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Advice on Writing Essays

Essay Writing Guide

Warwick Philosophy department have produced our own guide to writing philosophy essays.

It is well worth reading through from beginning to end, and reading it again once you have a first draft of your essay to see how the essay might be improved upon. It is also worth reading the marking criteria to help you understand how your work will be marked.

Other resources include Jim Pryor's Guide on Writing a Philosophy Paper. There is also a very helpful Guide to Reading Philosophy Texts on the same site. Below is some brief advice that we have put together.

  • Try to write on a subject that especially interests you.
  • Ensure that everything you say is relevant to the question; keep the central focus of the essay clearly in your mind.
  • Before you start writing, make a plan. Think about what points you want to make, and the order in which you want to make them. Make sure that you know where you are going and that you do not lose hold of the main theme; otherwise you may end up arguing for the opposite of what you claimed earlier. Try to reach a conclusion.
  • Leave time to make revisions. Once you have written down a first draft of your essay, read it out loud to yourself (or, even better, to a friend). As you read, ask yourself whether each sentence expresses exactly what you have in mind and whether the overall structure is as effective as it can be.
  • Offer an argument; do not just make assertions. Think of yourself as a lawyer presenting a case in court. Try to present your case as cogently as possible, anticipating possible objections.
  • Write in simple, clear English. In general, reasonably short sentences are easier to follow than long ones. Be precise in your use of language and do not get immersed in jargon. Good punctuation, careful sentence construction, careful use of paragraphs and accurate spelling are all important: they will help you to be understood and to persuade.
  • Philosophy deals with ideas, and involves engaging with them, not just reporting them. A mere account of what other people think is not enough. Similarly, always be careful to avoid plagiarism. Do not try to pass off other people's work as your own. You should use quotations in such a way that the argument is advanced. Do not use them merely to prove that you are familiar with a particular text. That should be evident from the way you construct the argument.
  • Give a full bibliography at the end of the essay. Books should be cited by author, date, title (underlined or in italics), place of publication, and publisher e.g. L. Wittgenstein, (1953) Philosophical Investigations, Oxford, Blackwell. Articles in journals, or in books are usually cited in quotation marks, with other details as in the case of books e.g. B. Russell (1905) 'On Denoting', Mind or M. Hollis, (1991), 'The Poetics of Personhood' in A. Malchowski (ed.) Reading Rorty, Oxford, Blackwell. Follow the link on the right for notes on citation and formatting, and a sample paragraph and bibliography.
  • Submit essays on time. Late essays will only be accepted in special circumstances (e.g. illness) after you have obtained the permission of your module tutor or, in the case of assessed essays, the Senior Tutor.
  • We expect essays, non-assessed as well as assessed, to be produced using a word-processor. This makes your work easier to read and will help you to become skilled in the kind of presentation of your work likely to be called for in future employment.

Further training resources, especially in connection with finding relevant texts, evaluating sources, and referencing, are available from the library as part of the Library Philosophy Pages. General information about using the library's resources to search for information is available here.

Referencing and Presentation of essays

The philosophy department recommends the Harvard referencing style

For examples of how to reference, see the Warwick guide to using Harvard referencing style

For an example of how to present your essay, see our style guide (with bibliography). (Word Document)