by Dr. John Draeger

I will never forget the day I realized that I didn't know how to read philosophy. My friends thought I was crazy. They were puzzled because I always seemed to have my nose in a book. I had done an undergraduate degree in philosophy and I'd already completed a year of graduate study. Still, I spent a week saying things like "I don't know how to read" and "how do you read?" Of course I had basic reading skills. But I'd realized that I didn't know how to extract the deeper meaning and how to organize parts into a coherent whole. I had managed to do these things (at least some of the time), but my new revelation was that I didn't know how I'd done it. It wasn't a question of laziness, but a question of skill --- skills that I lacked and skills that I wanted. Since then, I've worked hard to master good philosophical reading skills. I think I am better, but I still have a ways to go. In order to help you with these skills, the following are tips that I've found useful:

The goal is not simply to get to the end of a text (though that is important). It is not enough to remember who said what, when, and how. Rather, reading philosophy well requires critically reflecting upon the ideas contained in that text. So, I must think critically (even when I don't feel like it).

Philosophy texts are intellectual adventures. Consequently, I always try to read them in that spirit.

When I read through a text for the first time, I give myself permission not to understand most of what I've read. The goal is simply to acquaint myself with the major questions and themes.

The second time through a text, I read with a purpose. I want to locate the stages of the argument by identifying the various parts and connections.  I make note of passages that seem especially relevant (e.g. those containing definitions, summaries, conclusions, controversial claims, etc.). I also use various reading speeds to begin constructing the bigger picture from the smaller parts. This often requires moving back forth (and not simply turning one page after another).

I try to set aside fifteen minutes after I've finished reading to write a brief reflection. Sometimes it turns into a summary. Sometimes it is an overall impression. Other times, it is a worry that I'd like to get on paper.  I know that this won't be my final word on the subject, but this exercise forces me to engage with the reading enough to say something meaningful.

It is often helpful to set a text aside for a few days to think about something else. This gives me a chance to reset my intuitions. When I return to the text, I can check my interpretation and insure that my critical thoughts have not been confused with the author's intention.

I think the most important lesson is that reading philosophy requires being actively engaged with the material. This particular text may not be the thing I most want to read, but finding ways of becoming sucked up into it often yields some fantastic results.

1. Read the text. Assume it is significant and coherent.

  • Remember the components of critical thinking: Identify basic issues; clarify meanings; uncover assumptions; consider alternative points of view; evaluate arguments, reasons and criteria; draw warranted conclusions and make connections.

2. Identify key passages.

  • Collect passages that have a common theme, idea, or term.
  • Use a marking technique. (Practice using the critical thinking abbreviations.)
  • Re-read.
  • Be aware of and record your questions and disagreements. Note your judgments that get in the way of allowing the text to speak, then set them aside.

3. Figure out what the key passages mean and how they fit together.

  • Re-read.

4. Ask "What question is the author trying to answer?"

  • Use what you know of other philosophers.
  • Note terminology (the special vocabulary of ideas) and important definitions.

5. Figure out the author's answer to the question.

  • Find the linkage (reasons, method) connecting question and answer.

6. Summarize-synthesize:

  • Write a brief summary of the main ideas of the text.

7. Test your interpretation for:

  • Clarity: Does it make sense on its own?
  • Plausibility: Does it illuminate the key passages? Do any key passages not fit it?
  • Coherence: Does it do justice to text as a whole?

8. Digest what is significant about the key ideas of the text.

  • Make clear and forceful what is philosophically significant. Make connections to other philosophers, issues, ideas or aspects of your life. Raise questions about the author's question, method or answer.

9. Write a summary of the problem areas in the text or in your interpretation of it.

The religious studies program stresses the need to interpret original religious texts using a historical-critical method rather than a literal-fundamentalist method.

Description of the literal fundamentalist method:

  • Read exactly as written and applied to life today in the same way.
  • Believes each word is the revealed word of God so there can be no errors
  • Examples: position of women, creation of the world in seven days
  • Advocates usually belong to the nonscholarly group and function as pastors of fundamentalists churches

Historical critical method:

  • Examines words in their context, looking at historical situations, the speaker, the audience, the reason for the story.
  • Examines the literary devices, such as parables, metaphors, images, apocalyptic literature 
  • Accepts the cultural diversity of human writers and therefore can contain contradictions and errors
  • Advocates belong to the scholarly group who teach in universities, write for scholarly journals and hold a Ph.D.


There is no single style manual (such as APA or MLA) that is used in the discipline of philosophy. Yet if you use the examples below as a guide, your citations will be judged appropriate by the philosophy faculty.


These examples are based on the sixth edition of A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian, revised by John Grossman and Alice Bennett.

This page is adapted from a page produced by the Undergraduate Library at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

N=footnote or endnote entry   B=bibliographic entry



Single author:


1John Hope Franklin, George Washington Williams: A Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 54.


Franklin, John Hope. George Washington Williams: A Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.


Two or three authors:


2Robert Lynd and Helen Lynd, Middletown: A Study in American Culture (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1929), 67.


Lynd, Robert and Helen Lynd. Middletown: A Study in American Culture. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1929.


More than three authors:


4Martin Greenberger and others, eds., Networks for Research and Education: Sharing of Computer and Information Resources Nationwide (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974), 50.


Greenberger, Martin, Julius Aronofsky, James L. McKenney, and William F. Massy, eds. Networks for Research and Education: Sharing of Computer and Information Resources Nationwide. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974.


No author given:


5The Lottery. (London: J. Watts, [1732]), 20-25.


The Lottery. London: J. Watts, [1732].

  Note: the date enclosed in square brackets indicates that the information was not found in the book itself.

Editor or compiler as "author":


9Robert von Hallberg, ed., Canons (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 225.


von Hallberg, Robert, ed. Canons. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.


Author's work contained in author's collected works:


11The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. W. G. T. Shedd, vol. 1, Aids to Reflection (New York: Harper & Bros., 1884), 18.


Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Edited by W.G.T. Shedd. Vol. 1, Aids to Reflection. New York: Harper & Bros., 1884.


Separately titled volume in a multivolume work with a general title and editor(s):


12 Gordon N. Ray, ed., An Introduction to Literature, vol. 2, The Nature of Drama,by Hubert Hefner (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959), 47- 49.


Ray, Gordon N., ed. An Introduction to Literature. Vol. 2, The Nature of Drama, by Hubert Hefner. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959.


Separately titled volume in a multivolume work with a general title and one author:


13 Sewall Wright, Evolution and the Genetics of Populations, vol. Variability within and among Natural Populations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 67.


Wright, Sewall. Evolution and the Genetics of Populations. Vol. 4, Variability within and among Natural Populations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.


Edition other than first:


16 M. M. Bober, Karl Marx's Interpretation of History, 2d ed. Harvard Economic Studies (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948), 89.


Bober, M. M. Karl Marx's Interpretation of History, 2d ed. Harvard Economic Studies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948.


Essay or chapter by one author in a work edited by another:


24 Mary Higdon Beech, "The Domestic Realm in the Lives of Hindu Women in Calcutta," in Separate Worlds: Studies of Purdah in South Asiaed. Hanna Papanek and Gail Minault (Delhi: Chanakya, 1982), 115.


Beech, Mary Higdon. "The Domestic Realm in the Lives of Hindu Women in Calcutta." In Separate Worlds: Studies of Purdah in South Asia, ed. Hanna Papanek and Gail Minault, 110-38. Delhi: Chanakya, 1982.



Article in a popular magazine:


40Bruce Weber, "The Myth Maker: The Creative Mind of Novelist E. L. Doctorow," New York Times Magazine, 20 October 1985, 42.


Weber, Bruce. "The Myth Maker: The Creative Mind of Novelist E. L. Doctorow." New York Times Magazine, 20 October 1985, 42.


Article in a scholarly journal:


37Richard Jackson, "Running down the Up-Escalator: Regional Inequality in Papua New Guinea," Australian Geographer 14 (May 1979): 180.


Jackson, Richard. "Running down the Up-Escalator: Regional Inequality in Papua New Guinea."Australian Geographer 14 (May 1979): 175-84.


Book review in a journal:


45Dwight Frankfather, review of The Disabled State, by Deborah A. Stone, Social Service Review 59 (September 1985): 524.


Frankfather, Dwight. Review of The Disabled State, by Deborah A. Stone. Social Service Review 59 (September 1985): 523-25.

Note: a book review does not always carry its own title, and sometimes the name of the reviewer is not mentioned. An entry might begin, therefore, Review of . . . .


Turabian's 6th edition explains that well-known reference books are generally not listed in bibliographies, and it does not give bibliographic examples. We have included examples from the 5th edition, designated by an asterisk (*), should you need to use them.


Signed articles:


42Morris Jastrow, "Nebo,"in Encyclopedia Brittanica, 11th ed.


Runes, Dagobert D. and Harry G. Schrickel, eds. Encyclopedia of the Arts. New York: Philosophical Library, 1946. S.v. "African Negro Art," by James A. Porter.


Unsigned article:


41Columbia Encyclopedia, 5th ed., s.v. "cold war."


Encyclopedia Americana, 1975 ed. S.v. "Sumatra."


The following two examples are from the 5th edition of Turabian.

The following two examples are from the 5th edition of Turabian.


41Andre Camille, "Deciding Who Gets Dibs on Health-Care Dollars," Wall Street Journal, 27 March 1984, 30(W) and 34(E).


Camille, Andre. "Deciding Who Gets Dibs on Health-Care Dollars." Wall Street Journal, 27 March 1984, 30(W) and 34(E).

If a newspaper is cited only once or twice in a research paper, a note is sufficient documentation:


43Irish Daily Independent (Dublin), 16 June 1904.


44Max Plowman, An Introduction to the Study of Blake (London: Gollancz, 1982), 32.

With no intervening reference a second mention of the same page requires only

With no intervening reference but with reference to a different page
47Ibid., 68.

With an intervening reference, give author's surname and page number
51Plowman, 68.

With an intervening reference and more than one title by the author, give author's surname, a brief title, and page number
65Plowman, Study of Blake, 125.

Note: Some publishers prefer that all citations with intervening references use a brief title even if only one work by a given author is cited.


Thompson, Oscar, ed. International Cyclopaedia of Music and Musicians.

New York: Dodd, Mead, 1936.

An admirable work that brings Grove up to date and deals adequately with contemporary music and American composers.


There is no set standard for citing electronic resources. Electronic resources often do not provide all the bibliographic information you are used to finding in print sources. As with all citations, the goal is to give authors the credit they deserve and to provide enough information to enable the items to be retrieved again, either by yourself or by someone else. Adapted from Bucknell University Library Reference Department.





1500 Nations : Stories of the North American Indian Experiences

([CD-ROM]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 1995. [accessed 10 June 1996])

2Al Gore, From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government That Works Better

and Costs Less. Report of the National Performance Review ([ONLINE]. 1993 Sept

3. Available from gopher:// [accessed 10 June



500 Nations : Stories of the North American Indian Experiences. [CD-ROM].

Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 1995. [accessed 10 June 1996]

Gore, Al. From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government That Works Better

and Costs Less. Report of the National Performance Review. [ONLINE]. 1993

Sept 3. Available from gopher:// [accessed

10 June 1996]




1U.S. Department of State, "Economic Policy and Trade Practices: Lithuania."

In National Trade Data Bank ([CDROM]. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of

Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Office of Business Analysis.

[accessed 10 June 1996]).

2Robert T. Daniel, "The History of Western Music." In Britannica Online;

Macropedia ([ONLINE]. 1995. Available from

g:DocF=macro/5004/45/0.html [accessed 10 June 1996]).

NOTE: When possible, break long URLs at a slash.


U.S. Department of State, "Economic Policy and Trade Practices: Lithuania."

In National Trade Data Bank [CDROM]. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department

of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Office of Business

Analysis. [accessed 10 June 1996]).

Daniel, Robert T., "The History of Western Music." In Britannica Online;

Macropedia ([ONLINE]. 1995. Available from

cgi-bin/g:DocF=macro/5004/45/0.html [accessed 10 June 1996]).

NOTE: When possible, break long URLs at a slash.




1Lawrence P. Hansen, "Efficient Estimation of Linear Asset-Pricing

Models with Moving Average Errors," Journal of Business & Economics

Statistics (14, no. 1 (1996): 53-68. [CD-ROM]. Available from UMI,

Database: Business Periodicals Ondisc, Item : 01148927

[accessed 10 June 1996])

2Michael H. Bodden, "Class, Gender and the Contours of Nationalism

in the Culture of Philippine Radical Theater," Frontiers (16, no. 2-3

(Spring-Summer 1996). [ONLINE]. Available from

ftsearch?db=IACEXP&kwd=18504173(IAC)&page=TEXT- [accessed 10 June 1996]).

3Frank Viviano, "The New Mafia Order," Mother Jones Magazine

((May-June 1995): 72 pars. [ONLINE]. Available from

MOTHER_JONES/MJ95/viviano.html [accessed 10 June 1996]).

NOTE: When possible, break long URLs at a slash.


Hansen, Lawrence P. "Efficient Estimation of Linear Asset-Pricing

Models with Moving Average Errors." Journal of Business &

Economics Statistics 14, no. 1 (1996): 53-68. [CD-ROM]. Available

from UMI, Database: Business Periodicals Ondisc, Item : 01148927

[accessed 10 June 1996].

Bodden, Michael H. "Class, Gender and the Contours of Nationalism

in the Culture of Philippine Radical Theater," Frontiers (16,

no. 2-3 (Spring-Summer 1996). [ONLINE]. Available from

8002/htbin/ftsearch?db=IACEXP&kwd=18504173(IAC)&page=TEXT- [accessed 10

June 1996]).

Viviano, Frank. "The New Mafia Order," Mother Jones Magazine

((May-June 1995): 72 pars. [ONLINE]. Available from

MOTHER_JONES/MJ95/viviano.html [accessed 10 June 1996]).

NOTE: When possible, break long URLs at a slash




1Laurent Belsie, "A Michner-Sized Problem: Books Crumbling Into Dust:

Scholars Join Hands to Save Millions of Brittle Tomes," Christian Science

Monitor (January 4, 1995, p3 (912 words). [CD-ROM]. Available from Newsbank,

Inc., File: Newsfile, Number: 00811*19950104*4007 [accessed 10 June 1996]).

3Paul Schnieder, "Valley Firm in Oklahoma City Bombing Trial," Arizona

Business Gazette (May 9, 1996, p30. (423 words). [ONLINE]. Available from

Lexis/Nexis, Library: News, File: BUSTL [accessed 10 June 1996]).

NOTE: When possible, break long URLs at a slash.


Belsie, Laurent. "A Michner-Sized Problem: Books Crumbling Into Dust: Scholars

Join Hands to Save Millions of Brittle Tomes." Christian Science Monitor.

January 4, 1995, p3 (912 words). [CD-ROM]. Available from Newsbank, Inc.,

File: Newsfile, Number: 00811*19950104*4007 [accessed 10 June 1996]

Schnieder, Paul. "Valley Firm in Oklahoma City Bombing Trial." Arizona

Business Gazette, May 9, 1996, p30. (423 words). [ONLINE]. Available from

Lexis/Nexis, Library: News, File: BUSTL [accessed 10 June 1996]




1John A. Hurst, "International Finance Questions," in Business Libraries

Discussion List. (BUSLIB-L@IDBSU.BITNET) 10 Sept 1992. [accessed 10 June 1996].


Hurst, John A. "International Finance Questions." in Business Libraries

Discussion List. (BUSLIB-L@IDBSU.BITNET) 10 Sept 1992. [accessed 10 June



E-MAIL (personal)


1Johnson, Howard (" Theory of Relativity." E-mail to

Albert Einstein ( [8 June 1996].


Johnson, Howard (" Theory of Relativity." E-mail to

Albert Einstein ( [8 June 1996].

by Dr. George Hole

Take notes

  • Copy what is written on the blackboard. (It is often short phrases, with abbreviations. So you will need to translate and amplify them.)
  • Write down instructor's comments (not on the blackboard) that are important.)
  • Write down your questions and thoughts.

Translate notes

  • While the class is still fresh in mind, review and expand on your notes.
  • Highlight important ideas.
  • Use captions (e.g. critical thinking categories, like basic issue, alternative point of view.)
  • Note your questions: questions about the notes-to ask for clarification next class and questions about the material-to explore in more depth.
  • Make connections to material in previous class notes, course readings or other courses.
  • Compare your notes with another student's, for comprehensiveness, clarity and insight. Fill in missing material and connections.

Use your notes

  • To review before class, to maintain continuity, ask questions, and explore ideas in more depth.
  • To integrate with your reading notes.
  • To review before exams.
  • To generate and support ideas for your papers.
  • To learn to "capture," understand and structure ideas in depth.

In order to write a good essay, you need to develop a thesis, which is the particular point that you wish to argue. To begin an essay, you should do extensive reading on a specific topic, critically assess the positions of the authors you consulted and then synthesize their findings and your own insights into your paper. The first paragraph briefly outlines your issue, the problems it presents and a statement of your understanding of the best solution. The body of the essay attempts to demonstrate the validity of your thesis through a logical progression of arguments. The final paragraph gives you an opportunity to synthesize your arguments or give a summary of what you have demonstrated. This is the standard format for a research paper.

A variation of this format is the exploratory essay, which starts with a problem, analyzes the evidence and then reaches a conclusion.( i.e. what otherwise would be the thesis) at the end. It allows the writer to review the evidence systematically, in an unbiased manner and reach a conclusion based on one's evidence, rather than one's opinion. Sometimes having a thesis statement at the beginning may engender better organization and communication of your thoughts.

The exegetical essay is especially relevant to the study of scripture. The word exegesis means to lead out in Greek. It tries to bring the author's meaning out of a text. An exegetical paper explains the meaning of a passage or a group of passages according to what the author means to convey, instead of reading one's own presuppositions into it. These essays should have a thesis also which is supported by logical and compelling arguments that support your interpretation.

Evaluation of your papers is based on the following criteria

  • Content 50%
  • Evidence of research 10%
  • Structure and Organization 10%
  • Independent Thought 10%
  • Style, grammar, spelling 10%
  • Documentation 10%


Documentation is required whenever you are making use of someone else's ideas, even if you use your own words to express them. Items of common knowledge ( generally accepted facts that can be found in more than one source) do not have to be attributed to any one author. An over-documented essay gives the impression that you did not read enough to know that much of the information which you are documenting is common knowledge.  An under-documented essay gives the impression that you need to give the impression that overestimates your ability to think for yourself. A properly documented essay will accurately convey the full extent of your research.

Religion papers use the MLA method that gives the author's name and page. It only gives the year if more than one book by the same author is mentioned in your bibliography

by Dr. Kimberly Blessing


An abstract is a summary of points (as of a article), usually presented in skeletal form.

To capture the very essence of the text, reading, or article. Necessary and Sufficient Conditions2 for Writing an Effective Abstract

  • State in as few words as possible the main idea, or thesis of the article
  • State in as few words as possible the outline of the line of argumentation used by the author to support the thesis.

Distinction between Abstracts and Summaries

A long abstract can amount to a short summary, and vice versa.  An abstract is more brief, however, than a summary; in other words, an abstract is a succinct summary.

Things to Avoid in an Abstract

  • All side issues
  • Details
  • Examples
  • Illustrations
  • Anything that is not essential to the criteria, above

For examples of philosophical texts and a student's abstract of it, see Hugo Bedau, Thinking and Writing about Philosophy (Saint Martin's Press, 1996).


1 Adapted from Hugo Bedau, Thinking and Writing about Philosophy (Saint Martin's Press, 1996), pp. 12-13.
2 Please see additional handout on "Necessary and Sufficient Conditions."

by Dr. Kimberly Blessing

Writing a philosophy paper will be very different than other papers you have written for other courses. Philosophy papers are generally argumentative or persuasive essays that set out to convince the reader to adopt your position. 

What distinguishes a philosophical paper from other papers is the manner in which you convince the reader to adopt your position; appeals to emotion, feeling, imagery, or even style, which are appropriate for an English paper, are unacceptable for a philosophical essay. Instead, you convince the reader of the rightness of your position through philosophical reasoning and argumentation, clear writing, and precise use of the English language. In other words, you must write critically.


"Philosophy is distinguished from theology, politics, and poetry by its dependence on reason as the ultimate criterion of evaluation. Reason demands internal consistency, and the basic principle of philosophy is the principle of noncontradiction: a thing cannot be both A and not-A in the same way at the same time...  In all of philosophy, the flaw that always rules a position or argument out of play is lack of logical consistency. No appeal to authority, faith, beauty, bedazzlement, interest, morality, emotion, or force can override an internal contradiction. Thus, the first rule in philosophical wiring is Be consistent.


Philosophical writing is similar to scientific writing in the requirement that it be clear...  In the name of clarity, plain writing is preferred to rhetorical flourishes. This requirement means that one must say what one means as nearly as possible with univocal words and phrases, in detail, and at sufficient length to avoid misunderstanding. This seldom results in beautiful or evocative writing, but...philosophical writing exhibits the elegance of precision...  This demand for in itself almost a definition of philosophy as an attempt to understand and to be understood fully without confusion. On this definition of philosophy based on reason, geniuses who write unclearly may persuade, but if their positions are not reducible to clear exposition, they eventually are classified as poets, prophets, or mystics, not as philosophers.


It is not enough for a philosophical paper to be consistent and clear; it must also have a point that is supported by an argument. Inspirational and edifying discourses have points, but they can be persuasive even if they are inconsistent and unclear. In philosophical writing, the point one wishes to make can be established only by presenting it as the conclusion of an argument... Arguments within a philosophical presentation are sequential logical developments of premises, statements of evidence, and inferences resulting in the position or statement that is the point of that presentation."1

How To Organize A Paper: Beginning, Middle, and End

Aristotle said that works that spin their way along through time need a beginning, a middle, and an end to give them the stability of spatial things like paintings and statues. 

Build your paper in three parts: beginning, middle, and end.  Do not be afraid to let these three parts of your paper be obvious to the reader.  One of the biggest problems with papers is that they have no structure and this leaves no impression on the reader.  Often the paper "just begins," the middle is jumbled, and the essay "just stops," but does not end.  You have an idea -- a good idea -- now structure your essay and your arguments around that idea.

  • I. Beginning: Introduction & Thesis: The introduction should capture the reader's attention, drawing him or her into the problem or issue.  This can be accomplished by (i) outlining what the issue is, (ii) indicating why it is an important issue, and (iii) clearly stating what position you are going to take.  In other words, you must formulate a thesis.  The introduction should also provide a road map for the reader to follow; i.e. a brief outline of what you are going to do in your paper.  Do not introduce information that you are not going to discuss in your paper -- it's irrelevant.  In short, "tell me what you are going to tell me": use FIRST-PERSON, FUTURE tense, ACTIVE voice.

 A. Thesis Statement: Your position should be clearly stated in your thesis statement at the beginning of your paper. A thesis statement indicates what you are going to argue and why. You should be able to state your position in one, clear, grammatically correct sentence, e.g., "I shall argue that there is no moral distinction between active and passive euthanasia because the end result, namely death, is morally wrong."  Or, "In light of Richard Dieter's article entitled "The Practical Burdens of Capital Punishment," in Criminal Justice Ethics (Winter / Spring 1994; pp. 2, 82-84), I shall argue that the practical burdens of maintaining the legalization of the death penalty do not warrant its continued employment." Or, "I shall argue that rape is not necessarily a justifiable case in which one may perform a late term abortion."

  • II. Middle: The Argument: The middle of your paper sets out to prove your case by offering the strongest argument[s]  for your position.  Propositions are nothing but expressions of personal opinion unless they are supported by reasons, or arguments.  Textual evidence, see below, is one of the best ways to support your claims.  There are others (documented appeals to authoritative sources, logical argumentation, language analysis, comparison and contrast, appeals to experience, etc.) yet whatever you chose, be sure that you do have support for your claims.  Also, be sure to stick to the point, it will only confuse the reader if you digress to other points.  In short, "tell me": use THIRD-PERSON, PRESENT tense, ACTIVE voice.

A. Textual evidence: Be sure to (i) give a full citation of the passage and text[s] under consideration, using the standard MLA formatting, (ii) briefly explain the passage, outlining the author's argument or position, and (iii) apply it to your position or argument.  (Every time you use someone else's words or ideas, both quotation marks and citations are needed.)  If you do not know how to properly cite material, make it your business to find out!

B. Topic Sentence: Just as your paper has a thesis, or topic sentence, each paragraph should have a topic sentence; i.e., one clear, grammatically correct, sentence that states the topic of the paragraph. 
C. Objection and Rebuttal: A very effective way to develop an argument in support of your position is to consider an objection to your argument and include it in your paper.  If there are no objections, your point is probably trivial.  If you can respond or rebut the objection, your position is strengthened.  At the very least, even if a rebuttal is not possible, you have shown the reader that you have thought seriously about the strengths and weaknesses of your position and argument.

  • III. End: The Conclusion: Your conclusion should tie the loose ends together.  You must indicate what your thesis is, and tell the reader how you have defended it.  In doing this it is important to make sure that you have done what you think you have done.  Never introduce new information or arguments in a conclusion, this should have been taken care of in the introduction and body of your paper.   In short, "tell me what you told me": use FIRST-PERSON, PAST tense, ACTIVE voice.


1. Clearly identify the MAIN POINT (thesis) early in the paper.

2. AVOID EVASIVE WEASEL CLAIMS which make and evade a point at the same time.  E.g. "It seems to me that Plato might have meant X."   Take a stand!  Think!  Did Plato mean X or not? The following are examples of "weasel claims" of the most repugnant sort: "Nobody really knows,"  "Who's to say what's true?,"  "Who really knows?,"  "No one can ever really know the answers to questions in philosophy," etc.  These claims are repugnant to philosophy for they put an end to rational discourse, they seek to evade questions, and these types of weasel claims are often signs of intellectual laziness and immaturity.  YOU are to say!  YOU are to figure out what is true and what is false! 

3. AVOID VAGUE ATTRIBUTIONS: attributing positions to groups without offering documented details.  E.g., "Virtually all Christians oppose abortion," "Most feminist philosophers favor abortion", etc.

4. AVOID VAGUE APPEALS TO "COMMON SENSE" OR COMMON KNOWLEDGE: sweeping generalizations.  E.g. "Everybody knows that lying is wrong," "Of course all knowledge comes from experience," etc.

5. BE A PHILOSOPHER, NOT A PARROT.  DO NOT MERELY PARAPHRASE OR SUMMARIZE.  Note the difference between merely reporting what a philosopher said; e.g., "Heraclitus claimed that "you can't step into the same river twice,"" and explaining what a philosopher said; e.g., "Heraclitus believed that you can't step into the same river twice, for the waters are always moving."  In other words, Heraclitus argued that reality was constantly changing, or in a perpetual state of flux.  Indeed, it is true that reality does appear to be always changing.  It is also the case, however, that some part of a river, for example, does not change; e.g., we are able to identify the Nile over time."  Some summary is necessary, to show me that you understand what you've read.  In addition, however, you should examine, critique, explain, prove, disprove, support, defend, reject, etc., what you read!

6. USE EXAMPLES AND COUNTER-EXAMPLES. Use the "method of counter-example" to disprove a claim, i.e., prove that the claim under consideration is false.  For example, Sam claims: "All Pre-Socratics were monists."  One can prove this false by producing a counter-example: "Democritus was a Pre-Socratic who was not a monist." 

8. JUSTIFY AND SUPPORT ALL CLAIMS, OPINIONS, BELIEFS.  CLAIMS TO TRUTH MUST BE SUPPORTED BY EVIDENCE! Philosophers are not in the business of merely exchanging opinions, but in determining whether a given opinion is true or false; we determine the truth or falsity of a claim by evaluating evidence offered for a claim!

9. DO NOT USE THE WORD 'FEEL.'  Don't use this word when you mean 'say,' 'assert,' 'maintain,' 'think,' 'argue,' etc.; e.g., "Plato feels that the Forms are most real, and exist independently of the world of our senses" reduces an argued theory to a mere hunch. 
     "This is a great deal to make one word mean,"
        Alice said in a thoughtful tone
     "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty,
     "I always pay it extra."
       -- "Oh!" said Alice.
     She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

I am not interested in what you "feel," but in what you THINK!  To be a critical thinker, one must respond to what you read or hear from your head, not your heart


Prepare your one-page paper as follows: 1) determine what is your position, 2) determine what reasons and evidence you have to support your position, 3) explore the opposing positions by critically assessing some of the arguments on opposing sides, 4) determine what are the strongest points in support of your position, and 5) organize your points in a logical manner. At this point, write an outline of your paper. Write a first draft of the paper which follows that outline.

Write your paper as follows. Your paragraph should begin with a topic sentence; i.e., one, clear and complete, grammatically correct, sentence that states the topic of your paper. For example, "In this paper I shall argue that what is or is not pious is not determined by the gods." Remember that your goal is to convince the reader that what you claim is true. To accomplish this goal, you will need to defend your position with an argument; a set of logically consistent reasons (premises) which lead to your conclusion, i.e., the proposition expressed by your topic sentence. You must develop each point (premise), or reason, of your argument by drawing upon examples, counter-examples, analogies, textual evidence, analysis of language, etc. 

Proofread your draft, making necessary changes to grammar, mechanics, style and content. Have someone else proofread your paper. Write a second draft of your paper, making any necessary changes. Put it away for two days. Proofread your second draft. Type your final version. Proofread your final version by reading the paper out loud. Make sure there are no careless errors that will annoy your instructor.


In this paper, I shall argue that Euthyphro fails at defining "piety" as "that which is loved by the gods" (Euthyphro, 7).  First, the gods disagree over many matters.  For example, Zeus may believe that Euthyphro is wrong in punishing his father, and Apollo may disagree.  In this respect, the activities of the gods reflect the activities of mortals.  It is very difficult to arrive at universal agreement over many matters, especially matters concerning ethics and morality (Ibid., 7d).  Even if the gods could arrive at universal agreement, the fact that the gods love a particular act only points to a quality, or characteristic, of the act in question.  In other words, being god-loved (or god-hated) only suggests what may be true of pious things.  "Being god-loved" does not, however, explicate the nature, or essence, of piety; i.e., that which makes a given act pious, or impious.  For example, all the gods may love Euthyphro's act of prosecuting a wrongdoer; the fact that this act is "god-loved" does not explain what it is that makes this act pious.  The assumption underlying Socrates' argument is the thesis that the gods do not determine the nature of piety.  Instead, the nature of piety is eternal and unchanging, and exists independent of the gods, or any god.  Unfortunately, the truth of this claim cannot be determined within the confines of this paper.  What has been shown, however, is that Euthyphro's definition of piety is no definition at all.


The following is an example of acceptable introduction (beginning) to a philosophical paper, the subject of which is "Plato's Theory of Forms".  Note: (i) introduction to the subject of essay, (ii) clear thesis statement, (iii) "road map", or outline of essay.  (About 1 page, double-spaced.)

       The modern reader of the ancient Greek dialogues of Plato often finds is difficult to distinguish the historical Socrates from his bright and able student Plato. One way to distinguish the philosophies of these two men is to consider and examine Plato's Theory of Forms, and to contrast it with Socrates' position on universal definitions. The development of Plato's Theory of Forms can be traced throughout the Euthyphro, Meno, and Phaedo. If we consider two early dialogues, the Euthyphro and Meno, we see the gradual emergence of Plato's Theory of Forms which culminates in the later dialogue Phaedo.  By the time the Phaedo is written, Plato's Theory of Forms is fully developed, independent of Socrates' position on universal definitions. 
       In this paper, I shall compare and contrast Plato's Theory of Forms with Socrates' position on universal definitions. I shall argue that Plato's Theory of Forms, is indeed distinct from Socrates' position on universal definitions; Plato's theory is, however, vulnerable to the following objections: (i) it leads to an infinite regress of Forms, and (ii) there is no Form for "formness".  In order to support my position, I shall first distinguish Socrates' position on universal definitions from Plato's Theory of Forms by citing specific passages from each of the three dialogues. I shall then provide a brief account of Plato's Theory of Forms. Finally, I shall consider the following objections to Plato's Theory of Forms: (i) infinite regress, and (ii) the Form of "formness". To further support my position, I shall consider Plato's unsuccessful attempt to answer the objection of infinite regress in the Meno, as well as considering Aristotle's objection to the Theory of Forms. 

The following is an example of an acceptable conclusion. Note: (i) restatement of thesis, (ii) discussion of key points of essay, (iii) final appeal to the reader.  (About 1 page double-spaced.)

       After having provided an account of Plato's Theory of Forms as developed throughout the Euthyphro, Meno, and Phaedo, as distinct from Socrates' position on universal definitions, it is clear that Plato cannot overcome the objections outlined in this paper. The Theory of Forms leads to an infinite regress of Forms; Plato's attempt at responding to this objection in the Meno is perhaps admirable, but ultimately unsuccessful. Furthermore, in expounding his Theory of Forms in the Phaedo, Plato does not include a Form of "formness"; thus, it seems that Aristotle's claim that the Theory of Forms is "useless" is, to an extent, tenable. 
       The most significant aspect of Plato's Theory of Forms is just that. It is Plato's Theory of Forms.  Theoretically, Plato's Theory of Forms is not without problems. Practically, however, it can provide a way for the modern reader of the ancient Greek dialogues to distinguish the philosophy of Plato from the philosophy of Socrates. Perhaps there is wisdom in Socrates' position on universal definitions, for he anticipates the problems with a theory like that of Plato's. Plato is certainly Socrates' brightest and most able pupil, but he is not wiser than his master. Ultimately, Plato's Theory of Forms goes too far and tries to prove too much. Plato did not learn from Socrates the greatest lesson he had to offer.  Plato did not learn from Socrates the wisdom of ignorance.


1. However: "However you may feel about the matter, I do not, however, agree with Plato."
"I do not however agree with your point." / "You may set the table however you like."
In the first case, 'however' is used as a conjunction.  In the second case 'however' is used as an adverb, meaning "in whatever way you like."
NB: Avoid beginning a sentence with 'however' when you intend to mean "nevertheless."  E.g., "However, I do not agree with Plato" is better expressed: "I do not, however, agree with Plato."

2. Split Infinitives
"to work diligently' / to diligently work'
The second case is an instance of a split infinitive, 'to work diligently' is the preferred expression.  Don't split your infinitives.

3. its / it's: "It's odd isn't it that the dog was not returned to its owner?"
The former is the possessive form of 'it,' e.g., The dog was returned to its owner.   The latter is a contraction of "it is"; e.g., "It's really just a matter of usage."

4. accept / except: "I would accept your proposal for marriage, expect I've already accepted another."
'Expect' connotes "exception" or "exclusion"; e.g., We are open every day expect Sundays."  'Accept' connotes "inclusion," "to receive with consent"; e.g., I accept your proposal."

5. they're, their, there: "You must stay here and cannot go there, even if they're all going with their parent's permission."
The first is the contraction for they are; e.g., "They're all going, so why can't I?"  The second indicates the possessive; e.g., It is of no importance what their parents allow them to do."  The third indicates a location; e.g., "I cannot be there if I am here." 

6. affect / effect: "The effect of my behavior will probably affect our friendship."
"Affect, " which is a verb, means "to influence"; e.g., "I hope that this will not affect our relationship in any way."  As a noun, 'effect' means "result"; e.g., "The effect of your action was damaging to the project.

7. quote / quotation: "Be sure that your quotations are not too lengthy when you quote a text!"
The former is a verb; e.g., "I like to quote Plato when I write philosophy papers."  The latter is a noun; e.g., "That was a rather lengthy quotation."

8. further / farther: "I pushed myself further once I realized that she could throw the ball farther than me."
'Further' is a word that indicates a time or quantity; e.g.,  "I'm sure you will pursue your philosophy studies further than this course."  'Farther' is a distance word; e.g., "She threw the ball farther than I was able."

9. less / fewer: "One will be less unhappy if one has fewer troubles."
The former refers to quantity; e.g., "Her mistakes are less than mine" means "Her mistakes are not as great as mine."  The latter refers to number; e.g., "Her mistakes are fewer than mine" means "Her mistakes are not as numerous as mine."

10. then / than: "Once I realized that she received a better grade than me, then I began to do my homework."
'Then' is a term used to refer to time; e.g., "I ate dinner, and then I did my homework."  'Than' is a term used in comparison; e.g., "She received a better grade than me."

11. principle, principal: "The principal reason I called you here is to discuss the first principles of Descartes' philosophy."
'Principal' means "most important"; e.g., "The principal reason that I called you here is to discuss the budget."  'Principle' means a fundamental law, rule, or code; e.g., "The first principle of Descartes' philosophy is the cogito."

12. among / between: "Just between you an me, I think Dr. Blessing should have divided the work among five students."
'Among' is used when referring to two or more things; e.g., "The work was divided among six students."  'Between' is used when refereeing to two things; e.g., "This is just between you and me."

13. different from / different than: "Plato's philosophy is different from that of Socrates'".
The former is preferred to the latter; e.g.,

14. i.e.  / e.g.: "All bachelors are unmarried adults, i.e., no bachelor is married, e.g., George Clune is a bachelor."
The former expression means "that is";  "All Roman Catholic priests are bachelors, i.e., all Roman Catholic priests are unmarried male adults."  The latter means "for example"; e.g., "All bachelors are unmarried male adults, e.g., George Clune is a bachelor."

15. in regard to ' in regards to: "As regards/in regard to the previous point, I disagree."
The former is acceptable, the latter is not.  NB: 'As regards' is correct, and means the same thing as 'in regard to.'

16. shall / which: "Although he will argue against Plato's view, I shall argue in favor of his Theory of Forms."
The former is used for the first person future tense; e.g., "I shall argue that Plato was a nut."  The latter is used for the second and third person, future tense; e.g., "He will argue that Socrates is a nut."

17. that / which: "The witch that came to the door, which that other witch was watching, was witty."
'That' introduces a restrictive clause, which is not parenthetic, i.e., it is not set off by commas; e.g., "The student that was sitting next to me fell asleep."  'Which' introduces a restrictive clause, which is parenthetic, i.e., it is set off by commas; e.g., "The problem, which is of interest to me, is relevant."

18. unique / more unique: The definition of 'unique' is 'without like or equal."  There are no degrees of uniqueness.


Memorize the components of critical thinking. Use them to explore ideas in this course. Extend critical thinking into areas of your daily life, especially decision making. Raise questions about critical thinking. Test whether
critical thinking enhances the clarity and meaning of your living. Test your alternatives to critical thinking.

Clarify meaning:
Critical thinking does not mean negative and faultfinding. It means characterized by careful analysis; forming a crisis, decisive, dangerous, causing anxiety.
The components of Critical Thinking [abbreviations for text-marking]

  • Identify basic issues [bi] and formulate questions [q]
  • Clarify meanings [=, /, eg]
  • Uncover assumptions [a] and contexts [cxt]
  • Consider alternative viewpoints [/vp]
  • Evaluate reasons [R+, R-, arg] and criteria [v+, v-]
  • Making connections [->, =>] and draw warranted conclusions [c]

Identify a basic Issue:
What kind of procedure should I use to figure out how to make life decisions?
Consider alternative points of view:
In addition to "Do critical thinking" as an answer to this issue there are competitors like "Follow authority" and "Follow my passions."
Uncover assumptions:
I am free to make a choice between these three alternatives.
Draw a conclusion based on an argument:
I would follow authority if these three conditions were true: Authorities were wise, in agreement, and were knowledgeable about me as an individual. From experience I have learned that authorities are sometimes not wise, not in agreement with each other, and do not know much in particular about me. So, if I am to "Follow authority" as a life-strategy, I need to figure out what authority to follow and why. For this I need some critical thinking. A similar argument can be constructed for the need to do critical thinking about the option "Follow my passions."
Thus, it looks like critical thinking is a necessary life strategy.

Evaluating reasons:
The previous argument is a "weak alternatives argument." It looks at weaknesses of the options to critical thinking, not any of their strengths, and does not consider any weakness of critical thinking.

Draw a warranted conclusion:
A fuller examination of critical thinking is necessary before a justified conclusion can be made.

Quick reasons against doing critical thinking:

  • It is too difficult
  • There are more important things to do
  • One question always leads to another and another
  • There never are definite answers.
  • The truth of each reason needs to be examined.

Dangers in doing critical thinking: (need to be considered. It can lead to unpleasant results like):

  • Confusion, doubt, and uncertainty
  • Loss of a significant belief
  • Conflict with others, especially authorities

Reflective reasons in favor of doing critical thinking:
It can have the opposite effect for each of the previously listed unpleasant results. Doing critical thinking can lessen confusion, doubt, and uncertainty; lead to a new or strengthen significant belief; and lead to less conflict with authority and one's own passions. In addition there are these benefits of doing critical thinking:

  • I become more autonomous and less influenced by popular forces and fads
  • I make less thoughtless and impulsive mistakes
  • I better understand and care for my basic values.

Uncover assumptions:
As I do critical thinking I am more aware of how much of my thinking is subconscious, automatic, irrational and self-serving. I am also more aware of many substitutes for critical thinking. It is too easy to believe the following provide me with a justification for my beliefs and values:

  • The strength and sincerity of my belief
  • The comfort it gives me
  • The agreement I have from others about it
  • The fear and guilt I would have if I changed it

Making connections: 
There is a structural similarity between critical thinking about ideas and making decisions. These critical-thinking components are readily modified to apply to decision-making. In abbreviated notation: /vp ->options, R+, R- ->positive and negative consequences for an option; v+, v- ->basic values for making the decision; c -> warranted decision. To make a good decision about doing more critical thinking I need to explore and examine my ideas about myself and life and my basic values. This involves more critical thinking. So, I will decide to do more critical thinking, with honesty, courage and mindfulness, about this decision and anything that matters.

Virtues that support critical thinking:

  • Honesty
  • Courage
  • Open-mindedness
  • Curiosity
  • A vision of life in which questioning is both necessary and worthwhile

Thinking vices: (not an exhaustive list)

  • Closed-mindedness: "I already know."
  • Pride: "I don't want to appear foolish by asking a question."
  • Fear: "I may find out something I don't want to know."
  • Dependency: "That issue is too complex; let someone else think about it."
  • Lazy trust: "I'll just follow my feelings and everything will work out fine."


  • Consider making the following commitment: I vow to practice critical thinking and to understand and assess the virtues that are involved in doing critical thinking and make a responsible decision about the place and value of critical thinking in my life.

Clarify meaning-application
To put into practice a commitment to do more critical thinking make tactical commitment to ask yourself and others proto-philosophical, dialogue-questions about anything that matters, call it X (e.g. love, honesty, success):

  • What is X? What do I/others mean by X?
  • How do I/others know about X?
  • What do I/others assume about X?
  • What are some alternatives to X?
  • What is like "inside" the alternative?
  • What is the worth of X?
  • What are reasons and criteria to test X?
  • What connections are there to X and other things that matter?
  • What should I conclude about X?

Criteria for assess critical thinking:

Bi :  clarity-scope-complexity
= :  precision (of definitions, examples, distinctions)
a :  truth-support and reasonableness
/vp :  appropriateness ( avoid straw man argument)
R+/R- :  completeness, compellingness, fairness; criteria explicit
c :  completeness, coherence, illuminating connections
a :  reciprocal and reflexive evaluations