The Oxford University Standard for Citation Of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) is to be used for footnotes and the bibliography. II – Structure
Cut to the chase right off by saying what the specific problem of the essay is and why it is a problem.
People call sexual practices perverse all the time, but it is hard to figure out what the criteria for perversion are and what difference it makes whether those practices are perverse or not.
Avoid long-winded, flowery and vague introductions such as: Philosophy has been studied for a long time.
Give your thesis up front, saying in the first paragraph exactly what position youre going to be arguing for.
Set out how you understand and will use the key terms in your essay, especially any that are used in the question itself.
2. Argument. Go for a methodical, point-by-point presentation. The reader should know in each part of the essay what the essay is trying to prove, and how it is trying to prove it.
(The reader should be able to use all of his or her brain-power learning from the essay and assessing whether its arguments are plausibleand should be able to spend no brain-power trying to figure out what the essay is trying to prove.)
3. All essays should include critical evaluation of the topic under discussion. Its not enough just to describe what others have said. By the end the readers should understand the arguments that have led you to your own conclusions about the topic.
4. Conclusion. Avoid glib conclusions such as this is a very difficult subject and there are arguments on both sides. Your reader knows that, especially as you should have presented just those arguments. Your conclusion should be a considered response to the arguments you have given, challenged and evaluated.
At this point, dont be afraid to give your own personal response to the question, so long as it is based on and follows from the material you have discussed. The examiner does want to see that you have engaged with the material rather than simply regurgitated it.
III – Style and economy
1. Clarity is the main virtue of a philosophy essay. Its better to write a clear boring essay than a muddled entertaining one.
2. Simplicity: Simpler words and short sentences are often clearer. Dont go for fancy terms or complex sentences unless you absolutely have to. (Note: One almost never has to.)
3. Define the essays main terms with precision early on (you may have done this in the introduction).
a. E.g. Act utilitarianism is the thesis that an action is right if and only if it is the action that produces the most utility.
4. Focus: Dont lay out more of a view than you need to. There are no marks for simply repeating everything you know about a subject. On the contrary, there are higher skills marks available for knowing how to leave out irrelevant material.
a. E.g. if your problem is that utilitarianism may be too demanding, you may not have to discuss in the essay the different interpretations of what utility is (whether there is a distinction between higher and lower pleasures, etc.).
Focusing appropriately on the question at hand is one of the best ways to get marks in philosophy. Meandering aimlessly is a very fast way of losing them.
5. Depth: Go in depth concerning the problem specified by the essay topic; you dont need to say everything about everything. Better to explore one subject in detail than two subjects superficially.
6. If youre arguing against someones position, present your opponents arguments as sympathetically as possible. Your arguments are only as strong as the arguments they defeat.
7. These essays may not need to use many (or even any) quotes from the readings.
8. Very rarely will you need to discuss the work of more than two or three philosophers in any detail in an essay. It is better to pick representatives of the positions you are discussing and evaluating these in depth than to rattle off a dozen names that you barely mention again.
9. Avoid starting sentences by I feel or I believe. The point of the essay is to convince others using good arguments, not simply to express oneself.
10. Avoid sweeping and unsupported statements that may be controversial, e.g., There are no right answers in morality.
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