An ethics paper is an academic writing assignment that challenges you to address an ethical dilemma. You must present viable arguments, based on your research, so readers understand how right and wrong play a role in your topic. When possible, avoid emotionally charged language and biased statements, so readers don't feel like they're being manipulated. The goal is to write an organized, logical, compelling paper so readers are forced to critically examine their own ethical views on the issue.
Create a thesis that clearly and concisely explains your ethical argument. You want readers to quickly understand the position you hold. For example, the statement "Some people steal during tough economic times" is a weak thesis for an ethics paper because it doesn't tell readers where you stand on the issue. "Stealing is acceptable when you have no other options and need to provide for the safety and well-being of your children" or "Stealing is never an acceptable choice, even when faced with economic hardships that threaten the health and safety of your family" are both good ethics theses. Even though one condones stealing under certain circumstances and the other doesn't, they both present clearly defined moral dilemmas.
Detail the consequences of action or inaction related to your moral dilemma. For example, support your thesis with solid arguments that discuss safety, equality, fairness, human rights, benefits for others and possible negative consequences if people were to ignore your position. Back your statements with compelling data, survey results, scientific studies, medical information and industry-specific professional opinions. Avoid basing your viewpoints on one specific set of religious beliefs that might not apply to all readers. Ethics papers don't contain conclusive, definitive answers, so it's your job to persuade readers to see your point of view. Make sure your arguments are rational and virtuous and seek to promote the well-being of others.
Don't ignore the opposition. Readers want assurance that you've considered a wide range of perspectives and haven't ignored other sides of the argument. For example, if your thesis is that it's morally acceptable for parents to steal food to feed their children, you must address opposing concerns, such as the possibility those children will grow up thinking stealing is OK. Will parents become dependent on stealing and choose that route rather than seeking out available food kitchens, food pantries or donation centers? "Should parents be prosecuted by the law if they're caught?" Or, "How does stealing negatively affect those who are stolen from?"
Stick to a step-by-step approach, so your paper is easy to read and flows smoothly. Only present one argument per paragraph, so your reasoning doesn't get muddled or overly complicated. As with any academic writing assignment, you might prepare an outline, take notes on or create a graphic organizer before you start writing to ensure your points are well-ordered. Make sure your arguments don't contain inconsistencies or gaps, such as contradictory information or biased comments that might discredit your views.
- University of Colorado, Boulder: Philosophy 1100: Introduction to Ethics Writing a Good Ethics Essay
- Clemson University: Ethics Essay Instructions
- University of Maryland, Baltimore County: CMSC 304: Ethics and Social Issues in Information Technology Final Paper Guidelines
- Harvard College: A Guide to Writing in Ethical Reasoning 15
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Ancient Ethical Theory
- Haverford College: Kohlberg Dilemmas
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