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Essay Essentials

The following is a set of hints and tips for creating a successful piece of philosophical work. They represent the amalgamation of my experience both as a student and a marker, and the official departmental criteria that are provided for philosophy students.

In short? Keep it PUNCHI


Philosophy essays have a job to do. More often than not it is persuasive critical analysis. You need to persuade the reader that the positions you adopt are justified, and that the ones you dismiss are deserving. Start with a problem, and propose to the reader the various ways of solving this problem. This way you establish the ground for presenting the view you think is most convincing.


However tempting it might be (and it is!) don’t start writing until you are sure of both where you are headed and of the points you will use to get there. Including points that you don’t fully understand will take away from the strength of your essay. Remember, if your understanding of a point is half hearted it will show through in your writing.


Avoid ‘jumping’ around with your line of argument. Good planning (or revisions) can eliminate this. If you need to deviate from a planned structure ensure that each paragraph still links to its neighbours. It sounds obvious but its easy to forget that the reader won’t have your knowledge as to why you chose to put the points in a given order.


Bibliographic information, dictionary definitions and historical introductions are all to be seriously avoided. Firstly they detract from your word count, a resource you may need more than you expect once you start writing. Secondly, you can presume the reader knows the basic context in which you writing. Explain your specific take on the problem, but don’t give us the history behind it unless its explicitly part of the argument.


If your hearts not in it, it shows. Pick a topic that makes you think. Each of us naturally prefer different topics, and it should be used to our advantage. That is, if you like a topic, or have strong opinions about it, put them to work in your favour!


Although independent thought is good, we build on the shoulders of others. Acknowledge their contributions properly, and try to make use of a couple of references in each essay.

How do I reference materials?

You need only reference material you have referred to in the essay - don’t pad out a bibliography with authors you haven’t named in the text.

Be sure to attribute all quotes and phrases to their creator to avoid plagiarism


Booth, J. (2004). How to reference an article (title). Journal of Nonsense, 25-55 (source)


Booth, J. (2004). Writing a book on references (title).York: JenBooks (place&publisher)

In the text:

As Booth says, "we cannot enjoy beer without money" (Booth, 2004)


It could be the case that we simply cannot enjoy beer without money (Booth, 2004)