The literary and philosophical papers consist of essays, drafts and notes by Lord Monboodo, with a few related papers. Throughout his life, Monboddo was in the habit of revising his work, frequently adding to an existing essay or incorporating a few pages from it into a later piece, with consequent repagination. (For his methods of composition, see Cloyd, ‘James Burnett, Lord Monboddo’ 1972, page 41.) Some of his longer additions ran to several pages, which he called ‘Papers apart’; these have been placed immediately after the pages to which they refer. Many of the items are incomplete and few are in Monboddo's hand.
Most of the papers are on topics which Monboddo treated in his published works; some were intended for publication, but the texts seldom correspond with those of the printed versions.