Writer's WebResearch

Searching for Good Sources

Philosophy research papers require a lot of reading, and it can be intimidating to imagine sieving through twelve books and thirty different articles to discern which details hold value to you. Hjortshoj suggests that strives for "mastery" rather than completion. "Mastery" means that one knows "(1) what [the material] is, (2) why it was written, (3) how to find information within it, and (4) how to use the material for your own purposes" (33).

In other words, the strategy of the reading one does accomplish is just as important as the content itself. One can retain that content by taking notes as he or she reads or at the end of each article/chapter (39), highlighting (when possible) and leaving notes in the margin can reduce later struggles to find key phrases (40), writing outlines of important pieces of analysis (46), and selective, analytic reading for longer works coupled with close readings of shorter or denser works save you a lot of time later on (50, 52-53).

The first sources you find on a search engine are not usually the most ideal. Think hard about the question you want your paper to answer/explore and the "hot topics" that are associated with it.

For example, a student writing a paper on the whether Wittgenstein's conception of logical positivism retains meaning in metaphysics would search for things like "Wittgenstein," "metaphysics," "logical positivism," "debate" in conjunction with one another. Often, choosing just one topic will yield to many results, and choosing too many will yield none. Try different word associations to see which allows for the most manageable pile to search through.

The following websites are good resources for future research papers:

Many of these sources also export to RefWorks, which is an invaluable tool for both organizing your online sources and formatting your bibliographies or works cited pages.

Utilizing Texts Effectively

The best time to use full quotations (i.e. to quote a passage directly) is when the quote directly relates to your thesis, or the author has worded it too succinctly for any summarization to be necessary. For example, if your thesis states that "X is Y," and Plato's Meno directly addresses why "X is Y," then it is beneficial to you to quote directly from Plato's Meno (with proper citations, of course).

Texts should support but not replace your own interpretation and explanation. Overusing texts can result in what Hjortshoj refers to as a "loss of voice," and limits the author's contribution to the discourse and their grade in the process. (189-90). Texts should always be explained (in your own words) and/or related back to your thesis.

Most of the time, a good writer draws out the arguments in the texts and reconstructs--or, even better, explains--it in his or her own words using clear and concise language. One should avoid using quotes without any explanation or in place of one's own ideas, inserting quotes to fill the page or a professorial requirement, and quotes that do not expand on the thesis.

Paraphrasing can be very effective or completely disastrous to a philosophical essay, depending on how it is used. On the positive side, good paraphrasing can demonstrate that you understand the text well enough to incorporate and elaborate upon it in your own words. However, paraphrasing in a way that perverts the meaning of the text or omits critical ideas that pervade the text can indicate a lack of knowledge about the paraphrased material. A more drastic omission can lead to accusations of plagiarism.

A good way to avoid plagiarism is to always credit a source that inspires your essay, even if it is not directly quoted or summarized within the paper. When you neglect to properly credit an author, you are denying their entry into the ongoing discourse about the subject (Hjortshoj 139)

Helpful hint: Bibliographies allow for these additional citations, while Works Cited should only, as the name suggests, reference the texts directly referenced in one's paper.

For an example of a good, in-depth reading of a text, see "Friedrich Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals: A Hypertext Reading"

Keep in mind that even accidental plagiarism a crime, and refer to the University of Richmond Honor Councils and How to Avoid Plagiarism when in doubt.

The Writer's Web and Chapter 7 of The Transition to College Writing also have great tips on when and how to reference an work in a certain way, and avoid accidental plagiarism.


Most Philosophy professors prefer that their students use Turabian citation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the format, here are examples of proper bibliographic citations and footnotes using the three most common sources for a philosophy paper.

A Book with One Author

Bibliography: Author's last name, Author's first name. Title. Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication.

First footnote using source: Author's first and last name, Title (Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication), Page number.

Second (or later) footnote using source: Author's first and last name, Title, Page number.

A Chapter or Part of a Book or Anthology

Bibliography: Author's last name, Author's first name. "Chapter's Title." Title of Book, ed. editor's first and last name(s). Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication. Selection of pages chapter includes.

First Footnote using source: Author's first and last name, "Chapter's Title," Title of Book, ed. Editor's first and last name (Place of publication: Publisher, Year of Publication), Page cited.

Second (or later) footnote using source: Author's first and last name, "Chapter's Title," Page cited.

Article from a Scholarly Journal

Bibliography: Author's last name, Author's first name. "Title of Article." Title of Journal Issue number (Month and year of publication): Page numbers of article.

First footnote using source: Author's first and last name, "Title of Article," Title of Journal Issue number (Month and year of publication): Page cited.

Second (or later) footnote using source: Author's first and last name, "Title of Article," Page cited.

Typically, one does not write out a full footnote a second time when citing the same source twice without interruption. In cases where the same source and page number is cited twice in a row, one should note it with "Ibid.," an abbreviation connoting that the source is the same as the one above.

In cases where one is citing a different page number of the same source, one should write "Ibid., Page number."

Example: Ibid., 63.

The style used above for citing the same source a second time should be used after another source has interrupted the earlier citation.

1. Paul Lombardo, "Three Generations, No Imbeciles," The New York University Law Review 30 or 60 (April 1985): 52.
2. John Doe, New Source, 123.
3. Paul Lombardo, "Three Generations, No Imbeciles," 54.

The University of Georgia Libraries and The University of Chicago Press also have very thorough advice for less common citations and sources.


Works cited

Hjortshoj, Keith. The Transition to College Writing, 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 30-55, 107-192.


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