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Suicide, Physician-Assisted, and Self-Determination

  • These are relatively short papers.  Keep background-setting to a minimum.  Get to the point quickly.
  • State your thesis, or theses, early and clearly, preferably in the first paragraph of your paper.
  • Use the introduction to your paper to give the reader a sense of what to expect and to make the overall structure of your paper clear.  State the position you will argue for and very briefly state the premises you take to support your conclusion (i.e., your thesis).  It can be a good idea to include, as part of your introduction, a short paragraph indicating how you will proceed.
  • Philosophy papers are not about how you feel about the issue(s) at hand.  Do not tell the reader about your feelings.
    • Avoid phrases like “I feel that…” and “Philosopher X feels that…” like the plague.
    • Stick to arguments, be they your own or those of the authors whose views you are discussing.
  • Your papers should be argumentative.  Make your own claims and the claims you discuss clear.
  • Show views you disagree with in the best possible light.
    • It might be a mistake to do this in a political debate or in a court of law, but it is a virtue in a philosophy paper; you should acknowledge when those you disagree make good points, or least when they make points that deserve attention.
    • Avoid the tendency of students—especially of students with little background in philosophy—to offer caricatures of views with which they disagree.
    • If you show your opponents’ views in the best possible light and provide a well-argued defense of your own views or of views you agree with, you are more likely to do well on your papers.
    • In short, do not beat up on straw men.
  • Always keep the main point(s) of your paper in view.  Don’t ramble.  There’s plenty to say about any of the topics you might write on without including unnecessary filler in your papers.
  • Keep in mind who you are writing for.  The reader (i.e., me) wants to know that you know the meanings of the concepts you employ.
    • Do not assume that it is unnecessary to define/analyze technical philosophical terms.  To an extent, you could get away with this in something like a graduate-level course or in a course written with an audience of professional philosophers in mind, but it is unacceptable in a lower-level course.
    • You need to show that you have engaged with the relevant material in no merely superficial way.  These papers are not book reports.
  • Don not start your paper by telling the reader that “So-and-so was a great philosopher,” or “For thousands of years, philosophers have debated whether or not p.”
    • This should be obvious, but it is common enough that it is worth mentioning.  It is also just plain bad writing.
  • Where applicable, use examples to bolster your claims.
    • If you can come up with examples of your own that is wonderful, but make sure that they are relevant and can do the work that you want them to do.
    • If you use examples from the course readings, be certain to display a firm grasp of them.
  • Use citations where appropriate.  If you quote an author or take an idea from an author, include a citation.
    • For this class, you may use either APA or Chicago style for citations.
      • If you choose to use APA style, you must include a bibliography.
      • If you choose to use Chicago style, you do not need a bibliography because bibliographic information will appear in your first citation of any source.
        • If you choose to use Chicago Style, use footnotes rather than endnotes.
        • Note that I prefer Chicago Style to APA style citations, but you will not be penalized in any way if you use APA formatting for your citations.
          • Chicago style citations are somewhat more difficult to learn, but they are hardly as challenging as some have suggested.  I learned to use this citation method in high school with no assistance.
          • If you choose to use Chicago style citations, see The Chicago Manual of Style or my notes for citation formatting.
  • Don’t aim for literary elegance.  It is not a vice for a philosophy paper to be rather dry.
  • Avoid informal fallacies.  See below.
  • When submitting your papers, follow the submission guidelines found in the syllabus, i.e., always include your names in the names of the files you are submitting, etc.
    • Also, always put your names on your papers.