Philosophy Paper Pet Peeves

Common mistakes to avoid when writing your Philosophy paper. 

This webpage is brought to you by the letter "D", and the number 65.

Grammar, punctuation, and spelling:

u r not instant messaging

The letter "u" is not an English word. "You" is. Instant messaging is one thing, and writing an academic paper is another.

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.

I didd'nt remeberr to use the spel cheker

Translation: "I'm a careless slob. Give me a low 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!

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

Politically correct barbarisms: "s/he", "him/her", "she/he", etc.

If you want to redress gender inequity, then just use the feminine throughout, or else alternate between the genders when that isn't confusing. But avoid these unpronouncible non-words.

"God"/"god" chaos

Some students alternate these with no ryhme or reason. "God" is the proper name 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.

"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 two words correctly, and you won't confuse them.

"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), like this:

Be sure to consult the assignment handout to see which system of supplying references is required for the assignment (e.g. APA, Chicago Manual of Style).

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, marked by that same number. 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) 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? Using Word, click the References tab, then click 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 print it in the library or in a lab.

My ink is going, going, gone....

See above.

Distracting, non-standard fonts:

It's best to stick with Times, Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond, 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.

Cover Pages or titles in Gigantic, Pretentious, Letters

Tempting, to be sure. But just say "no". Save it for your first best-seller.

Department of Philosophy

2110 Fenton Hall
State University of New York at Fredonia
Fredonia, NY 14063
(716) 673-3495