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Philosophy Resources: Writing philosophy

What you need to know to do write philosophy papers and do research in philosophy at USD.

Getting help

Need help finding philosophy sources?

Contact the Philosophy Liaison, Kathleen McElhinney at or 605-658-3370.

Need Help with Writing?

Contact the Writing Center.

Writing guides

Need more detail? 

Check out these writing guides.

George Washington University's Guide to Writing a Philosophy paper

Writing a philosophy paper, from Simon Frasier University

NYU's Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper

North Carolina's How to Write a Philosophy Paper

General writing process

Writing a philosophy paper will probably be quite different from any other paper you've ever written.


A philosophy paper is about presenting an argument.  Argue for or against something, and support your position with logical reasons.


Pretend the person reading your paper will be a reasonably-intelligent person who does not know any philosophy, not your professor.  The point is to demonstrate what you know, not what your professor knows.


In philosophy, the structure of an argument is important.  Before writing sentences, thinking about the structure of your paper.  What is your thesis?  What points will you use to support your thesis?  Create an outline before starting to write and use it to guide your writing.  Your reader will be able to understand your argument much easier if the structure is obvious.

First Draft

Write a draft of your paper.  Let others read it. If they do not understand your argument, then you need to rewrite it. The goal is for a non-philosopher to understand your arguments.  Though your professor may be an expert on the subject you're writing on, s/he is looking for evidence that you understand the subject and your argument. 

Principle of Charity

When attempting to understand the viewpoints of others, if something is open to interpretation, choose the strongest possible interpretation.  This usually ends up working out in your favor.

Final rewrite

Once you have the basic argument, work on making your explanations complete but concise, and your grammar correct.

For more details on writing a philosophy paper, check the writing guides on this page.

What to avoid

Avoid falling into these traps:

  • Do not simply assert your opponent is wrong.  Explain why with reasons.
  • Do not appeal to emotion, tradition or faith.
  • Argue for or against something. No fence sitting.
  • Do not use long quotes. Keep quotes short and explain why they are relevant to your argument.
  • Keep your introduction short and focus on the arguments.  A long introduction just pads your paper's length.
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