Writing plays a critical role in philosophy where thinking is often very complicated and abstract. Writing actually makes thinking easier, helps clarify the ideas and is the principal way of communication between philosophers. In fact, doing philosophy means writing philosophical prose. That’s why writing philosophy papers is a key part of studying philosophy.
A philosophy research paper is probably the most extensive and important project in a philosophy class that often involves the use and effective synthesis of many of the advanced writing, analytical, and critical thinking skills because students need to examine and analyze information from a large variety of sources, including library research, using the internet scholarly sources, and often conversations with reliable authorities. Most students find writing philosophy research papers difficult. If you are one of them, keep reading. In this short philosophy research paper writing guide, you will find all you need to know in order to write an impressive philosophy research paper that will look like the sophisticated philosophical prose.
It’s a tricky question because philosophical writing differs from other writing. Your research paper is supposed to be a clear and concise piece of writing that explains a certain idea and defends an argument in an easy-to-understand way. You need to make a reasoned defense of some claim with evidence and persuade your audience to believe it. This evidence can’t be just someone’s opinions or other types of unsupported claims. Philosophers always look for reasons to believe something and the stronger the reasons are, the more likely they are to change their opinions or beliefs.
Typically, a philosophy research paper has to do at least one of the following things:
A philosophy research paper should be based on a thorough examination of at least 7-8 secondary sources that present comments of what other philosophers think about a particular issue. Only after an extensive research of the literature, will you be able to determine how philosophers differ in their views and how appropriate their interpretations are for your research paper.
Philosophy is a complicated subject and writing assignment can’t be completed in one night before your paper is due. Philosophical issues and problems demand careful and determined attention so you will need a lot of time to successfully cope with this task. You will need to do an extensive research, to digest the ideas you have read, to define your thesis, give an exposition of materials relevant to your topic, and come to the conclusion how a certain problem is resolved in the existing literature. You will need to give and analyze arguments and explanations, provide criteria for assessing how adequate competing positions are and document your research in an appropriate way.
If your professor has not given you a list of possible philosophy research paper topics to choose from, you should select a topic that you are passionate about. Your topics should not be too broad so that you could examine them thoroughly and they should not be too narrow so that it would be worth writing about them.
There are different strategies you can employ to devise your own topic when reading over the text.
If you lack experience in writing philosophy papers, it may be challenging to find a good topic that is worth your attention. Here are some examples of philosophy research paper topics you can use to get started.
After you have chosen your topic, you should start reading as much background material as you can. You can start looking for the resources for your paper at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Phil Papers, and the Philosopher’s Index. When reading secondary literature on your topic, you will be able to determine where to find the primary sources that you can quote in your research paper and provide your comments on them.
Even if you don’t use those ideas in your paper directly, you will get a better understanding of the problem and will be able to narrow your topic as much as possible. As you read, you should sort through your sources to discover which of them are the most relevant. First, you should skim through the articles to get the general sense of the argument and find the keywords.
Then you should read these articles carefully and make notes of the most important points in the authors’ arguments and some definitions that you may want to use in your paper. You should start formulating questions, analyze and evaluate the argument. You will need to decide whether you agree or disagree with the argument.
An outline is important to any type of research paper because it will guide your writing. First, you should clearly define your thesis statement and determine what evidence you will use to support your thesis. When making an outline, you should also determine the logical progression of your philosophy research paper and ensure that the order in which you present your argument makes sense.
Think about the structure of your paper. It will mainly depend on the assignment that may ask you to focus on a particular aspect but typically, you should subdivide your research paper into 3 equal parts and devote them to the following aspects:
When writing an introduction, you should be specific. Don’t start your paper with such empty generalities like: “Socrates was the greatest philosopher of ancient Greece and is considered the father of western philosophy.” Such sentences are irrelevant to a certain specific topic you are writing about. You should start with something like: “Socrates says that P. I find this claim convincing for the following reasons…”
All philosophy research papers must have clear introductions with a narrow scope. You should avoid dictionary definitions as well. It would be better just to tell your reader what your paper is about and why it is important.
When you write on text-focused research paper topics, you should introduce issues your research paper is concerned with. Next, you should inform your readers what you are going to do with these problems so you should provide a brief overview of the main points you will present in the main body, actually, you have to inform your audience about your research paper structure. Make sure that the structure of your research paper is obvious to your readers from the first paragraph.
You may express it like this: “In this paper, I will analyze Plato’s theory of beauty. I will offer 3 arguments to support my thesis. They are…”
In this way, you show your readers your research paper as an integrated whole and help them follow your argument because they will know what to expect. That’s why you should give them an idea of how you are going to answer the question.
The body of your research paper has to include all the information that is necessary to support your argument. In the body paragraphs, you should focus on exposition and evaluation. Make sure each paragraph is self-contained. Anyone should be able to choose a random paragraph and understand everything in it as a complete idea.
You should explain in detail all the evidence that you used to support your thesis. You need to explain why this evidence is relevant to you. When you summarize your argument, you should do your best to present a philosopher’s position using a simple language. In an exposition part of your research paper, you should also focus on defining the key terms and explaining how they relate to each other.
It’s important that you should have a good understanding of all the philosophic ideas you are discussing. You can’t criticize someone’s ideas if you don’t know them or don’t understand them. But don’t think that you need to provide explanations to everything that is known about this particular philosopher. Your assignment is to explain some points that are relevant to the topic of your research paper. If you provide too many details, your readers might get confused and may lose the point of your discussion somewhere in the process.
As you develop your argument, you should anticipate possible objections to your point of view and deal with each objection in at least a few lines. You should demonstrate that these objections are not fatal to your own argument.
When you explain the points of your argument, you should make sure that your readers are aware as you move from one point to another. To do that, you should use transition words, terms, and phrases that make the structure of your philosophy research paper obvious, for example, thus, because, consequently, since, however, on the other hand, nevertheless, it follows that, I will begin by, firstly, secondly etc.
The conclusion should be also brief and straightforward. You can just remind your readers what points you have covered in your research paper and restate your thesis. Besides, you can show some implications of your idea.
If you have developed a strong argument in your body paragraphs, you don’t always have to write a distinct conclusion, you can only state what your research paper has achieved. Besides, your research paper doesn’t necessarily have to conclude with a “solution” to an issue. You can just clarify a problem or an issue.
When your first draft is completed, put it aside for a couple of days and then revise its contents to fix weaknesses in the flow and the logic. Revision typically involves big changes. You may need to rewrite certain passages, sentences or find more precise words to express your ideas clearly and avoid ambiguity. Be ready that you may need to rewrite your draft more than once and make it shorter. If you do that, your paper is sure to improve significantly. Remember that the secret to good writing is in rewriting many times. Even a good paper can be improved greatly by rewriting it. When you eliminate unnecessary words, you clarify your ideas and make them sound more convincing. You should do your best to make your paper readable and precise.
When you feel you are satisfied with the contents, you need to proofread your philosophy research paper and correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes, if there are any. When you have finished proofreading, ask someone to read your paper to ensure that your errors or typos are left in it. You may also read your paper aloud or check your sentences when you read backward. They say you will easier notice some mistakes.
Make sure there is no plagiarism in your research paper. Give credit to all your sources and make sure all quotes are properly referenced according to a specific citation style required by your instructor. That’s it – the tough job is done!