How to Write a Philosophy Paper

Okay, so this assignment isn’t quite like writing a philosophy paper. Still, you’re probably freaking out about how you’re going to address all those questions in the span of three pages: don’t worry, it is possible! This very brief guide is intended to assuage some of those worries and make the task of writing this thing more manageable.

Below (under “Resources”) you will find a list of “seven deadly sins” that should be avoided when writing philosophy papers (or any paper really). You’ll also find an actual 3-page sample essay (responding to a different prompt) that received an “A” grade. Don’t copy this essay (obviously!) but do take a look at it and learn from it. Look at how the sentences are constructed, how the writer moves smoothly and eloquently from one topic to the next.

What’s Required of You

This isn’t the sort of paper where you debut your Big Philosophical Thoughts. Nor is it the place to flex your “philosophical originality.” This paper is about covering all the bases—answering each and every question the prompt demands—in a succinct and comprehensive way. Don’t go over the page limit no matter what you do. And don’t forget to respect the formatting style (11 pt, Calibri). Also, make sure you’ve titled your paper. Don’t go for that boring “Paper Assignment 1” business—put some care into it!

Packing so much content into a measly three pages is tough but it isn’t an excuse to skimp on grammar, toss style out the window, and write like a robot. On the contrary! In addition to being succinct, the paper should respond to each and every question in a cohesive, intelligible way. It should have a very short intro and (ideally) a very short conclusion. You don’t have to answer each question in the order it appears, but you should think carefully about how to structure the paper such that each question is addressed in a natural succession. (Here’s a list of transitional words and phrases.) So, don’t just write bullet points!

Imagine you’ve been assigned to write an introductory article on Nonexistence and Vagueness for a non-philosophical audience. Your editor says there is a strict three page limit. How do you write the article? Well, what do good introductory articles do? They strip things down, avoid jargon, and lead the philosophically uninitiated comfortably and carefully into uncharted territory. Try to keep this in mind as you write.

Philosophy is abstract stuff. And writing and explaining abstract stuff is hard. But this is a challenge for everyone—grads and professors included. It’s just hard to do these things. But there is immense value in doing them. Not only will your grasp of the subject matter deepen, but you’ll have taught someone else—your reader—something about it in the process.