Philosophy Essay

Guidelines for Writing Rationally Persuasive Papers

All papers should have fully informative and substantive titles that help convey the paper’s main point; use subtitles to further specify the title’s meaning; avoid vague title’s whose meaning is unclear to the reader such as: “Political Action.”

Use an epigraph or two to help reinforce the paper’s title and additionally convey its main point; an “epigraph” is a short, quoted passage borrowed from another source that expresses the same main thought or claim as your essay; make sure that a proper page citation is provided to the source of the quotation.

The opening paragraphs to the paper should describe the general area or problem or issue for the main claim of the paper; in most cases the immediate significance of the problem or issue will be obvious such as: political violence or the environmental crisis or human happiness, so no long justification concerning the problem or issue will be necessary, although in some cases where the issue or problem under discussion is obscure or likely unknown to the reader, like an little-read political theorist like the medievalist William of Ockham or little-known legislative budget maneuver like “earmarking” or dedicating desirable projects in a large budget that is not discussed by the legislative body, the general issue will need to be explained and justified as to why anyone would be interested in this topic; that is, the writer of the paper must justify why the reader should care about the issue or problem.

The opening paragraphs should also, importantly, state the main thesis, claim or position of the paper that become the goal of the paper to rationally convince the reader to agree with the view taken in the paper. Language such as: “it is the goal of the paper to . . .” or “it is the purpose of the paper to . . .” or “the aim of the paper is to . . .” are all standard linguistic set-ups for the expression of the thesis or main position of the paper. Such a statement should appear no later than three paragraphs into the discussion.

The body of the paper should consist of the most important part of the paper: the full expression and explanation of the meaning of the position or thesis to be defended by the writer, followed by the key element of the paper: the provision of adequate evidence to make the claim made rationally persuasive, keeping in mind that the stronger the claim, the more evidence that must be provided to make it rationally persuasive will be needed. Furthermore, the strength of a claim is determined by the use of language and word choice: “all” is stronger than “some;” some claim true for a long time is stronger than for a short time such as: some claim about last year in America versus some claim true for 200 years or 2000 years in Europe. A claim made of a large group of people is stronger than if made for a few or even one person. Evidence for one’s claim or position is the key to a successful paper and should be the main focus of any writer of rationally persuasive paper.

Consideration of a possible objection or criticism to your view and replied to or rebutted is an effective way to defend your view. If an opposing view cannot be attributed to a particular person, then the writer her/himself can create a possible objector or critic in order to respond to the potential criticism and, thereby, indirectly support or provide evidence for the claim or position taken.

When the evidence is all presented, the end of the paper should consist of only a summary of the main points made in the paper, or the pieces of evidence provided in the body of the paper with no new point made at the end; no “big finishes” to rationally persuasive papers. The endings should state the goal or aim again, such as: “it has been the purpose of this paper

to . . .” or “it has been the goal of this paper to . . .” followed by the enumeration of the pieces of evidence provided, perhaps numbered if several and complicated.

Presentation errors should be avoided, discovered and corrected by careful

proofreading and correction; computer spell-check programs should not be totally relied upon since many such errors are not caught by the computer such as: “their” vs. “there”. All spelling errors should be checked for; especially the most common such as: “cannot” being one word; the correct use of “its” which indicates possession and not “it’s” which is a contraction of “it is”. No contractions should be used in academic papers which is formal discourse where the informal language of contractions is not appropriate. Be careful to provide page citations for all: referred to texts—where you borrowed the ideas or words from in a text; all quotations; and all borrowed ideas or data. No borrowed idea should go uncited. Also, be careful of the need for new paragraphs whenever your ideas change. No page should be one whole paragraph. Transitions are needed between paragraphs and the shifts between ideas should not be abrupt. Take the reader “by the hand” figuratively speaking, and explain “every move you make” by introducing it or referring to retrospectively before going on to a new point.

Success in such rationally persuasive papers is determined by clarity of

language—use dictionary and thesaurus for best word for your meaning- and the amount and quality of evidence provided for the claim or position taken, and care and thoughtfulness in the exposition of your ideas. Use an analytical outline before writing so the writing can be separated from the thinking of the ideas to express; do not try to think of ideas and how to express them at the same time: few people are capable of doing this well.

Structure of rationally persuasive paper:

Substantive Title [with subtitle] Epigraph

Introduction: topic, subject of paper described

Main claim expressed and explained

Evidence provided in support of the claim

Ending: summary of main points of evidence provided

Proposed Rubric for Assessing Rationally Persuasive Papers for Philosophy 470

1. fully informative and substantive title to paper

2. pertinent epigraph(s)

3. opening paragraph(s) describe general area or problem or issue of paper

4. if necessary, significance of chosen problem or issue is defended

5. by the third paragraph, statement of main thesis, claim or position of paper:

“it is the goal of this paper. . . “ “it is the purpose of this paper. . .” etc.

6. body of paper and most important element of successful paper: full expression and explanation of the meaning of the position or thesis

7. ***most important aspect of paper: adequate evidence to make claim rationally persuasive; examples, analogies, data, indirect support through critique of opponent. Evidence provided should depend on strength of the claim; the stronger the claim, the more evidence needed. EVIDENCE FOR ONE’S CLAIM OR POSITION IS THE KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL PAPER AND SHOULD BE THE MAIN FOCUS OF ANY WRITER OF RATIONALLY PERSUASIVE PAPERS.

8. Consideration of possible objection or criticism of writer’s view and rebuttal or reply as a way of defending one’s position. Good to use real person for critic rather than oneself which increases likelihood of straw man objection.

9. Presentation errors should be avoided, discovered and corrected, by careful proofreading of final draft; computer spell-check programs should be relied upon exclusively since computer will not catch wrong word use, such as:

“there” for “their,” etc. “cannot” is one word. Possessive case for “its” is

without the apostrophe, while “it’s” is a contraction; all contractions should be avoided in academic papers. “affect” means “influence” and “effect” means “result.”


11. Watch need for new paragraphs whenever ideas change in your discussion, even if the resulting paragraph is very short. No whole page should be one paragraph. Transitions should exist between paragraphs or use Section headings by spacing new Section avoiding the need for transitional sentences.

12. Explain “every move you make” by “talking” to the reader; take reader by the hand and guide her/him through your paper like describing downtown San Francisco to a blind person while you are walking together. Refer to your main point throughout the discussion explaining the role of the point being discussed and how it advances your main point or thesis.

13. End papers with only a summary of your main ideas, no show business “big finishes.” You can use the same language as the expression of your main thesis or point, only in the past tense, “it has been the goal, aim, purpose, etc. of this paper to . . . “ “I defended this claim” or “I tried to show” or “I tried to

demonstrate this point by providing the following pieces of evidence: . . .”

You might consider numbering the pieces of evidence provided if there are several and they are complicated.

o Make sure you read Professor Kassiola’s guidelines for writing rationally persuasive papers. He addresses every part of an essay, from the title to the end.

§ Informative titles. Use subtitles. For example, “In defense of Lynn White Jr.’s thesis: Judeo-Christianity is the foundation for the anthropocentric beliefs that cause environmental problems.

§ Use epigraphs and cite. It helps improve your essay and it’s a transferrable to your other classes.

§ Intro paragraph should tell the reader what you are doing. Set the scene. For example, “In this essay, I analyze Lynn White Jr.’s article, “title.” In doing so, I defend his thesis that “quote from White” (cite). See more examples in Professor Kassiola’s handout. Do not write more than 3 paragraphs without clearly stating the purpose/goal of the paper. Here, the goal is to evaluate the justifications that White provides for his main thesis.

§ Section titles/headings help if you have issues making transitions between paragraphs. These section titles should correspond with your outline. In your outline, each body paragraph should address White’s supporting points for his main argument. If your idea does not directly support the goal/purpose of your paper, then most likely, it is irrelevant.

§ Evidence should be presented in your body paragraphs. Make sure you cite. Use Genesis to evaluate White’s interpretation of Judeo-Christianity and how that affects his main thesis. Include the chapter and verse when citing, e.g., (GENESIS Ch.#:Verse #). Ask your TA if you do not know how to cite. If you get stuck trying to think of evidence, ask WHY? Why does White believe X? Why do I agree or disagree? Ensure your conclusive claims are supported by evidence. Your claims are otherwise unfounded. An argument consists of at least one premise (that is evidence) and one conclusion that logically follows.

§ Also, use examples as evidence. Think of actual examples in the real world or a hypothetical one. You may also want to anticipate how someone may object – state the possible objection and address it explicitly.

§ Conclusions should restate the goal of your paper while summarizing your supporting points/evidence. End the paper when you think the amount of evidence you provided is adequate to support your conclusion. DO NOT MAKE ANY NEW CLAIMS IN THE CONCLUSION. Was White correct or incorrect and how did you support your thesis?

§ Beware of presentation errors. Spell-check. Read your essay out loud to identify grammatical errors or awkward/unclear sentences.

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