Paper Writing Guide

  1. Paper Writing Guide

Your written papers are one of your real chances to demonstrate your knowledge, expertise and opinion about the questions posed in a one-on-one with me.  You should view this as an opportunity to impress!


  • Key Points to Remember!

This is a Reading Response paper – it is NOT a summary of your lecture notes.  The lectures provide context and explanation to the philosopher’s ideas or the legal structures in place.  They are not YOUR personal response to the readings you have completed.  Do not write a summary of your lecture notes!  DO NOT CITE YOUR LECTURE NOTES.

Above all else, I want an intelligent answer to the question based on a logical argument grounded in your readings.  Demonstrate to me that you have considered your argumentation critically (i.e. logically and rationally and how it compares and contrasts with what authors have already written on the topic) and you will have gone a long way in achieving a good overall mark.

To focus your minds and your papers, I require a 50 word (max) statement of your argument at the top of your first page.  This statement will answer the question and provide the main reason for your answer (e.g. “The arguments in favor of the Mixed Constitution in the Ancient World are still relevant today because…..”).  This statement should be in bold and separate from the rest of your text at the top of the first page.

Commit to an answer, but be aware of counter arguments and counter evidence.  Deal with them in your paper, but once you have found your answer, defend it.

You must provide direct quotes from at least five of the authors listed for each question.  A direct quote involves taking the words of the author from the text, putting them in quotation marks, integrating them into your paper in a grammatically correct manner and giving an accurate citation of the direct quote.

Secondary readings are not required.  BUT, they will introduce you to better and different interpretations of the material you are dealing with.  The best papers will be written by students who have read beyond the syllabus and evidenced this reading in their papers.

(Legal) history papers are written in the past tense… “Locke thought…”, not “Locke thinks…”

The word limit is 1200 words – This means no less than 1100 and no more than 1300.  Put a word count at the end of your paper.

Academic work, particularly historical research, should aim for as much objectivity as possible.  For this reason, try to avoid subjective constructions, such as the first person: “I think..”, “My view is…”.  (If it helps, write those things in your first draft and then simply go through and delete them when editing – you’ll see they add nothing to your paper except extra words!)

Do not use contractions in academic work – don’t, wouldn’t, they’re etc.

For the love of all that is good and gracious in this world, please (nay, double please) DO NOT use the titles of the readings in your papers!  They do nothing for your paper except eat up your word count unnecessarily.  Please do not put them in there.

Finally, go through the checklist on the next page before each paper.


  • The Basic Structure

All papers should have THREE main sections (using sub-headings to differentiate is fine, but they also take up space you will find you do not have):


  • Short and sweet! Outline your paper’s argument concisely but clearly. Do not write:  “My thesis statement is…”  Integrate it into your overall paragraph – “This paper argues that…”.  State how your paper will make this argument in a logical and clear manner.  If I am under ANY doubt at all about what you will be arguing in your paper by the end of the introduction, then your introduction has failed its purpose. 


In addition, if your introduction starts off with any kind of reference to the ‘passage of history’, ‘mankind’, ‘human civilization’ or any grandiose concept of this ilk, I guarantee in advance I will hate your paper.  Here’s what to do:  Write that sentence (probably something like: “Since the beginning of human history, civilization has driven mankind’s innate urge for social organization…”), finish the rest of your introduction, take your mouse, highlight the whole paragraph, press delete, think briefly about the horrible comments you would have received on your paper, then carry on writing.


  • Main Body

This is your chance to demonstrate what you have read and the critical approach you have taken to the statements in it.  There are two important points to remember here:


Cite accurately!  Please use any recognized citation style of your choosing, but please stick to one style consistently throughout your work.  Take a look at: for further details on this.

Do not cite needlessly.  Providing lots of quotations is not a way to impress me.  I am impressed by strong argumentation which uses citation only to make a specific point.  A good paper will have no room for unnecessary quotation and factual statements (e.g. dates). If you cannot explain how telling me Socrates was born in 469BC develops your argument, then it’s unnecessary.  Write your papers for a professor of legal history – this is your audience.

The best papers will include outside readings beyond the primary sources.  You are not required to use outside readings, but I have provided many on each topic in the ‘Readings’ folder on Blackboard.  You must cite these accurately.

Use of Ibid – If you cite consecutively from the same source or reading, you may substitute the bibliographical data on all but the first cite with the term “Ibid” (Ibidem is Latin for “the same place”.  You still need a page number.  This only works on consecutive citations – if anything comes in between, you need full data again.

a.The conclusion is the (first and) last thing I will read of your paper, so MAKE IT COUNT!  When writing the conclusion, take the opportunity to reiterate in highly abbreviated form, the key points, themes or arguments from the body of your essay that you believe best support the paper’s argument.  Avoid introducing new arguments in the conclusion that you have not supported earlier with evidence; however, you can draw out fresh implications from previously introduced arguments.  Expanding on the general significance of major ideas that your paper has discussed is often a good way of adding something extra to take away from your work.


          Before Submitting Your Paper

In your re-read of the paper, ask yourself for each and every sentence:  why is this here?  What does this sentence do?  Get rid of all “filler material”.  Personally, I like to read my paper aloud, either to myself or to someone else.  This is an ideal way of “unclogging” clumsy argumentation and wording, as well as enabling you to know thoroughly what you have just written.  PROOF READ.  PROOF READ. PROOF READ.  Your grade will suffer a gory death if I find needless syntax and spelling errors.  Nothing irritates me more … PROOF READ. PROOF READ.  Oh, and by the way, PROOF READ! As plainly put as possible, you cannot earn an A grade if you have a series of grammatical and syntax errors in your paper.


Grade Proposal

With each paper submitted, you are required to propose a grade for your paper.  It must be based on the scoring system and rubric included in this syllabus.  You are also required to provide a concise explanation for your proposed grade.


How should I submit my Response Paper?

  • You should submit two documents: (1) your Paper (2) your Grade Proposal. The checklist can be found on Blackboard.
  • Please name your files using the following format:


LAST NAME – RP #                LAST NAME – Checklist #


Example:        SMITH – RP 1                         SMITH – CHECKLIST 1


  • Please only submit files in Microsoft Word.


How should I cite the Class Reader?


  • The first page of the Class Reader explains how to cite from it. Below is an example of how you should cite from the Class Reader:
  • For both in-text or footnote citations: Plato, Class Reader, pg. 38


  • For your bibliography, give more detailed information about what your are citing from the Class Reader:


Plato. The Republic, Book 2. Class Reader.

Polybius. The Histories. Book 6, Parts 2-18, Parts 43-57.  Class Reader.

Luther. 95 Theses.  Class Reader.


  • For sources not from the Class Reader, please cite them in accordance with your preferred citation style guide (such as APA, Chicago Style, etc). I have no preference as to citation style – just use one style consistently through each paper.

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