Philosophy Paper Pet Peeves

Things to avoid in writing papers for your philosophy class.



Grammar, punctuation, and spelling:

incomplete sentences
Here, one takes a dependent clause which lacks a main verb, and offers it as a whole sentence, which it is not. These are allowable in speech, and even in fiction, but never in non-fiction.

E.g. Which is a good point. Also, by showing an example.

“it's” vs. “its” confusion
The possessive “its” doesn't have an apostrophe, just like its relatives, “his” and “hers”.
The contraction for “it is”, “it's”, does need an apostrophe, because it is a contraction.

“conscious” vs. “conscience” confusion

Now that he's out of his coma, Santa is conscious once again. But since he employs a thousand underpaid and exploited elves, he's having an attack of conscience. Just pronounce these correctly, and you won't confuse them.

I didd'nt remeberr to use the spel cheker
Translation: “I'm a careless slob. Give me a lousy grade.”

“their” vs. “there” vs. “they're”
These are: possessive adjective, demonstrative adjective, and the contraction for “they are”, respectively. If you are a native speaker of English, then once you've advanced beyond the sixth grade, you should have these down! They're over there, in their own little group.

De Cart, John Stewart Mills, Guanilo, Platoe, etc.
Your reader will not be impressed if you write a paper about a philosopher and misspell his name throughout. How hard can it be to look in the book?

The writers possessives violate our languages rules
If the noun or name ends with “s”, you may either add an apostrophe and “s”, or just an apostrophe after the existing “s”.
If it doesn’t end with a “s”, add “ ’s”.

Right: Aristotle’s beard, Socrates’s friend, Descartes’ theory
Wrong: Hobbes views, Humes book, Berkeleys idea

High school is over. Time to learn how to use the apostrophe. (printable)

Politically correct barbarisms: “s/he”, “him/her”, “she/he”, etc.
If you want to redress gender inequity, then for Pete's sake, just use the feminine throughout, or else alternate between the genders when that isn't confusing.

u r not instant messaging
"u" is not an English word. "You" is. Instant messaging is one thing, and writing an academic paper is another. "People", not "ppl".


“God”/“god” chaos
Many students alternate these with no ryhme or reason. “God” is the proper name or title for the allegedly unique supreme being which religious theists worship. The word “god” is a kind-term like human, cat, or tree.

E.g. “While various philosophers offer arguments for the existence of God, we must remember that different peoples and nations acknowledge many different gods.”

“abuse” of quotation “marks”
This problem frequently goes hand in hand with overuse of an ironic or sarcastic tone, where one substitutes attitude for convincing argument. Use them when (1) quoting, (2) mentioning without using a word, (3) citing an article by title, or (4) using a word in a very non-standard, non-literal way. There are probably other good uses as well, but they don't include snotty, pseudo-sophisticated dismissals, at least not in an academic paper.

E.g. Aquinas' “argument” is “convincing” only to the already “persuaded”. Some might “say” premise four is “true”, but that is so “naive”.


The mysterious reference
E.g. (p. 141) – when the source is unclear. Is it the textbook, or some other source?
E.g. (Jones, p. 141) – when neither the footnotes nor the bibliography tells us what on earth “Jones” is. (Article? www? Book? Pamphlet found on your car winshield? etc.)
E.g. ( - You need to give the entire URL (web address), such as

Footer vs. Footnotes confusion

A footer is that area at the bottom of every page. It's usually the same on every page. You put automatic page numbers in a footer.

A footnote is signalled by a superscripted number in the text, which corresponds to a bibliographic entry placed near the bottom of the page. Each footnote appears on only one page. You don't create these by just typing in the footer area. Instead, you have the word processing program (e.g. Word, OpenOffice Writer) insert the number and corresponding footnote. It automatically keeps track of the numbers as you add more, and manages how many footnotes can fit on a given page, and how they should be spaced relative to the main text. Neat, huh? On OpenOffice Writer: from the menu choose Insert -> Footnote/Endnote -> OK button. On Word: Click the References tab, then the Insert Footnote button.

Hint: If you've got the same info at the bottom of every page, you're stupidly typing in the footer, not using footnotes. Get it right.

The dog-ear “staple”
Really, it is better just to leave the pages loose. But neither loose nor dog-eared pages are designed to impress. If you wouldn't give a paper like this to your boss in the business world, why would you inflict it on your professor?

Blue/purple/pink (etc.) print:
Get out there and buy an new printer cartridge or ribbon!

My ink is going, going, gone....
See above.

Distracting, non-standard fonts:
It's best to stick with Times, Times New Roman, Palatino, Arial, Helvetica, or Courier, or like fonts. Avoid the fancy, the decorative, the informal, those that look like handwriting, etc.. Yes, fonts are fun to play with, but you want to stick with what is readable and unassuming. Don't try to be a graphic artist.

The Luxurious Plastic Cover
Not necessary, and tends to fall apart in the professor's stack of papers and get lost. We appreciate the thought, but don't use these.

Cover Pages or titles in Gigantic, Pretentious, Letters
Tempting, to be sure. But just say “no”. Save it for your first best-seller.

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