TIPS FOR WRITING PHILOSOPHY ESSAYS, TESTS, AND EXAMS From Anjan Chakravartty Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology U of Toronto For those of you with experience in writing philosophy, the following is probably familiar, but as a reminder (and for those of you who haven?t done much or any philosophy before), here are a few tips. I. Writing philosophy 1. Clarity. Believe it or not, the most serious difficulty facing philosophical communication is the challenge of figuring out what the author is trying to say. Express your ideas as clearly as possible. Remember that the reader doesn?t have access to the hours of mental processing that has led to your point, so put yourself in her shoes when you explain it. Put it in your own words, even when discussing someone else?s views (but remember to cite them!). Be as precise as you can. Define your terms. Use examples. Come at it from different perspectives and say it in different ways. 2. Style & Content. Style is a personal thing, and different styles are compatible with good writing. But here are a few suggestions (aside from the basic prerequisites of good spelling and grammar!). Make the thesis and the structure of your essay transparent (i.e. spell it out in your introduction, remind the reader at each stage where you have come from and where you are going, and make reference to it in your conclusion). Describe the problem at hand, defining key terms to avoid ambiguity. Consider the relevant views of authors you have read, weighing their strengths and weaknesses. Argue for a particular thesis by explaining considerations that support it, and defend it against possible criticisms. If possible, argue for your own position, which may be a variation on something you have already mentioned, or something different altogether. Don?t try to do too much. A tightly focused essay that goes into depth is much better than one that touches on many views and/or authors superficially. And remember: when you use other people?s words or ideas (whether your are quoting or just paraphrasing), always cite them in a footnote and list the text in your bibliography. 3. Tricks of the Trade. Use examples to clarify your point, and to help convince the reader that you are right. Often there are standard examples used in the literature, but feel free to make up your own. Give counterexamples to show that a position must be on the wrong track. Every time you (or an author you are discussing) makes a claim, think about what could be said in response, and then what could be said in response to that (and so on, and so on). For every claim, think: ?Why does this (or does this not) makes sense??, and try the same thing on your answers. One common way to argue against something is to show that it is inconsistent (i.e. that it says contradictory things, or that it has consequences that contradict one another). To argue for something, try showing that it follows from reasonable assumptions, or that if it weren?t the case, unreasonable consequences would result. These are but a few of the clever tricks philosophers use. ?2 2 4. What Makes a Good Essay. A good essay is one that has a clear thesis, clear arguments supporting it and defending it from possible criticisms, and a well thought out structure that is obvious throughout. When considering other people?s views, always use the principle of charity (i.e. interpret them in the most reasonable, defensible way possible that is consistent with what they say). Moving from a good exposition of the material to something original is what sets the best essays apart. This is not as difficult as it sounds ? originality can be demonstrated in many simple ways. You might make an interesting distinction. You might show that views that seem similar in some respects are in fact quite different in others, or vice versa. You might combine elements of other people?s views in a novel way. II. Writing tests and exams This advice really applies to essay-style tests and exams. When you get the test or exam paper, read it through completely first and pick your questions. If the questions have equal value, be strict and allow yourself no more than an equal amount of time per question. (Three good answers is better than two great answers and one on which you ran out of time and said nothing, for example). At the beginning of each question, don?t rush in: take some time to map out your response first, thinking about the overall structure of your answer (i.e. which arguments you will write about and in what order), and then follow your outline. Make sure that you answer the question asked; do not merely spew out something related. This is extremely important, and not that difficult to do: spend some time addressing the question by showing that you know the relevant arguments from class and/or the readings, and then tailor your arguments to answering the question asked. In general, you will get credit for addressing the question, showing that you know the standard arguments for and/or against, clear and well-organized writing, and especially, after all that, some original thought on your part for a substantial part of your answer. Some more resources: http://www.princeton.edu/~jimpryor/general/writing.html http://www.cogsci.ed.ac.uk/~ddb/teaching/vade-mecum/4-1.htm http://www.philosophypages.com/sy.htm#exa Anjan Chakravartty TIPS FOR WRITING PHILOSOPHY ESSAYS, TESTS, AND EXAMS
Want to see the other 2 page(s) in TIPS FOR WRITING PHILOSOPHY ESSAYS, TESTS, AND EXAMS?JOIN TODAY FOR FREE!