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ESSAY WRITING HANDBOOK FOR PHILOSOPHY STUDENTS Prepared by Department of Philosophy York University NOTE: This handout is required reading for all students. Part I is a guide to writing a proper essay for a philosophy course. Part II is meant as a corrective to errors frequently found in student papers. You should become thoroughly familiar with the guidelines presented here, and you should check that your written assignments conform to them before you hand in your work. PART I: ANALYTIC AND ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAYS Essays written for philosophy courses must be analytic or argumentative. An analytic essay is one in which you restate in your own words the argument—the line of reasoning from premises to conclusion—of an important passage of philosophy. In so doing, you show that you understand the structure of the argument. An argumentative essay is one in which you aim to convince the reader of the truth of an opinion or position. Usually, this will require analyzing arguments for other, competing opinions or positions (i.e., the counter-arguments against your position), and demonstrating that they are weaker than the arguments for your position. Thus argumentative essays include (indeed depend on) philosophical analysis, whereas analytic essays are not necessarily argumentative (unless you are called upon to evaluate critically the argument you are explicating). 1. The Analytic Essay Read through the assigned passage of philosophy whose argument you are to explicate at least once before you begin writing. (It not only helps but often is necessary for you to have read the material preceding the passage.) Then try to isolate the principal claims(s) or conclusion(s), and the line of reasoning used by the author to support the claim(s) or conclusion(s). In doing this you may have to use your judgement as to what is central and what is tangential or peripheral to the philosopher’s position. You are interested in the former. To show that you understand what is going on, it always helps if you can illustrate the main points, especially the main distinctions, with clear examples of your own, that is, ones other than those used by the author. In writing up your results, avoid close paraphrase of the text: there is a difference between an analytic description and a close paraphrase of a passage of expository prose. Furthermore, though quotations can be helpful, do not quote unless you make clear that you understand what you are quoting. (See also the discussion below of quotation in argumentative essays.) Students often quote from hard passages because they do not understand them and this detracts from the paper. It is far better to try to work out a plausible interpretation of what is going on and to present it in your own words, than to feign understanding by the device of quotation. Finally, be as clear as you can. A helpful
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2 guideline is to write as if you were explaining the passage to an intelligent and interested person who has not read the text. 2.
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This note was uploaded on 02/02/2012 for the course PHIL 110 taught by Professor Errinclark during the Spring '11 term at MO St. Louis.

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