Why Writing Works

Disciplinary Approaches to Composing Texts

Writing in Philosophy

by Dr. Maureen Sander-Staudt

Writing is important

Philosophy is invaluable for providing clear, distinct, and carefully thought-out analysis of important terms and values.

Types of writing in Philosophy

Most philosophical writing today takes the form of the journal article or book. Books can be single authored, co-authored, or an edited anthology. In any case, these writings typically involve presenting an argument that proceeds from a thesis, to defense of premises, counter-argument, and response. Some branches of philosophy (such as Existentialism) explicitly endorse the use of novels and short stories to convey philosophical ideas. Poetry is less common, but certainly can be a vehicle for philosophical writing (as exemplified in the book The Poethical Wager, by Joan Retallack).

Today the most dominant form of writing is the short academic journal article. However, the single authored book and edited anthology is also common.

Writing in the Philosophy classroom

Usually students write short papers that explore their ideas about a subject, which is used to them develop a more carefully crafted argumentative paper. These are relevant beyond university life because it trains students to think deeply about the possible meanings of words and concepts. It helps them to learn how to draft and evaluate reasoned arguments which are relevant to work, family life, scientific advancements, politics, and ethics.

Tips for writing well in Philosophy

  • It is important for students to write clearly, and to carefully define any ambiguous or vague concepts. In philosophy, it is generally assumed that concepts are “contestable," so the initial part of a paper is often spent defining key terms, and drawing analytical distinctions that may be needed in service of the overall argument.
  • Students should make their thesis clear from the start of the paper, as well as their premises. Often an abstract of the overall argument is helpful to give a short overview of the author’s line of reasoning. It is not inappropriate to use first person, or to directly alert the reader to one’s thesis, through the use of a thesis statement, such as “In this paper, I will argue that…”.
  • Paper organization can be an indispensable way to also delineate the progression of an argument—paper title, introduction/conclusion, headings, transitions, and topic sentences, as these all serve as “guideposts” to the reader.


Philosophy: Disciplinary Perspective

Reading in Philosophy

Research in Philosophy

Documentation in Philosophy


See an example of a student paper in Philosophy that includes comments from the professor.