Essay Writing Tips

14Feb08

As it is reading week next week, many of you will no doubt be in the process of working on your second round of coursework. Bearing the way you approached the first essay in mind, here are some general tips that you might find helpful:

  • Think carefully about how you are going to answer the question, and sketch a plan before you start writing. This will help you define the aims of your paper and help you to be selective about the material you will cover..
  • Don’t rely on the Internet! Of course, you are expected to do your own research, but base your papers around reading material from the course outline.
  • Get your concepts right: use philosophical dictionaries or encyclopedias for help
  • Use quotes to support your interpretation of what a philosopher says or stands for.
  • Be alert to different ways of reading the same text.
  • Don’t just regurgitate everything you know about a particular subject: stay focused.
  • Similarly, don’t quote lectures, seminars or handouts: they are there to help your research, not replace it.
  • Show that you have a good understanding of the question and the literature you are dealing with.
  • Identify the assumptions that you yourself are bringing to the issue. Could your position be strengthened?
  • Break down and reconstruct difficult passages. This can often be a good way to identify holes in an argument.
  • If some of your text is not relevant, take it out.
  • Once you finish a first draft, rewrite the introduction so it fits with your conclusion.
  • Consider showing your work to a fellow student before you hand it in. We often spot mistakes in the work of others when we find it hard to see them in our own.

You can find the Department of Philosophy’s detailed guide to writing essays at:
http://www.essex.ac.uk/philosophy/restricted/writing_philosophical_essays.pdf.

You might also find the following websites useful:
http://www.sfu.ca/philosophy/writing.htm
http://www.herts.ac.uk/philosophy/Essay_Writing.html
http://www.philosophy.unimelb.edu.au/subjects/assessment/guide.html
http://www.utexas.edu/courses/hilde/Philhandouts/Writing_Philosophy(Myers).html

It is imperative that you reference correctly and thoroughly, and ensure that your work conforms to academic standards. Guides for two common referencing styles can be found at:
http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Chicago-Turabianstyle.pdf
http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/APAstyle.pdf

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