Luca Ferrero
Dept. of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee

The Mechanics

The writing workshop consists of three phases (check the syllabus for exact dates)

  1. Submit your first draft in three copies (make sure to put your name on each of them). When you submit the paper you will be assigned two papers to comment on.

  2. Write comments on each paper (for guidelines on commenting see the writing workshop questionnaire). On the due date, you submit the comments and meet with the other students in class for the writing workshop. During the workshop the students will discuss in person, on the basis of the written comments they have received, how to improve their drafts.
    Make sure that you come to the writing workshop with both a copy of your comments and of the papers you are commenting on. Please identify yourself on both as the commentator.

  3. A week after the writing workshop, you must submit the revised version of your paper. The revision should be based on the written and oral comments you have received during the writing workshop and on what you have learned reading and commenting on the other students' papers.
    Make sure to submit: your revised version, the comments and the original drafts with the marginal notes written by your commentators. Please staple all this material together; the final version of your paper should on top.



I will grade only the final version of your paper. Hence, do not worry about the mistakes contained in the first draft. However, the quality of your comments and the effort you put in preparing the first draft count toward the class participation grade. In any case, it is in your best interest that the first draft be as good as it can be. You should pretend to be writing the final version. If you don't do so, your commentators are most likely to suggests improvements that you would be able to see by yourself if you only had spent more time writing. You should rather hope for the commentators to improve your writing in ways that you are not able to see by yourself. This is the point of the writing workshop.


Writing the Comments

There are four stages to commenting on a paper.

  1. First, read quickly through the paper, so that you can get an impression of the paper as a whole.

  2. Second, get a copy of the questionnaire and familiarize yourself with it. Use the questionnaire to guide you in reading the paper in the next stage.

  3. Third, read the paper once again and slowly. Read it both sentence by sentence and with an eye to its overall structure. Using the questionnaire as a guide, marks typos, unclear passages and write comments on the margins.

  4. Fourth, make sure you have followed all the suggestions contained in the questionnaire. Write the final comments (see the last portion of the questionnaire). Attach the final comments to the draft that you are commenting. Both the marked drafts and the final comments must be turned in at the beginning of the writing workshop.

By all means, mark and underline the draft you are commenting on. If your comments are too long to fit in the margin or you want to be make references to certain passages in your final comments, mark the relevant passages on the margin with a circled number and use the circled number to make reference to the passage later on.


Types of Comments

In writing your comments, you are required to pay attention to different features of the paper. First, make sure that there are no typos, misspellings, grammar mistakes and the paper has the right format. Second, comment on the clarity and efficacy of the internal organization of the paper. Third, assess the philosophical qualities of the paper, in particular whether it presents a compelling argument in support of its conclusion.

The most important and valuable comments are those directed at the philosophical aspects of the paper. If the papers you are commenting on is well-written, you will have not trouble in concentrating on the philosophical issues. Even in those cases in which the draft invites many comments on its stylistic and structural aspects, do not forget that the ultimate goal of the workshop is to improve philosophical writing. Hence, make sure that you give adequate attention to the assessment of the philosophical aspects of the paper.

Your comments are meant to be helpful. They should be to the point, constructive and substantial. Do not just write generic comment or purely negative remarks (like `What?'). Rather try to spell out why you do not understand or you are not convinced by what the author says. Write any positive suggestions you might have on how to improve either the writing or the argument. It goes without saying that the opposite of a constructive criticism is any gratuitously negative or snide comment.


Too complicated?

Does this sound too demanding? If commenting is too burdensome, the fault is with the draft. If you find commenting on a paper frustrating, it is because reading that paper is frustrating. By writing good comments on the draft you are helping the writer to improve her communicative and argumentative skills. Most importantly, you will learn what counts as a good paper from the point of view of the reader. The ability to take this point of view is crucial to the success of your own writing. When you find problems with the draft on which you are commenting, ask yourself whether your draft might generate similar critical reactions in the readers. In reading and commenting the drafts, you should make a point of learning how your own writing is going to be received and understood by others and how it can be improved. You should learn how to avoid the flaws and incorporate the virtues of the drafts you are reading.


Writing an Excellent Paper

Now that you know what is required in order to be a critical reader and commentator, what about learning about writing an excellent philosophy paper? The goal of the workshop is to make your writing philosophically accessible and interesting. Ideally, the final version of your paper should be a clear, well-structured and well-argued discussion of a philosophical issue. It is not required of you to find the ultimate truth or make a major philosophical discovery. However, your paper should present a clear case in support of some non-trivial claim. It is not necessary that you should be able to convince everyone that you are right. You want to present a plausible argument in support of your claims so as to generate an interesting philosophical discussion; that is, a discussion in which despite the possible disagreements, your claims must be taken seriously because they are supported by forceful arguments. This is possible, however, only if the arguments are clearly stated in a well-written paper and they avoid obvious logical mistakes.

Throughout the writing process (including the preparation of the comments) you should consult at least some of the excellent resources on writing philosophy that are available on line. But if you find all these suggestions too long, complicated and tedious, you should just forget them and put in practice with no further ado the Advice on How to Write a D- Paper (by A.D. Irvine) ;-)


Created by Luca Ferrero
Last Updated: Friday, September 14, 2001 09:03 PM