I am currently completely reorganizing and updating this page. Please pardon any incompleteness, mess, or broken links. Please feel welcome to comment (bottom of page) with any recommendations or other helpful resources.
Introduction: This page includes a number of resources I’ve collected from across the web and elsewhere regarding how to prepare to write a philosophy paper assignment, and to improve one’s writing. It is important to note, however, that these resources are meant to help you succeed within the confines of what has been historically considered good writing in philosophy. As many have acknowledged, and as you’ve likely seen throughout our courses, the history of philosophy is one of disproportionate overrepresentation of privileged identity groups at the exclusion of many other voices, narratives, and ways of knowing. The status quo understanding of what is and should be considered “philosophy”, “philosophical methodology”, or “good philosophy”, has been increasingly challenged in the discipline (but this is not to say the challenge is new).
Nonetheless, there are better and worse ways of doing certain kinds of writing and thinking, and these resources should help identify ways to help you improve within standard courses. I share these resources specifically to help with your assignments in the context of our courses together, where expectations will be outlined in class and should largely align with the advice provided here. But, if you feel that these links do not describe a familiar way of thinking, of method, or of writing, do not be discouraged. There is an increasing need to challenge and expand the ways in which we approach philosophical thinking in academia and more widely. The problems students face are important in that they often reveal the ways our discipline has failed to be inclusive and the ways we (including me, your TA) need to work toward better supporting you in the future. Our research and inquiries can only be enriched by difference.
- Table of contents: (need to set values)
- Should I use a click-to-expand list?
- Re categorize chronologically? Prior to assignment (circumstances, health and wellness, outlining, familiarity with readings), planning and writing (how to structure, conciseness, biases, fallacies, citing), editing?
- Categorize based on students Qs? (how do i cite? I don’t understand readings. How can I make best use of word limits? )
Different thoughts on how to read philosophy
There are many different reading strategies, and different people with different learning styles may benefit from one approach rather than another. Most of these guides have similar thoughts on how to read philosophy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the one right or best way for you. If you are having difficulties with texts, though, I do suggest you try these strategies, and especially to try and read the David Concepcion paper to see why learning how to read philosophy (and why these strategies in particular) is helpful.
- Some good friends of mine have some thoughts [here]
- Jeff McLaughlin has some thoughts [here]
- Jim Pryor has more than a few [here]
- And David Concepcion has a published paper about the importance
of learning how to read philosophy (with a guide and tips on how to
actually do that!) available [here]
Help and guides for preparing a philosophy paper
Note, as with above, there is no singular right way to write a philosophy paper, and these guides in particular may not be helpful in the same way for everyone. You are encouraged to meet with your TA or Instructor, and I highly recommend also the essay clinic (item 5) which can help with guiding your thoughts. Having these guides and strategies in mind should help you understand what people’s expectations usually are, even if this is not how you would yourself prefer to write your paper. Remember to negotiate your own preferences with assignment instructions always.
- Peter Horban of SFU has a guide [here]
- Jim Pryor of NYU’s guide is pretty famous [here]
- A long but comprehensive guide from Harvard [here]
- And a shorter version of the Harvard guide is [here]
- UofT St George Campus also has a dedicated philosophy essay clinic, with details [here]*
*note: does not typically operate in the summer
- Info on UTSC and UTM writing TA
- UTSC has a helpful assignment planner/calculator tool [here]
English writing support
UofT has a number of different support services to help multilingual students and other students who are working to become stronger writers in English.
(links: ASC, ELL, communication cafe, First Nations House)
Tips specifically on writing clearly and concisely
One problem philosophers often face is how to keep their writing concise, to avoid redundancies, and how to be as clear and unambiguous as possible. There are many different reasons that this can be problems for people: the way we were taught to write in highschool or other disciplines, English not being a primary language, casual language use in real life, etc. To try and avoid these problems, even if you don’t think this is a problem for you (usually we are unaware), try reading through the first two links. And, feel encouraged to make use of our writing centres for clarity and grammar.
- Tips from Wisconsin’s writing centre [here]
- And from Purdue’s online writing lab [here]
- UofT St George Campus has several writing centres and resources [here]*
*the philosophy essay clinic is good for content and structure, these
are good for grammar, clarity, and form.
Lists of fallacies to try and avoid
Fallacies are bad forms of arguing that will undermine your attempts to convincingly argue for a conclusion. Knowing what fallacies are will help you to try and avoid them when you are learning how to argue and when you are writing your assignments. The different sites below are good introductions to fallacies as such. Cognitive biases are not themselves necessarily fallacious forms of reasoning, but they may lead us to make invalid or unsound inferences.
- The “your fallacy is” website [here]
- Wikipedia’s list of fallacies [here]
- Some “B-List” fallacies for common argumentation [here]
- And the logical fallacies dot info website [here]
- And here are some cognitive biases which affect the way we think [here]
Why and how to cite
You’ll likely find that most philosophy professors don’t have a preference on how you cite your materials, as long as you do so in a clear and precise manner. This means you can use any of available styleguides (CMoS, APA, MLA, or whatever is par in your home discipline), or maybe even make up your own! No matter which guide you’re using, your citations should be precise: this usually means referring to a specific page numbers and editions, even if your guidebook doesn’t usually require you to. Below are some links and resources to different styleguides & resources.
- A good explanation of how and why to cite even when not quoting is [here]
- I have a handout on how and why to cite, and you can see the pdf [here]
- The Chicago Manual of Style (CMos; I recommend author-date format) styleguide is: [here]
- The American Psychological Association (APA) web resource is [here]
- The Modern Language Association of America (MLA) has a web resource [here]
- Overall, the Purdue website is really good at collecting and explaining these three main styleguides [here]
- You can try to use web generators to put bibliographies/works cited together for you, like [this one], but be careful, since they don’t always work properly, and won’t give you in-line citations.
Some helpful online encyclopedias and dictionaries
Most of these give a really good introduction & survey of the literature on topics, and are usually commissioned pieces. This tends to mean the entries are more authoritative than (eg) Wikipedia, but may also mean that some authors’ biases can creep in. These are in general good resources for overviews on topics, though, and have good bibliographies for further reading.
- The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) is really great [here]
- As is the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) [here]
Beyond the assignment: your health and wellbeing
Writing assignments can be difficult in and of themselves, but not all difficulties in writing come from writing. Personal circumstances, health, wellbeing, all impact the writing process directly or indirectly, and having assignments can impact your circumstances, heath, and wellbeing. It is important to recognize the relationships between our academic life in coursework, and our personal life which permeates all we do. And it is important to support both the writing and the conditions in which we write. Below are a few links to services offered by UofT’s downtown campus and surrounding area. I have a few links for UTM and UTSC in their respective categories, but am not yet too familiar with them: please contact me if you have any recommendations here.
>>>>Computer labs near campus?
>>> Campus UTSU food bank?
Reading and writing resources at UTM
E&Div Centre, Health&Counselling, Peer Health Ed, Robert Gillespie academic skills centre, academic culture and english program, centre for student engagement, AccessAbility.
Reading and writing resources at UTSC
English Lang Dev Centre, Writing Centre, Dept of SL, AccessAbility, Equity&Div Centre, H&W Centre.
Some university policies on conduct, integrity, and plagiarism
The university has clear guidelines on your responsibilities as a student in the classroom and in writing and submitting your assignments. In all courses, it is expected that you have read and abide by these policies, and there may be strict penalties, punishments, or other consequences for students who don’t follow those policies (and some are quite severe). You may want to review some of the policies, guidelines, and resources before starting on your papers and other assignments.