I need some book recommendations or other source recommendations on where to find a good book on the actual act of writing philosophy. I won't be able to attend graduate school for philosophy unfortunately but I want to learn how to write on a better level on my own time. I know its no alternative to an actual education but its still nice to know what to improve. Also

  1. Are graduate level papers similar enough to undergraduate papers but just more detailed and specific with more sources for evidence and argument?
  2. What writing skills are focused on more in graduate school?

If this question is not appropriate for this site lemme know and I'll take it down. If you know what site would be better for it, leaving a comment mentioning it would be a huge help!

  • 3
    Graduate papers in philosophy, like in pretty much all fields, are a lot more detailed and better structured than undergrad papers. Not everything is dissertation length, of course, but you should read through a few philosophy PhD dissertations to get a familiarity with the level of rigor required. Honestly at graduate level the work you're doing in any field is borderline professional if not outright professional so looking at professional papers is a good indicator as well. The five paragraph essay styles of undergrad are long gone
    – Not_Here
    Commented Oct 13, 2017 at 21:00
  • One idea would be to sign up to do a dissertation with an online philosophy school and a good supervisor, one who will pick up on every dodgy bit of thinking or writing. Cheap and simple.
    – user20253
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 10:35
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? How to rate philosophy essays?
    – user64125
    Commented Feb 3, 2023 at 7:21

3 Answers 3


Writing for philosophy graduate classes expects (at least) the following changes compared with undergraduate philosophy classes:

  • More rigor in argumentation - you need to produce arguments that are tighter and clearer.
  • More familiarity with the relevant literature - while for an undergraduate class you may only need to find and work with one major secondary source and a primary text, you will need to work with several to do graduate work.
    • "Jargon" is more acceptable, but here it's not really jargon because you're learning to speak in at least some of the ways that the literature you want to engage in speaks.
    • Anticipating objections - you should be able to figure out what the objections are to your position and diffuse them. This can involve either showing why they fail against your view, showing that they come from invalid assumptions, or showing that even if they work "so what?"

I think (though I'm working from memory here) that I was able to turn two of my graduate class papers into publications. And that's kind of the point or that's what getting an A ought to mean -- that something is on the level where it could be thought of as extending the field.


Here's what I suggest: read good philosophy, of the rigorous kind. Good writing can be kinda learned by osmosis. Meanwhile, motivate yourself to write about things you find interesting. Try to be precise in your wording, structured in your exposition, and rigorous in connecting the points you make. Your "aesthetic" sense of orderedness and clarity will be heightened by your readings and by your own self-conscious practice. Try not to make it too meticulous (at first), unless you love it, or you'll make it boring for yourself and you'll stop practicing. Improve in short steps.

Here are a few texts which will certainly help:

A Guide to Philosophical Writing (Elijah Chudnoff)

A Brief Guide for Writing the Philosophy Paper (Harvard College Writing Center)

Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper (Richard Pryor)

How to Write a Philosophy Paper (Shelly Kagan)

Philosophy Paper Grading Rubric (Micah Lewin)

— How to Write Philosophy Papers That Don't Suck (Yonatan Shemmer / M. Vargas) (no link)


Good advice on the first 4 (structuring a paper) purpose (https://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~phils4/pryorguidelines.html), audience, argumentation, and narrative. But as for the fifth one style that is another matter. You can develop your own, personal style anywhere on a continuum that has as one pole - a formal type of acceptable and required style employed for more or less academic work, to the opposite pole of a unique, personal, mature style. The latter will be employed by original thinking and/or expressing philosophers.

I am only interested in the latter in my own work (more than 80 books), and heavily criticize the former (its lack of self-cognition, one-dimensionality, etc). https://independent.academia.edu/UlrichdeBalbian. Apology this site prevented me from posting the relevant links for each of the five points!!

  • You're answer is much still appreciated. I guess I"ve always wanted to develop the latter as well being strongly drawn to philosophers like Nietzsche but thought it best to learn the former first.
    – Bunny
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 2:37

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