How to Write a Position Paper

Position papers require writers to think critically and craft a persuasive argument supported by well-researched evidence. Unlike a research paper or a commentary, a position paper presents and refutes opposing viewpoints in addition to presenting the author's point of view. Before you start, it is helpful to consider the best practices for structuring and researching your paper.

Reasons to Write a Position Paper

A position paper serves a variety of valuable purposes. One simple, general reason to write a position paper is to deepen your understanding of an issue and organize your point of view. A more concrete reason is that position papers can be used as the foundation for finding solutions to problems. Writing a position paper establishes your credibility on a topic and allows you to demonstrate your passion for an issue via the force of a well-researched, reasonable argument. During a negotiation or a debate, a position paper helps you keep your ideas consistent.

Identifying Points of Contention

It is important to support your argument and the counterarguments with factual evidence. As you research multiple sides of the issue, you should have a growing list of points and counterpoints -- next to each one, note which sources are relevant. Find introductory information in encyclopedias and reference books, in-depth studies in books and reports, scholarly articles in academic journals and objective coverage in newspapers, magazines and television and radio broadcasts. Alternatively, interview an expert yourself. Once you finish researching, choose two to five items that your argument and the counterargument disagree upon -- these are the points of contention that you will focus on in your paper.

Unique Structure of a Position Paper

In a position paper, you will devote whole paragraphs to viewpoints that oppose your own, only to explain why your viewpoints are correct. To do this, you can structure the body of your paper in multiple ways -- for example, a paragraph summarizing opposing points of view, a paragraph arguing the limitations of those viewpoints, a paragraph asserting your viewpoints and a final body paragraph arguing the merits of your viewpoints over the opposing ones. Another way is to compare and contrast your viewpoints with opposing viewpoints point by point across three body paragraphs, and then in a separate body paragraph, summarize why your arguments are superior.

Sample Topic and Structure

The debate over legalized marijuana can be used as an example: If the writer's argument is in favor of legalization, his or her main point might be that legalizing the drug will not produce the feared negative outcomes and in fact produce positive outcomes. The first body paragraph might contain a point-by-point comparison of the inconvenience of federal and state officials having to work together in states where the drug is legalized, since recreational marijuana use is against federal law, versus the convenient fact that taxing marijuana would increase revenue at the state level. The second body paragraph might contrast the fear that young people will collectively become more addicted to the drug with evidence that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. The conclusion would drive home the thesis and suggest a plan of action for legalizing the drug.

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