down ALL IDEAS you are having about the texts/films you are using in your paper. This allows you to see how you are thinking about what you've heard and seen. Often topics will emerge, you will begin to see a certain consistency in your ideas/opinions.

è Don't stare at a blank sheet of paper or an empty computer screen and try to write in an orderly fashion. The object of the game is free writing which means considering many tangents that don't seem to fit together.

§ Look for patterns, similarities or frequent ideas that arise during brainstorming. These recurring ideas can provide the basis for your thesis statement and make the extra time worthwhile.

è Themes/central ideas can come from any number of places. Your reflections on the material to be considered offer a way for you to interpret the material.

è Was there one central thing in the movie/text, one word/line that moved you?

§ Look at the topic assignment or question you are to answer in your paper for clues as to how you should proceed.

è Often an assignment contains information about what is to be addressed and how you should approach the essay.

è Big clue words are analyze, summarize, compare-contrast, illustrate, prove, describe, etc. All of these words lay out a specific task that must be completed during the course of your paper. These directive words can provide you with a way to organize your ideas.

Write the Body First:

§ Thesis Statement

è You will always have to provide a guiding statement for your paper. Generally this statement is an argument addressed in a text or movie. You should be able to sum up your position in one sentence. If you are having trouble, you may have to think through your position in more detail.

è Write the thesis statement and be sure it expresses your central idea in a clear, articulate manner. The reader should be able to see what you are arguing for/against or how you believe ideas, texts, or movies are connected just from reading this sentence. The thesis statement is your launching pad.

§ Prove the thesis - first draft

è Begin to make your argument. List details you will concentrate on, why these elements are important, and how they support your position.

è Just write, even if your argument sounds awkward. This is only a first draft. Don't be concerned with eloquent phrasing; get the ideas "out there" on paper. You can edit later.

§ Write a preliminary conclusion.

è This is double check on your argument. It forces you to go back and be sure that you have proven/illustrated the point made in your thesis. If you find that you have followed another tangent altogether, this gives you a chance to adjust the focus of your paper and to change your thesis statement to support the project you've already completed.

è This activity also reveals important information you may have ignored during your analysis. If you promise - deliver.

The following is a list of Do’s & Don’ts that were adapted from the UC Davis web site. I’ve edited and rearranged them into a more readable list. Although the list is not comprehensive, it adequately addresses many of the difficulties students face in writing academic papers.

Things to Do

  • Use standard language.
  • Frame the nature of the philosophical problem clearly. For example, "Anyone claiming to know about a certain kind of thing ought to be able to say what kind of thing it is. . . ."
  • Stick to the issues mentioned in the paper assignment.
  • Give reasons for any opinion you express. "I find Plato's solution to the problem of what makes a thing what it is to be inadequate. To say that piety itself is what makes a pious act pious does not really answer the question. It invites the further question, what makes piety itself pious? Is it yet another form? I do not see how such a question could be answered finally."
  • Back up your description of the philosopher's position by use of quotations from the text. Parenthetical page references to the text are sufficient in lieu of footnotes. For example, "According to Plato, the ability to state what makes something the kind of thing it is has practical consequences. Socrates insisted on this point when he said to Euthyphro, 'If you had no clear knowledge of piety and impiety you would never have ventured to prosecute your old father for murder on behalf of a servant.' (15d, 22)."
  • Use your own words to paraphrase what an author says.
  • Provide sufficient detail on all points, so that the instructor can recognize your mastery of them.
  • Write economically. Make the paper just long enough to complete the required tasks and no longer. If you deviate significantly from the suggested length, consider whether you have said too much or left something out.
  • Present the material in the form of arguments. One way of looking at an argument is as the defense of a conclusion by appeal to premises which are uncontroversial. In the Euthyphro, Plato uses arguments of this form: If your understanding of the nature of piety is correct, then it has such-and-such consequences. But these consequences are unacceptable. So piety is not what you said it is. Euthyphro agrees to the two premises (i.e., about what follows from Euthyphro's account and about the unacceptability of the consequences), so he is forced to accept the conclusion. One criticizes an argument by showing that the conclusion does follow from the premises, or by disputing one of the premises themselves. For example, "Socrates demanded that Euthyphro tell him what makes something pious. If he could not do this, then he does not know about piety. But Euthyphro was able to recognize a common characteristic of pious acts, such as being loved by all the gods, so he could at least justifiably claim to know which acts are pious."
  • Explain any technical terms when you introduce them. For example, "The ontological argument is an attempt to prove that God exists simply from the definition or idea of God."



Things to Avoid

  • Do not bring in extraneous details about the context in which the works were written. For example, "Socrates was a philosopher who lived in Athens, spending much of his time in the marketplace discussing ..."
  • Do not go off on a tangent.
  • Do not throw out opinions casually. Example. "Anybody can see that Socrates was being unfair to Euthyphro. I do not blame him for walking out; I would have done the same thing. In fact, I think philosophy is just a big scam."
  • Do not make undocumented claims about what any of the authors wrote.
  • Do not use the words of others without quotation. One good way to recognize when you are plagiarizing is to notice any change of style, say some sentences which use a lot of words you do not use ordinarily, or whose grammatical structure is very different from your own.
  • Do not neglect to address all points in the paper topic in detail.
  • Do not pad your paper or eliminate vital parts to get it to the suggested length.
  • Do not simply write down a bunch of logically unconnected statements or assertions. For example, "Euthyphro said that piety is doing what he is doing. Socrates said he was wrong. Euthyphro agreed, and he tried again, saying that piety is what is loved by the gods. The second account wasn't any good either, so he tried a few more. Finally, he gave up."
  • Do not use colloquial language to make a point. For example, "Euthyphro's first definition of piety was totally lame."
  • Do not confuse technical language with ordinary language. For example, Plato's use of 'form' is different from ordinary use, in which it means 'shape.'

Grading Rubric:

The table below summarize my method for evaluating your journals. When you read the table, it should be easy for you to see the criteria necessary for receiving various letter grades.



  • Exceeds minimum requirement for length
  • Content includes references and quotes to the material covered in the readings
  • Material summarized or quoted from a primary or secondary source is cited properly.
  • Student actively interprets material and devises original philosophical positions/solutions by synthesizing the new material with personal views & backing those views with factual evidence (properly cited & documented).
  • Student creatively introduces nuances/various possibilities for answering the journal question at hand.
  • Student makes additional references to contemporary situations taken from current events and applies reading material to these situations.
  • No grammar, punctuation, usage or spelling errors


  • Exceeds minimum requirement for length
  • Content includes references and quotes to the material covered in the readings
  • Material summarized or quoted from a primary or secondary source is cited properly.
  • Student actively interprets material and devises original philosophical positions/solutions by synthesizing the new material with personal views & backing those views with factual evidence (properly cited & documented).
  • Less than three (3) grammar, punctuation, usage or spelling errors


  • Meets minimum requirement for length
  • Content includes references to the material covered in the readings.  Views are supported with factual evidence that is properly cited/documented
  • Material summarized or quoted from a primary or secondary source is cited properly.
  • Less than three (3) grammar, punctuation, usage or spelling errors


  • Barely meets minimum requirements
  • Content does not reference readings or use quotes or factual, documented evidence  to support student's position
  • No citations or quotes
  • At least three (3) grammar, punctuation, usage or spelling errors


  • Does not meet minimum requirements
  • More than five (5) grammar, punctuation, usage or spelling errors

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