Writing a philosophy paper can be a challenging task, especially if you have never written one before. This step-by-step guide is designed to help you through the writing process.
Step One: Choose a Topic!
Your professor may assign you a particular topic on which to write, or they may have you choose from a list of topics. Either way, when you have your topic, you are ready to move on to the next step.
Step Two: Gather Resources!
The books and articles that you will need to write your topic on may be provided by your professor. If not, you’ll have to do some research.
If you know, or have a pretty good idea of, which articles and books you’ll have to read for your paper, you’ll want to check our library’s catalog to see if we carry the books or ebooks that you need. You’ll also want to check our library’s electronic resources for the journal articles that you’re looking for. Your best bets for finding journal articles in philosophy are Academic Search Ultimate and Philosopher’s Index. You may also find the books or articles that you need at one of the databases listed on our other resources tab. Note that you may have to order books or articles through Interlibrary Loan, so it is best to start your research as early as possible.
If you are not sure which articles or books are out there on your topic, there are some great online resources that can help you browse. For general overviews and bibliographies for most topics in philosophy, your best bets are the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. For lists and descriptions of, and links to, recent works on particular topics in philosophy, try browsing Philpapers, using their Topics drop down menu.
Step Three: Read!
Once you’ve gathered all of your resources, your task now is to read them carefully to figure out what you’ll need from each book or article to write your paper. Need help reading difficult philosophical texts? Here is a helpful guide.
Step Four: Decide on a Thesis!
Your professor may already have assigned a particular thesis for you to explore or defend in your paper. If not, you’ll have to decide that based on your research. Which author that you’ve read, or view that you’ve read about, do you think has it right? Which author that you’ve read, or view that you’ve read about, do you think has it wrong? You may find that your thesis shifts a bit while you are writing your paper, but it is best to have a clear focus as you begin the writing process.
Step Five: Outline your Paper!
The general structure of your paper should follow the basic Introduction/Body/Conclusion model. In the introduction, you’ll provide enough context to introduce your thesis and then you’ll introduce that thesis. In the body of your essay, you’ll provide the main arguments or evidence that you will offer in support of your thesis. Try numbering your main claims or the stages of your main argument and designate a paragraph (or two) of your essay to each. In the conclusion, you’ll summarize your paper and offer any suggestions for further avenues of research or further questions that still need to be answered.
Step Six: Write a Draft!
Once you’ve outlined your ideas, you’re ready to write a first draft. Need help getting started with writing a philosophy paper? Here is a helpful guide.
Step Seven: Get Feedback!
Once you have a draft, try to get feedback on what you have so far. Your professor might be willing to look at a draft of your paper, or discuss it with you in person. You might also ask one or more of your peers to read through your draft and offer suggestions. Try reading the paper aloud. This might help you notice any clumsy locutions or grammatical errors.
Step Eight: Revise!
After receiving suggestions from either your professor or a friend (or both), revise your paper accordingly. These revisions could be minor, and so you might be able to finish this step pretty quickly. But some revisions might require you to go back and reconfigure or add something to your outline. So make sure you leave enough time for these sorts of revisions.
Step Nine: Finalize and Submit!
Fill in all citations and complete your bibliography. After that, the paper is done. Find out how your professor wants you to submit your paper and turn it in. That’s it!