Research paper

Basic Information

Course 2017/2018
Esa Díaz León
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Module 8. Research Paper


There is no particular pre-selected topic for the research paper.

The research paper should address a question or problem of the student’s own choice, but it has to be agreed with the supervisor. It is possible to write the paper on one of the topics of the other modules, or to develop (substantially) one of the papers written for the other modules.

Work on the paper will be supervised by one of the faculty of the APhil Master. Students can approach any of the faculty to ask whether he or she would be prepared to supervise their paper. Typically this would be done some time into the second semester. The coordinator will then, some time before April, ask all students whether they have found a topic and a supervisor. In April, each student will be assigned a supervisor. This assignment will take into account, as far as possible, the arrangements already made between students and potential supervisors.

For those who later go on to study for a PhD in Analytic Philosophy, the supervisor of the research paper need not, and often will not, be the future PhD supervisor.

In addition to giving initial advice on an appropriate question to be addressed in the paper, supervisors will typically read, and provide feedback on, one complete draft of the research paper (whether in one go or in installments). They are not expected to go over the same material several times. Students are advised to plan their meetings with the supervisor ahead of time.


  • Self-direct search and critical evaluation of the relevant literature on the topic of their choice.
  • Precise formulation of a research problem.
  • Precise formulation of a reasonable hypothesis/es to solve it.
  • Public presentation of the work done with appropriate visual aids (power-point presntations, handouts, etc).


The Research paper must not exceed 8000 words in length.

Research papers will be examined by a committee formed by three examiners: the supervisor, the coordinator and a third member which will be appointed by the coordinator in agreement with the supervisor (from amongst APhil faculty). If the coordinator is the supervisor she/he must appoint two other members. The student has to defend the paper in a meeting with the committee in which usually the supervisor and the third examiner are present. This meeting is nominally public, as per university regulations, however in practice the defense meeting will usually be a discussion just between the student and the examiners. The committee will make public the marks of all research papers that it has evaluated in the 24 h. following the examination (if it evaluates more than one research paper, the qualifications will be published in the 24 h. following the last examination).

Usually marks have to be delivered to the faculty approximately by 10th of September, the exact deadline for delivery of marks is determined every year by the Faculty of Philosophy of the UB. The defense meeting has to take place before this date, at a time agreed early on between student and examiners. The research paper must be submitted by a deadline that allows the examiners to study it before the defense. This will be agreed individually, but should be agreed well in advance when the date for the defense is set. Thus, a typical timetable might be: deadline for submitting paper: 1st of September, defense meeting: 8th of September. There is no objection to holding the defense much earlier, say in July.

Students must submit their research paper in an agreed format by the agreed deadline. Typically, the agreed format will involve the student sending the paper via email as a pdf file to each of the examiners.
If you have any questions about any aspect of the research paper, please speak to your tutor.


Learning outcomes:


Students must be capable of:

  • searching, summarizing and critically evaluating the relevant literature on the topic of their choice—especially the most recent literature.
  • formulating a research problem in precise terms.
  • raising reasonable hypothesis/es to solve it.
  • providing a clear structure to their arguments.
  • formulating their views in the most precise terms.
  • publicly presenting the work done with appropriate visual aids (power-point presntations, handouts, etc) and answer questions about it.


Basic Skills

  • Students should critically disuss the relevant scientific literature in their field of study.
  • Students should master essential research tools: they should become proficient at the most relevant language(s) for their research; become efficient at searching for information and bibliography, and at the use of computing resources.
  • Students should acquire the kind of knowledge that provides a basis or opportunity to be original in the development and / or application of ideas in the context of research.
  • Students should apply their knowledge and their ability to solve problems in new or unfamiliar contexts related to their area of study.
  • Students should be able to face the complexity of formulating judgments based on information that may be incomplete or limited. This includes reflecting on the social and ethical responsibilities linked to the application of their knowledge and judgments.
  • Students should be able to communicate their arguments and conclusions clearly and unambiguously to specialised audiences.
  • Students should acquire learning skills that enable them to carry on their research in a way that is largely self-directed and autonomous.

General and transversal skills

  • Analyze and construct valid arguments and identify logical fallacies.
  • Design, create, develop and undertake new and innovative projects in their area of expertise.
  • Switch between general and detailed discussions, providing real or imaginary examples able to support or refute a position.
  • Work both independently and in a team in an international or multidisciplinary context.
  • Identify methodological errors, rhetorical discourses, uncritical assumptions, vagueness and superficiality.

Specific skills

  • Students should be able to critically evaluate the most relevant texts within the chosen topic of their research paper.
  • Students should be able to critically use specialized philosophical terminology pertaining to the topic of their research paper.
  • Students should feel comfortable with the concepts and methods of contemporary analytic philosophy and use them in the preparation and defense of philosophical proposals within the topic of their research paper.
  • Students should be able to critically assess central arguments in contemporary analyatic philosophy, especially those pertaining to their research paper.
  • Students should be able to critically discuss novel ideas in contemporary philosophical debates.

Other considerations

A Note on Originality and Plagiarism1:

Students often wonder whether their work must be original. In a minimal sense, every good essay will be original, for the author will have made his or her own choice of which position to defend, which arguments to adduce, how exactly to explain or articulate these things etc. The student is speaking with his or her own voice. Thus, even if you defend a position that many others have defended before you, and you use standard arguments to defend it, your essay will be original in this minimal sense: you are using your own words, and you have made up your own mind as to how to evaluate the standard positions and arguments. Of course, if you provide a new original argument, or defend a new position, then this makes your essay more original and interesting, and this is good. But this is not expected of you.

In writing about a philosophical problem, it is often good to discuss and make reference to the work of others. Often it is necessary to recount the arguments or positions of others. Sometimes it is necessary to quote others verbatim—for example in order to provide evidence that some philosopher makes a certain claim, it may be desirable to cite his or her words. However, it must at all times be clear which are the claims attributed to others, and which are the claims made by the author him or herself. Moreover, it must be indicated clearly when the exact words of others are being reproduced, providing a page reference and the bibliographical details of the work being cited. Failing to do so may amount to plagiarism. Your work might be marked down or even failed if your sources are not acknowledged properly.

Plagiarism is often defined as follows: using the words or ideas of others without proper acknowledgement of the source. The dividing line between plagiarism and proper acknowledgement of sources is fine, but usually quite clear.

For example, consider the following short passage, which might occur in an essay:

Perry argues "that the essential indexical poses a problem for various otherwise plausible accounts of belief" (Perry 1979, p. 3). The first account he considers is the view he calls "the doctrine of propositions", the second …

Now consider the following modified version:

In "The Essential Indexical", Perry argues that the essential indexical poses a problem for various otherwise plausible accounts of belief. The first account he considers is the view he calls "the doctrine of propositions", the second …

As innocent as this modification may seem, the second version does in fact involve plagiarism as defined above: the exact words of Perry are used without properly acknowledging the source.

It is therefore crucial that, in writing essays, you indicate clearly, at all times, whether you are speaking with your own voice or quoting someone else. Failure to do so may not only cause misunderstandings, but could even be interpreted as an attempt to cheat. It is therefore important to be quite conscientious about proper acknowledgement when quoting verbatim.

It is also important to use direct quotation sparingly, i.e. only when this serves some clear aim, such as proving that some author does indeed make such and such a claim (where this is controversial), displaying how exactly the claim is being made, or perhaps for presentational reasons. An essay consisting merely of quotations (however fully acknowledged) will probably not be a good essay.

It is also important to acknowledge properly your sources when you are not quoting directly, i.e. when you are merely paraphrasing. If you take ideas and arguments from others it is important that you say so explicitly.

This is emphasized in a handbook used at Edinburgh University1, when it says that plagiarism does not need to be “100% verbatim” (p. 12). One “will not avoid the charge of plagiarism by occasional changes in the wording of an otherwise unacknowledged quotation” (ibid.). Nor will one avoid such a charge “by acknowledging [one’s] source once and then claiming that ‘everything’ is ‘covered’—it isn’t” (ibid.). As the guidance from Edinburgh continues, “[e]very quotation must be acknowledged separately—if in doubt, acknowledge again” (ibid.).

The last paragraph gives you an example of carefully making sure that the reader can always tell which bits are paraphrase, which bits are quoted verbatim. One should always provide a page reference, if the same page reference is repeated, there is a conventions to say “ibid.”, meaning that the quote stems from the same page. You may have noticed that I put some words in square brackets. This is done to mark out a departure from exact wording within a quoted passage.

Essays involving plagiarism (the unacknowledged use of the work of others—their words or their ideas) will be marked down. In some cases this may be exclusively a presentational problem, but this is one of the criteria by which you are marked, and it is an important criterion, especially when your failure to acknowledge misleads the reader. In other cases, it may in addition mean that your essay is extremely derivative and—instead of answering the philosophical question your essay is supposed to answer—merely reports what someone else says about this question.

Finally the severest cases: an unacknowledged use of another’s work in an attempt to deceive the reader is a form of cheating: cheating yourself and cheating the person marking your essay.

1 Taught Masters Handbook 2008/09, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh.