Easy Steps to Write a Position Paper
What is a Position Paper?
Position essays make a claim about something and then prove it through arguments and evidence.
10 Easy Writing Steps
- Decide on a topic. The best topic will be one you have a strong interest in or opinion about.Find some articles to read about your topic. It is best to read different positions. Try to get a feel for the various views on the topic.
- Write your position idea. Pick one particular aspect of the topic to discuss and write a one-sentence opinion. Test to see if this is really an arguable opinion. Are there other points of view? If everyone agrees on this topic, then you don't really have something you can write a good persuasive essay about.
- Gather your sources. You can use articles you read in preparing your thesis, but you may want to get more evidence to support your view. Make sure you also have information about opposing views.
- Decide what sort of claim you are writing (fact, definition, cause, value, policy). Read your sources and decide on a claim statement. This claim statement will be the thesis of your paper.
- Do prewriting about your audience (see questions below).
- Outline: Use the information you have gathered and your pre-writing about audience to write an outline using the information "Writing your Outline."
- Write your paper, including adding your author tags, evidence and citations in MLA style.
- Do Peer Editing: Have someone read your paper and respond using the "Draft Editing Questions."
- Re-vise your draft using the information you got from your reader(s).
- Final Proofread. Run a spelling and grammar check, proof-read and read aloud to catch errors. Another tip I often suggest to students is printing out your paper and reading it aloud or having someone read it to you. When you read aloud, you slow yourself down and actually catch a lot of errors your eyes miss when you read the computer screen.
You want your reader to finish reading the essay and believe that your position is better than other positions on the issue. Although you may mention other points of view to refute them or to use in drawing consensus, the body of your paper will be explaining your position and giving reasons and evidence that persuades the reader to agree with you.
Choosing a Topic
Position papers can use any of the other essay forms like definition, description, and cause, evaluation, argument or problem solution. However, you need to remember that the purpose of the paper is not to explore the issue but to argue a particular position about the issue.
Example: "Do women make less money than men for the same job" is something you can research and find a factual answer and so it isn't a good position topic. However, you can argue any of the following:
- Women should make the same as a man for the same job.
- Women are better employees than men.
- Men should make more money than women.
Do those statements sound like something that could generate a good argument? Perfect! You want to choose a topic that is interesting and make a claim that other people would disagree with. Because there is a contrary point of view, you have something you can write about.
It is possible to write position essays without evidence from other sources. You can just use logic and your own personal experiences. However, often a position essay is going to draw on evidence like statistics, expert opinion or case studies. That way, the reader doesn't have to rely only on your opinion.
By incorporating evidence from other sources, you strengthen your argument. There are three ways to incorporate sources in your essay: quotation, paraphrase and summary. However, you should be careful to use quotation sparingly and to be sure to cite all your sources using the MLA or APA format.
Finding Common Ground
In order to formulate an effective argument for position essays, you need to find common ground with your audience.While there is some value in arguments which “preach to the choir” and “rally the troups” to support something they already strongly believe, most arguments are more effective if they seek to persuade an audience which is undecided or not strongly in favor of your position. Here are some questions that can help you define your audience for your position paper, and also find out what common ground you have with them:
- Who is your audience? What do they believe about your issue?
- What do you want them to believe/do after reading your paper?
- What are the warrants (values or strong beliefs) your audience holds about this type of subject?
- How are your warrants (values or strong beliefs) different or the same as those of your audience?
- Where do you and your audience have common ground? What basic needs, values and beliefs do you share? Examples of needs and values that motivate most audiences: basic needs, health, financial well being, affection and friendship, respect and esteem of others, self-esteem, new experience, self-actualization, convenience.
- Which of these needs and values could be effective for you to appeal to in your position essay?
I. Introduction: Describe the problem and make it vivid for the reader. Your introduction should:
- Make the reader interested in this issue.
- Convince the reader that this is an important issue.
- Explain your point of view.
Introduction Ideas: unusual fact or statistic, intriguing statement, anecdote, example, question, historical background, story, typical scenario, conversation, interesting quotation, vivid description, a list, explaining a process, an analogy, frame story (part of story in the intro and the rest of the story in the conclusion).
Claim Sentence: Generally, the introduction will end with your claim or thesis (sometimes this will be the opening sentence, or you may put a question which is not fully answered until the conclusion). You may phrase this as a question or a statement.
II. Body: The body will focus on one particular sort of claim: fact, definition, value, cause or policy. Your claim is what you want your audience to believe and it should be stated in one sentence. The claim can be placed in different points in the paper but is usually at the end of the intro or the first sentence of the body.
1. Sub-claims: Your sub-claims should be three or more reasons why the reader should believe your claim. They should be supported using your sources. Be sure to use author tags and parenthetical citation in the correct format.
2. Warrants/Backing (evidence to support warrants): Warrants are why you believe this claim to be true. Telling your warrants and backing them up is optional. The reason you would do so is to draw your reader into common ground with you. It is especially useful to do if you are appealing to a reader who holds a very different position from you on this issue, particularly on policy claims. (Examples: on the issue of abortion, both sides agree that reducing the number of abortions is desirable; on the issue of war, everyone agrees that the goal is to allow citizens to raise their families in peace). A discussion of warrants can be put in the intro, before or after the sub-claims or as part of the appeal in the conclusion.
3. Rebuttal: The rebuttal is a discussion of other positions on this issue and explaining why your position is better. Again, you may use sources to support your position and you may also use qualifiers (sometimes, if, most of the time) to narrow your claim and encourage the audience to agree with you.
III. Conclusion: Conclusions can use some of the same techniques that you use in your introduction. Be sure your conclusion is linked to your introduction. Do not just repeat the claim, but draw a conclusion which urges the reader to believe it or do something about it. Ways to conclude:
- Make a final appeal to the reader and tell them what you want them to think or do.
- Depending on your topic, you may want to make an appeal to logic, emotion or authority
- Return to the intro and finish the frame story, or revise the story or description or conversation to show how things would be better if your proposal/claim is adopted.
- If you haven’t done so in the body, you can sometimes use a countering of other positions in the conclusion. Explain why your position is better.
- If you started with a question, you may save your final claim thesis for the end.
Peer Editing Questions
Have one or more classmates read your paper and answer these questions to help you to write your final draft.
- What do you think about the claim?
- What do you want to know more about?
- What other positions are there about this claim? What will the writer need to do to give a rebuttal?
- How are the values of the writer the same or different from the values of the audience?How can the writer give warrants/backing to create a more persuasive claim?
- Do you have information or evidence the writer can use to support their claim?