Writing Tips

  • When explaining arguments, avoid narrative reconstructions. You want to explain how the premises are logically connected; you don't want to merely summarize the presentation. Arguments are not stories.
  • Write in the present tense about stories and arguments: "The play begins"; not "The play began." "X argues"; not "X argued."
  • Avoid the expressions "I believe" and especially "I feel"; say "I think" or, even better, "I will argue". We don't so much care what you believe, but why you believe it. That is, we want to know your reasons for believing something.
  • Keep yourself out of the way. It's typically unnecessary to say "I think." It's assumed. You are the author of the paper, aren't you?
  • Don't bury the lead. State the issue clearly. Make your thesis explicit. Explain the general structure of your argument up front.
  • Theories don't argue, people do. People argue for theories, claims, and positions.
  • Make sure the logical flow of your argument is explicit.
  • Clarity is your first priority. Ideally, every sentence would be impossible for an intelligent, attentive reader to misunderstand.
  • Truth does not mean the same thing as "reality."
  • Avoid empty qualifiers.
  • Don't double and triple. Pick an adjective.
  • Avoid long winded introductions that try to explain the significance of an issue throughout the ages.
  • Make sure that your pronouns are not ambiguous. Don't carry a pronoun reference into a new paragraph.
  • Validity is a technical term (in philosophy) that only applies to arguments, not claims or theories. A valid argument is one where the conclusion follows from the premises. A sound argument is a valid argument whose premises are all true.
  • Make sure that the transition between paragraphs is smooth.
  • Avoid the passive voice. Write active, direct sentences.
  • Keep your paragraphs a manageable size. A page is too long.
  • Write complete sentences.
  • Keep parenthetical comments to a minimum.
  • Spell names consistently (and correctly).
  • Use quotes as evidence of what someone thinks. You should rarely, if ever, use quotes to speak for you. All quotes must be explained.
  • Follow the instructions. If the paper topic asks you to answer a question, make sure that your answer is stated clearly.
  • Read your papers our loud. Revise any awkward sounding sentences.
  • Avoid "actually." It's the new "like."
  • Only use "like" to express similarity. Use "such as" to introduce a qualifying example.
  • Avoid "being." It almost always ruins sentences.