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Philosophical Writing Rubric

A Rubric for Evaluating Philosophical Writing

There are many ways to write good philosophy: dialogues, poetry, hymns, plays, novels, riddles, parables, and many other formats can all help say what you want to say. In my classes you will learn one particular way of writing philosophy. It is focused on writing in a way that is easy for people to read and in a way that lets people figure out exactly what you mean to say. This rubric lists the various criteria that can be used to judge this sort of writing.

Clarity - Clear writing ensures that the idea the reader gets is the same as the idea that the writer is aiming to communicate. Here are ways to make your writing clear:

  • Unambiguous words and phrases: each word and phrase you write should have one meaning that is obvious to the reader. If any words or phrases are ambiguous, replace them, or add additional clarification.
  • Organization: If you are writing something long, with big ideas, each big idea should have its own section, which you can label with a heading. If you have any long sections, you can break them up into subsections. Each paragraph should have at most one point. When you switch points, switch paragraphs.
  • Citations: When you are explaining someone else's ideas, cite the page number those ideas appear on. If it is helpful, quote their words and cite the quote.
  • Grammar: Following the rules of grammar is important, because your reader will not be sure what you are trying to say if there are many mistakes in your writing.

Concision - Concise writing ensures that the reader does not get lost or become confused about what your main point is. It also makes your writing easier to read, which is typically good.

  • Length: Shorter is better.
  • Relevance: Check to make sure that everything you are including is actually important. Every word and phrase should contribute to the goal of the piece. If it does not directly contribute, delete it.

Accuracy - Especially in philosophy, you will be judged on whether your writing is correct, in the sense of accurately reporting on the views you are discussing.

  • Correct summaries: It is important to avoid making mistakes when summarizing someone's view, insofar as this is possible. To do this, work hard at understanding something before attempting to write a summary of it.
  • Charitability: You should always be charitable when describing someone's position. This means that any time there is some ambiguity about what they mean, you should interpret them as having said the thing that makes the most sense or that results in the best argument. You do not want to attribute a bad argument to your interlocutor if there is another way of understanding what they wrote which is a better argument.