Monday, August 08, 2016

Writing Tips

There are many excellent guidelines on writing philosophy: James Pryor's, Michael Huemer's, and more. I thought I'd offer a few suggestions also, as they come to mind:
  • Make an outline, with section headings. We've all been told to do this for a long time, but it is really helpful. And keep those numbered section headings in the paper so the overall structure is clear. A well organized paper almost writes itself: you just have to fill in the details of the various sections. These sections are the parts that form the whole, and if you've got all those parts in mind, your presentation (or paper), again, is really organized and easy to write, and read. 
  • Arguments: your arguments is just your main point(s), you conclusions(s) and the reason(s) you give in favor of those conclusion(s). Lay that all out in a step-by-step process. Stating the argument in numbered premises and conclusions is often very helpful for that, and that makes explaining the argument and objecting to the argument easier and clearer. 
  • Break up longer sentences. If a sentence can be broken up into shorter sentences, do it: that always improves readability. 
  • Make each sentence as short as it can be. Rigorously edit to cut words and be maximally concise.
  • Each paragraph should have one, and only one, main topic. You should be able to say, "This paragraph is about that." Short paragraphs are fine. 
  • Use ordinary words, unless you absolutely must use some special word. This helps you be concise and clear. Write so as many people as possible can understand you: do not alienate people with big words. 
  • Use "I": talk to the reader. This helps you be concise and clear. 
  • Make your introduction short, no more than half a page. Tell your reader your topic (which should be narrow), what you are going to say or argue about it (that is, your main point, your thesis, which should be brief, e.g., "This argument is unsound," "This premise is false," "This isn't a good reason to believe that," etc., and what the structure of your paper will be. That's it and not much more. 
  • Generally, don't ask rhetorical questions. Make statements and support them. Don't ask questions and hope that the reader will respond how you hope they will: they might not.
  • Revise, rewrite, rethink. After your write, reflect and revise. What can you say more concisely? What can you cut? Cut what distracts and isn't necessary to your overall purpose.
See also these rules on op-ed writing

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