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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Philosophy Writing Projects

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Philosophy Writing Projects: The Response/Discussion Paper

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You'll encounter this assignment most frequently in Philosophy "W" courses. "Response/discussion" papers are precisely what they sound like: reactions to what you've been assigned to read or a lecture you've taken notes on. These little weekly papers are meant to make sure that you've read material that's been assigned and read it more than superficially. You'll understand what you read more thoroughly after you've written them. You may find portions of what you've written useful in longer papers, too.

Some Expectations for the "Response/Discussion" Paper

  • Focus—The most important part of your personal response paper is your thesis, which states in about one sentence a central idea that the rest of your paper will support. Sometimes your instructor will suggest possible focuses or require you to focus on a certain aspect of the assigned readings, a visiting speaker's presentation, or a lecture from your instructor. To do well on this assignment, you need to have read both the assignment and the required text carefully.
  • Support—For the most part, you'll be relying on the contents of what you've read or listened to—arguments, examples, and details from your reading, your "primary source"—for your support. Since you'll be reading and hearing "conversations" among philosophers, you'll need to read closely and carefully to those written or oral conversations. When you choose exact quotations, choose a few short ones that are notable for their clarity of argument. More generally you will be summarizing arguments, examples, or objections that you have read.
  • Shape—three things are important here:
    • to read an assigned article or chapter with greater care than usual;
    • either to explain a main point in the essay or present a portion of the text you don't understand;
    • and, to try to explain why you agree or disagree with the arguments presented in the reading. A response to what you've read requires that you reach an "understanding" about it that will shape your response.
  • Length—the finished form of the "response/discussion" paper will usually be brief—1 to 2 pages; but your instructor will expect you to have organized it clearly and to have edited it carefully.

Types of Evidence

  • Quotation—in the short type of paper you're writing here, long quotes don't make sense. Instead, short quotes—important phrases, key words, a major portion of a sentence—will work better. Why quotes?—because they help you capture a writer's thesis, key points, an important statisitic, all in the special way of phrasing things that the writer has used. You need to be careful to quote the writer's words correctly. And you indicate that you're quoting by surrounding the quoted words with quotation marks.
  • Paraphrasing—you'll be using this one most frequently; when you do paraphrase, you're involved in an act of translation: from the words of your source to your words. You're not using quotation marks here, but you are using the indeas of another writer. When you are indebted to someone else for an idea or a fact or a statistic or a way of understanding things, you need to give that writer credit just as you do when you actually quote. That's a good thing. Use the usual page number in parentheses (56), unless your instructor requires something else.
  • Summarizing—you won't be doing this much in such a short paper. But it's possible that you'll find it useful to summarize a section or a paragraph of the material in what you've been reading.

Citing Your Sources

  • Within your paper—generally, for this paper you won't be required to do internal formal citations. But, if you are, you'll be using the in-text method most often. That is, the enclosure within parentheses of a short-hand notation of the source you're citing. This "parenthetical citation" will be included directly after the quote or paraphrase or summary you've used in your paper. Use Diana Hacker's site for MLA format for in-text citations.
  • Works Cited—since it's the primary text you'll be focusing upon, you probably won't be asked to provide a formal "works cited" page. If you are, use the citation format that makes sense for the discipline you're most familiar with and be consistent. APA and MLA are most common. For more information, see Hacker's APA and MLA citation guide.

What's Valued in "Response" Papers...

  • A clear response—i.e., you've clearly got a reaction, an opinion.
  • Interaction with what you're responding to—your reaction is supported by examples and arguments from the text or, if appropriate, from your own experience.
  • Logic—a consistent sense of what and why in the paper—you're responding to something specific, and you're using the text to demonstrate how and WHY you're responding as you are.
  • Understanding—you're responding, at least partly, to something you don't understand or are trying to explain. So your "discussion" should show you working analytically toward that understanding of something.

... and What is NOT

  • A response that remains on the emotional level (no support).
  • Unsupported generalizations.
  • Actually, generalizations in general. It's usually better to take a particular part of the text or argument and focus your writing on it, going more deeply into that area than considering a broader area in a more general way.
  • Avoiding or not using the text you're responding to. Stay very close to the text in your discussion. Keep referring back to the arguments and examples it contains. Don't use a statement in it as a jumping off point for your own tangents or stories.
  • Citing the dictionary for a definition.

Sample Assignments

Sample Student Papers

Link to student papers.

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