RAINBOLT'S GUIDE TO PHILOSOPHY AND PHILOSOPHY PAPERS

Stolen with some adaptations from: George Rainbolt's PHY 376 Syllabus



PAPERS

One of the best ways to test a student's ability to think clearly is to assign a paper. Moreover, the writing process itself encourages one to think clearly. For these reasons a student's grade in this course will rest heavily on papers. Here are some things to keep in mind when writing papers for this course.

Topic: The paper must 1) be on the issue specified on the assignment schedule, 2) disagree with at least one claim made by at least one author we have read and 3) make an argument. These are the only topic requirements. Exceptions to 2) may be made with my advance permission.

Research: You are responsible for all the material covered in the readings and in class. That is all the research you are required to do. (But failing to consider material covered in the course that is relevant to your topic is a very common problem with papers.) This is not a research paper. I am looking for your ability to think, not your ability to do research. On the other hand, if an argument in your paper relies on a certain fact, you need to look up and cite this information. For example, if your argument relies on the claim that most abortions are performed in the first trimester, you would need to cite your source for this information.

Audience: Don't write the paper as if the only reader of it is me. Write the paper as if your audience were the members of the class. This means that you should not simply refer to the readings. You need to explain them as if you were explaining them to someone in the class who read them a while back but has not chosen the same topic you did. Also, remember that the whole point of a philosophy paper is to convince someone who disagrees with the view you are defending. Think of and respond to possible objections that such a person would make.

Sexist language: It is now standard academic practice to avoid the use of the masculine pronoun to refer to people of indefinite gender. Students should do so as well. Unfortunately, most of the common solutions to this problem (e.g. using "s/he," "he/she," or "his or her") are awkward and tedious. I suggest that you alternate the use of the masculine and feminine pronoun. For example, suppose that you discuss a doctor, a lawyer and an accountant in your paper, that all of these people are of indefinite gender and that you refer to them in the order just given. Use "she" for the doctor, then "he" for the lawyer and then "she" the accountant. Do not switch back and forth between "she" and "he" when referring to one person of indefinite gender. (While we may not know the gender of a person, we can assume that it does not rapidly switch back and forth.) Do not use "man," "men," or "mankind" to refer to humans. Use "people" or "humans" instead. When you give people names in your examples, half the people should be female and half male. (Do not worry about this too much. It is not a grading criteria.)

Rough drafts: Writing and rewriting is crucial to writing well. Therefore I am more than happy to read and comment on as many rough drafts as you turn in.

Physical aspects--traditional papers: Papers, including rough drafts, must be type written--no exceptions. They should be double-spaced on opaque paper. Do not use erasable or onion-skin paper. The first page of your paper must be a title page. It should contain only the title, your name, the course number and name, my name and the date. Your name should not appear anywhere else in the paper so that I can grade it without knowing who the author is. Text should begin on the next page. This page is numbered one and must repeat the title as a heading. Leave a margin of one inch all around the text to allow room for comments. Do not put your paper in any sort of binder, cover or folder. Simply staple it in the upper left hand corner. Your paper should be proofread and neat. You may make occasional corrections in ink. But if you find yourself making more than three such corrections on a page, you must retype the pages in question. (It is a good idea to keep a photocopy of your paper. I get a couple hundred papers a year so I'm bound to lose one every now and then.)

Plagiarism and citation: Students are expected to turn in only their own work. All quotes and uses of the ideas of others must be cited. If you have someone help you on your paper and they give you some ideas, you must cite them. (You do not have to cite them if they only give you grammar, spelling, punctuation, clarity or organizational help.) I do not care which of the standard citation formats (Chicago, MLA, Social Science, etc.) you use. Do not change citation formats in the middle of the paper. For citations to the reading materials assigned for this class you may either put in complete citation or simply put the page number in parentheses like this: (p. XXX). Remember, when it doubt, cite it.

Grading: The following factors will figure into the grade: 1) soundness of the arguments presented, 2) originality of the arguments presented, 3) accuracy when stating the views of others, 4) clarity, 5) organization and 6) spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Style: It is very difficult to evaluate ideas apart from the manner in which they are expressed. Therefore, students should pay close attention to organization, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and, above all, clarity of exposition. I offer the following general and incomplete comments on writing style.
1. Choose a clear, informative title. Do not be cute.
2. Begin with a clear statement of what you will argue for and how you will argue for it. Merely saying what question you will discuss is not a thesis statement. The thesis statement should say what your answer to that question is.
3. Present and explain views before you criticize them. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of your paper should be devoted to presenting the view to which you will object.
4. Proceed in a clear, organized fashion. Make sure the reader knows the point under discussion and how this point fits into the paper as a whole.
5. Make sure you give arguments for your view. Do not simply state your opinion--argue for it.
6. Pronouns need clear referents. Do not let the reader wonder what "she," "he," "they," "this," or "that" refer to.
7. Be sure that if an objection to your view was presented in class or in the readings, you have presented and responded to this objection.
8. Make sure you know how to use quotation marks. Students often misuse (i.e. overuse) them. Quotation marks are used ONLY:
1) to indicate that the words inside the quotation marks are the exact words of someone else. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." (Bill Shakespeare)
2) to indicate that a word is being used in a way that is different from the standard dictionary. The Nazis performed "experiments" on the Jews. What the Nazis did does not fall under the dictionary definition of experiment.
3) to indicate the that one is talking about the word itself and not the thing that the word refers to. Jagger misuses the word "feminist." Jagger is a feminist.
9. Do not use rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions are questions that have the grammatical form of a question but are not genuine requests for information. "What time is it?" is a genuine question but "How can anyone support gun control?" is a rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions are usually used when one needs an argument to defend a view but one cannot think of such an argument. One then hides behind the rhetorical question. If you want to be sure that you don't fall into this trap but don't want to worry about whether a question is genuine or rhetorical, just don't put any questions in your paper.
10. Do not use long quotes from the readings. Paraphrase the relevant text in your own words. Anyone can copy from a text but to paraphrase one must understand the text one is paraphrasing.
11. Avoid all the following:

12. Please put two spaces between sentences.


Typical Paper Grades

A -- The typical A paper has almost perfect spelling, punctuation and grammar. It makes no mistakes in citation. It is well organized and clearly written. It has the required number of words. It has a clear thesis statement near its beginning. It provides an accurate resume of the readings and class discussion that are relevant to its thesis. It has a thesis that meets the topic requirements. It presents a sound (i.e. good) argument for its thesis. It considers possible objections to its argument. This argument is original. That is, the argument goes a beyond what was said in class and in the readings.

B -- The typical B paper has almost perfect spelling, punctuation and grammar. It makes no mistakes in citation. It is well organized and clearly written. It has the required number of words. It has a clear thesis statement near its beginning. It provides an accurate resume of the readings and class discussion that are relevant to its thesis. It has a thesis that meets the topic requirements. It presents a sound (i.e. good) argument for its thesis. It considers possible objections to its argument. This argument is not original. That is, the argument does not add much to the arguments presented in class or in the readings.

C -- The typical C paper makes no mistakes in citation. It makes no more than two of the following mistakes: poor spelling, punctuation or grammar, disorganized writing, unclear writing, failure to have a thesis statement, failure to have a thesis that meets the topic requirements, inaccurate resume of the readings or class discussion that are relevant to its thesis, failure to present a good argument for its thesis, failure to consider possible objections, failure to have required number of words.

D -- The typical D paper either makes some sort of not super serious mistakes in citation or makes more than two of the following mistakes: poor spelling, punctuation or grammar, disorganized writing, unclear writing, failure to have a thesis statement, failure to have a thesis that meets the topic requirements, inaccurate resume of the readings or class discussion that are relevant to its thesis, failure to present a good argument for its thesis, failure to consider possible objections, failure to have required number of words.

F -- The typical F paper either makes some sort of serious mistakes in citation, has shockingly poor spelling, punctuation or grammar, does not meet the topic requirements or has way too few words.

ATTENTION

These are typical grades. In every class there are atypical papers that do not fit any of the patterns above. I give you this to help you write your papers and understand the grades I give. I do not promise that a paper that meets all the specific things listed in a category above will get that grade. If you have questions about a grade, come talk to me.