Writing a Philosophy Essay

  • How to Find Literature
  • How to Make Notes or Excerpts
  • Writing the Essay
  • Some Formal Criteria for Writing an Essay
  • Re-Reading | Assessment | Plagiarism | Language
  • Common Abbreviations in Notes and References


One of the skills you have to learn in Philosophy is to be able to write an essay about a philosophical subject. This is not only an exercise in verbal expression, but an essential way of learning to do Philosophy. Essay writing is an excellent exercise for collecting information relevant to a philosophical problem, for assessing the arguments involved and, last but not least, for presenting a position of your own which you have to back up by sufficient reasons and good examples. Of course, this skill is not limited to philosophical problems alone. Once you have mastered it, it will be of invaluable help in other areas as well.

Choosing an Essay Title

As a rule, essay titles will be given by the lecturer in the early stages of each course.


Part of the work of tutorials is to give general advice and support in the writing of essays.

How to Find Literature

Usually the lecturer or tutor will recommend books or articles meant to be an introduction into the subject you are going to write about. Finding further literature is mostly dependent on your own initiative. You will find the following sources to be useful aids:

(a) Dictionaries:
e.g. Encyclopaedia of Philosophy edited by Paul Edwards

(b) Histories of Philosophy
e.g. F.C.A. Copleston, A History of Philosophy

(c) Bibliographies
e.g. The Philosopher's Index
Repertoire Bibliographique de la Philosophie (Louvain)

(d) Periodicals
e.g. Philosophical Studies
Philosophical Quarterly

(e) Monographs/Biographies

You should normally start from general literature about your subject and end up with a special monograph or article, which means starting with dictionaries and consulting periodicals at a later stage. This will give you a better perspective on the complexity of the literature involved.

How to Make Notes or Excerpts

Do not copy the whole article you are reading in preparation for your essay. Try to find out what the author's main argument is and what are the main reasons which back it up?  Try to paraphrase or make excerpts of the central assertions. Examine the views of authors who have a different opinion on the subject and find out why. Again make notes and excerpts. Try to find an answer to the question whether the authors use logically sound arguments, whether they can be agreed with and why. Do they omit distinctions which you regard as necessary for the solution of the problem altogether? Questions of this kind will have to be answered in the preparatory phase of your essay. Making sufficient notes trying to answer these questions will be of great help in the formulation of the essay itself.

Writing the Essay

 Essay Structure

(1) Introduction: outline the structure of argument to follow

(2) Main section: give a critical analysis of the topic to be discussed.

(3) Conclusion: Gather the main points that you discussed in the main section of the essay,

      clearly giving your own conclusion to the debate

(4) Bibliography

  • Establish your topic
  • Search for sources of information
  • Read your sources and take notes
  • Organise your ideas
  • Write a first draft
  • Use Chicago System when referencing: The Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide is at the following link  http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html
  • Write a bibliography
  • Revise the first draft
  • Proofread the final draft

 Key points in writing a good essay

1.Analyse the question, for example:

Explain and critically analyse the ethical issues involved in enhancement procedure, outlining clearly the strengths and weaknesses of arguments that support the use of psychotropic drugs to improve human performance.  In your paper, refer to critics who defend enhancement procedures.

2. Argumentative Paper

A philosophy paper is an argumentative paper, not a research paper as such.  A pure research paper concerns establishing or discovering facts e.g. historical facts.  A philosophy paper (which does involve research), however, usually takes a position on an issue, and tries to convince the reader of the thesis put forward.  The essay, therefore, should present both an analytical and critical examination of the topic.  Analyse what the issue for discussion is, but more importantly why a claim is being made.  Criticism is not just refuting arguments, but can put forward the best possible case for arguments. 

3. Plan the essay

Make sure that you know what your position will be before starting to write the final draft of your essay. One of the main tasks you have to fulfil in writing your essay is to give sufficient backing to your position by reasons and arguments, relying to a great extent on the literature on the subject. You should mention and discuss counter-arguments to your own position as well.

If you take all these considerations into account, one possible structure of an essay could be the following:

The essay should have an introduction explaining the problem and its possible solution. It should have a central part consisting of the discussion of arguments and counter-arguments, partly found in literature and partly built up by yourself. It should have a conclusion giving a short assessment of your result and indicating problems arising from it.

Note: A summary of what you read is not an adequate substitute for an essay; nor is work which ignores the relevant literature. Always make sure to give reasons for assertions you make and do not forget to give examples of what you mean.

You may read and choose an essay title and have a great idea for an introduction, and then begin writing straight away.  This is the wrong approach to essay writing.  You will probably only get as far as the first paragraph and then run out of ideas.  What you must do instead is plan out your essay before you start writing.  List the different areas you wish to cover.  Each idea can be extended into a full paragraph.  Each paragraph you write should link up with the one before so that your essay can have a nice to it.  Unless you impose structure around your ideas, your essay will lack coherence and order. 

4.  Your essay should always relate to the title

It can be very easy when writing an essay to wander off into another topic that you feel you can write about.  However, you will not gain any marks for material that is not relevant to the title.  After each paragraph written, it is a good idea to read the title once again and focus your mind on the topic of the essay.  This will ensure that your essay is always referring back to the chosen topic. 

5. Re-read if possible

Because of pressure of time you will probably make a few spelling or grammar mistakes.  Whilst these will not lose you a lot of marks, you should take time, if possible, to read over your essay and correct them.  It makes a better impression on the examiner to have as few errors as possible. 

6. Linking paragraphs.

Link your paragraphs to one another, especially in the main body.  It is not effective to simply jump from one idea to the next without linking one paragraph to the next.  In order for your essay to have a fluid structure, you have to use the end of one paragraph and/or the beginning of the next to show the relationship between the two ideas.  Between each paragraph and the one that follows, you need a transition.  It can be built in the topic sentence of the next paragraph, or it can be the concluding sentence of the first.  It can even be a little of both. 

7. Transition paragraph.

A transition from your last paragraph to your conclusion is also needed.  The last paragraph before your conclusion can act as a signal that you are ready to conclude.  You do not need to restate all the details of the argument in the main body in this paragraph (that comes in the conclusion), but you may refer to some detail as a way of pulling your ideas together in preparation for the conclusion. 

Essay Structure 


The structure of your discussion in the main section of your essay should be outlined in the introduction.  This should give a clear statement of your thesis, outlining briefly your intentions in the discussion to follow.  It should be clear from one or two sentences the content of your overall argument, and briefly, the structure of the debate or discussion to follow.

Main Section:

Should contain a critical discussion of the topic, arguing your thesis with the support of arguments, textual references.  For example, refer to primary sources.  You can also refer to secondary sources, quoting other critics to support your argument.  Make clear your position throughout, which you have already stated in the introduction.  Each paragraph should focus on a single idea, reason, or example that supports your thesis.  Each paragraph will have a clear topic sentence followed by a discussion or explanation of the point being presented.  Give details and specific examples throughout in order to clarify your ideas in order to make them more convincing. 


Should give your own assessment of what you have discussed in the main section, making clear how you have answered the general question of the essay.  This should present a clear, well-reasoned case for your conclusion.  Your conclusion should bring together the primary points discussed in the main section of your essay, emphasizing the importance of the topic and the significance of your own view.  An essay shouldend by taking a brief sweeping look back over the argument of the essay and also look back to the title of the essay.  The conclusion should show the reader how the discussion in the essay has ‘answered the question.’  You do not have to come to a definite position on one side or the other.  You can simply point out the case on each side.  But your essay must show that the time and effort taken has succeeded in taking the reader to a more informed position on the issues contained in the title.  A conclusion should show a sense of having reached an ending.

Sample Bibliography:


Edwards, Paul. “Ethics of suicide.” In The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 870-71. London: Routledge, 2000.

English,Veronica; Romano-Critchley, Gillian; Sheather, Julian and Sommerville, Ann. “Ethics Briefings.” Journal of Medical Ethics 29 (2003): 118-119

Hume, David. “Of Suicide.” In Applied Ethics, edited by Peter Singer, 19-27. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.    

Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics, ch.7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Steinbock, Bonnie. “The case for physician assisted suicide: not (yet) proven.” Journal of Medical Ethics 31 (2005): 235-41.

Some Formal Criteria for Writing an Essay

1. Be concise.
The essay should have approximately 2OOO-3OOO words. The Extended Essay 5OOO-8OOO words.

2. Preferably type your essay.
Extended Essay must be typed.

3. Whenever you quote from a book or article, make sure that you give its exact source.
When you quote from a printed work, use inverted commas around the words you quote, and  use the Chicago System when referencing: either you use (1) or (2). In whatever case, you must remain consistent throughout your essay:

(1) Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2006), 99–100.


(2) Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 3.


Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin, 2006.

If you refer again to the same argument, use the term "ibid." for "the same", only if you mean the very same paragraph you have just referred to; otherwise, the page number should be given again.

4. Always indicate, at the end of your essay, all the books and articles you have used in a Bibliography (see above). Titles of articles are given in inverted commas; titles of books and periodicals are italicized.

5. Make sure your essay has your name on it.

The name of the supervisor should be put at the top of the front page of the essay.


Electronically through Turnitin if instructed to do so.  

If asked to hand in a hard copy please make sure that the pages are fastened together securely and bring to the Secretary’s office at Room 311, First Floor, Tower One, Concourse.


Put the essay aside for a couple of days and then re-read it aloud. Do change it if you think it needs changing, but do not go on changing it forever.


It is important that you should know how well you have done and where you ought to improve your skills of essay writing. Your supervisor will help you in this matter.

Checklist for Presentation of Essays

Always go through the following checklist for presentation before writing up or typing the final draft of your essay, and again before submitting it:

Title of Essay
Name of Student
Course Name and Number
Name of Course Lecturer(s)
Date of Submission
Number of words


Electronic Turnitin submission:

  • Proof-read your essay carefully before submitting.
  • Make sure that you obtain and keep your digital receipt after you submit your essay. The digital receipt is the only proof that you have submitted your essay. 
  • Always retain a copy of your essay.

Hard copy submission:

  • Essays should be typed in double-spacing; (if typing is impossible, you may hand write your essay, but be sure your writing is perfectly legible).
  • Write on one side of the page only.
  • Be sure to include page numbers, inserting them in the top right-hand corner of each page.
  • Leave one-inch margins on both right and left-hand sides of each page.
  • Do not use plastic covers on your essay: simply staple pages together.
  • Proof-read your essay carefully before handing it in.
  • Always retain a copy of your essay, in case the copy you hand in is mislaid.


Plagiarism means presenting the words of another writer as if they were your own. This is a serious matter, and if it is detected in your essay it may result in an automatic failure mark. The way to avoid plagiarism is very simple: always put quotation marks around someone else's words and credit them to their source. If you also borrow ideas from another writer, say so. In this way you can impress an examiner by showing that you have done some research. You do not always have to appear utterly "original"! The link to rules of Plagiarism is at the following link:  



Always avoid the use of language which is sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive.

Common Abbreviations in Notes and References

ed., eds.
et al.
l., ll.
n., nn.
p., pp.

confer (="compare")
edition, edited by, editors
et alia (="and others")
"and the following pages"
ibidem (="in the same place")
line, lines
note, notes
no date of publication given
no place or no publisher given
opere citato (="in the work quoted")
page pages
quod vide (="which see")
revised, revised by
translated by



Extenuating Circumstances

Our university has introduced a policy for supporting students with extenuating circumstances if it affects your assessments. 

Extenuating circumstances are serious unavoidable, unpredictable, and exceptional circumstances outside the control of the student, which may negatively impact the student’s performance in assessment.  

The attached policy provides guidance on how to make a submission for consideration under this policy. Extenuating Circumstances Policy

Please note that submitting supporting documentation to support your application is a requirement of the application form.

In the event of serious circumstances where it is difficult to acquire supporting documentation (e.g. sudden bereavement or family emergency), please contact the College Student Advisor, Dr Rosemary Crosse, by email: rosemary.crosse@universityofgalway.ie. Evidence of the contact made with the Student Advisor may be considered as supporting documentation in such cases.  For further information, visit College Support for Undergraduate Students.

 If you experience extenuating circumstances that affect an assessment, the steps you take depend on the weighting of the assignment and the accommodation or extension you require. 

  • If an assignment is worth less than 20% of your overall module mark, please liaise with the Extenuating Circumstances Officer in your School/programme if you require an accommodation or extension. The Extenuating Circumstances Officer in your School or Programme (often a Head of Year or Programme Coordinator) is the key contact person who would typically manage requests for short extensions as identified in your Student Handbook. 
  • If your assignment is worth more than 20% of your overall module mark, the following steps need to be taken: 
    • If you require an extension of 7 days or less, decisions can be managed locally by the relevant Extenuating Circumstances Officer in your School or Programme (i.e. the key contact person who would typically manage requests for extensions as identified in the Student Handbook). 
    • If you require an extension of more than 7 days or require an alternative accommodation (examples of alternative accommodations are outlined in the policy link above), applications need to be made centrally to the College Extenuating Circumstances Committee and will be decided upon by the Extenuating Circumstances Committee. Links to the application forms can be found here: 2023-2024 Extenuating Circumstances Submission Form  CASSCS Students Only (office.com)

Please note that if an accommodation or extension is required, we ask you to contact the relevant person as soon as possible.  

You should also note that technology issues are not considered eligible grounds for making an application under the Extenuating Circumstances policy. Please familiarise yourself with cloud computing https://www.universityofgalway.ie/o365/onedrive/ and note the existence of on-campus computer labs, the Laptop Loan Scheme https://www.universityofgalway.ie/accesscentre/laptoploanscheme/, and the library's laptop borrowing scheme https://library.universityofgalway.ie/collections/equipment/laptoploans/

If you are absent from College due to illness for 7 days or less, you can inform your module leaders directly in relation to your absence from your lectures. It is not necessary to notify the College Office. 

If you have a LENS report that states that leniency is required with deadlines (and your LENS report explicitly advises this is required), you can liaise directly with your module leaders. In such cases, the module leader would explore requirements with you and no application would be required to the Extenuating Circumstances Committee. Applications only come to our committee if circumstances arise that are unrelated to the LENS report and meet the additional requirements as outlined above (assignment worth more than 20% of the module mark; and an accommodation is required or an extension of more than 7 days.  

We understand, at times, that students may benefit from support from our health centre or counselling service or other student support services and you may not yet have made this call or reached out for help. However, we encourage you to get in touch with our team if you need to discuss your circumstances. Our College Student Advisor Dr Rosemary Crosse is available for advice and guidance on a variety of personal, financial and academic matters: Dr Rosemary Crosse rosemary.crosse@universityofgalway.ie  Catherine McCurry or Michelle Lantry in the College Office are also available to support our students with student academic matters: artsundergrad@universityofgalway.ie


Local guidelines for late assignments worth less than 20% of the final module mark

  1.  Students are required to submit assignments by the due deadline set by the Department, using the submission procedure specified for that assignment.
  2. Students seeking an extension shall contact the staff member who is convener of the relevant module. In such cases students will normally be required to present a medical certificate or other evidence of a compelling reason for late submission, which should normally be lodged with the College of Arts Office, a copy of which should also be handed in to the Department Administrator but not to the staff member involved. This must be agreed in writing.  On submission, the written authority for an extension shall be attached to any such late assignments. Such extensions may only be for the duration of one-week. Only when a request for such an extension is provided in advance of the deadline and in writing (by e-mail or letter) will the request for an extension be considered.
  3. Where an extension is being requested on grounds other than medical ones, i.e. when no medical certificate is forthcoming or where the extension being sought extends for in excess of one week, then the student must seek the permission of the Head of Year for the extension.
  4. Where an extension has not been agreed in advance, or where a student submits an essay after agreed extensions have expired, the Department will normally impose a penalty for late submission. For each day that elapses between the expiration of the deadline and the receipt of the work by the Department, 2 percentage points will be deducted from the student’s mark for that assignment. No essay will be accepted after two weeks have elapsed from the submission deadline.
  5. Assignments must be submitted in sufficient time to allow them to be marked in accordance with Departmental, College and University deadlines for the return of marks. Assignments that are not submitted sufficiently in advance of these deadlines may not be accepted for marking.



Please read the following guidelines on Academic Integrity.   

The following video may be useful in understanding Academic Integrity: https://www.crannog-he.ie/mmcontent/Contract_Cheating/story.html


Please read the following Undergraduate Marks and Standards and Postgraduate Marks and Standards policies. 


Download the Essay Submission Form Cover Page