"But Momma Never Told Me about Philosophy Papers"

Besides coming up with something interesting to think about and to say, there is one primary secret to writing a good philosophy paper. But it wouldn't be much of a secret if I told you, would it? No  ...wait ... it's clarity. Once you write a draft of your paper, you should reread it as if you were a Martian, or at least an incurable smart-aleck. You should ask: "Does this or that phrase literally and explicitly mean what I want to say, or am I hoping against all hope that the reader will make the right guesses?" "Assuming the reader wants to misunderstand me"--as, of course, graders typically do--"am I helping or even allowing this?" The best part of answering these questions is that you force yourself to write more, thereby killing off more pages. It's much better in a few short pages to make one small point very carefully--e.g., clearly to state and criticize one argument, and consider responses--than to panic and rambl e for even one of your paragraphs.

Also keep in mind that you are not at all expected in these few pages to advance a final conclusion for or against the big targets (e.g., whether or not stuff like this exists: souls, free will, machine thought, consciousness, the external world, ...). Unless you're able to invent some new-under-the-sun conclusive argument, this won't be possible. I do expect you to select one or two specific arguments, and either to defend them from one or two objections, or to defend the objections. This is important: you can write a valuable paper defending a claim from an objection even if you think other objections (may) spell doom for the claim. Similarly, you can press an objection against a claim, discussing how the objection survives a specific reply, even if you think other replies (may) work better. You're bound to find the papers less stressful if you don't think that they must contain the--or even your--final word on the central issues. Typically, progress in philosophy consists in hordes of people chipping away (either as vandals or as sculptors) at specific arguments, and letting the chips fall where they may. Why not sacrifice your ego for the cause? ("Better your ego than your grade", Momma always said.)

You may but needn't find some outside reading to supply yourself with arguments or counterarguments to evaluate. But this is not a book report. Nor is this a book report. Furthermore, it is something quite different than a book report.

A newspaper editorial is a better model. You select for discussion some position on an issue, and some reason for that position. Then you say whether this is a good reason for the position, and why. You scour a few interesting possible responses to what you said, and defend what you said from them. If you reach a standoff, you don't tear up your editorial, because there's a deadline to meet. Rather, you explain why there's a standoff, and speculate about what might be done to overcome it. Finally, as with any good editorial, there should be no lingerie advertisements anywhere on the page.

--Eric Lormand

Well, almost finally. If you don't have enough to keep in mind as is, you might take some selected grammatical advice from Fumblerules by (Nixon speechwriter, one of many right-wing editorialists for the "liberal" New York Times, capitalist-thug apologist, self-appointed Czar of the CIA-backed War on Bad Grammar) William Safire:

No sentence fragments. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read. A writer must not shift your point of view. Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed. Write all adverbial forms correct. In their writing, everyone should make sure that their pronouns agree with its antecedent. Use the semicolon properly, use it between complete but related thoughts; and not between an independent clause and a mere phrase. Don't use no double negatives. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: Resist hyperbole. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is. Avoid commas, that are not necessary. Verbs has to agree with their subjects. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. The passive voice should never be used. Writing carefully, dangling participles should be avoided. Unless you are quoting other people's exclamations, kill a ll exclamation points!!! Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. Use parallel structure when you write and in speaking. You should just avoid confusing readers with misplaced modifiers. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences--such as those of ten or more words--to their antecedents. Eschew dialect, irregardless. Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and don't mix metaphors. Don't verb nouns. Always pick on the correct idiom. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies. "Avoid overuse of ‘quotation "marks."'" Never use prepositions to end a sentence with. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.