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Easy Steps to Write a Position Paper

Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Position topics on reality TV: The popularity of "The Cake Boss" and "Cupcake Wars" has encouraged a new generation to learn to bake.

Position topics on reality TV: The popularity of "The Cake Boss" and "Cupcake Wars" has encouraged a new generation to learn to bake.

How to Write a Position Paper: 10 Easy Steps

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Do prewriting about your audience (see questions below).
  6. Outline: Use the information you have gathered and your pre-writing about audience to write an outline using the information "Writing your Outline."
  7. Write your paper, including adding your author tags, evidence and citations in MLA style.
  8. Do peer editing: Have someone read your paper and respond using the "Draft Editing Questions."
  9. Revise your draft using the information you got from your reader(s).
  10. Do a 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.

Key Point

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 persuade 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:

  1. Women should make the same as a man for the same job.
  2. Women are better employees than men.
  3. 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.

Why Research Can Help You Write

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 quotations 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 that “preach to the choir” and “rally the troops” to support something they already strongly believe, most arguments are more effective if they seek to persuade an audience that 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:

  1. Who is your audience? What do they believe about your issue?
  2. What do you want them to believe/do after reading your paper?
  3. What are the warrants (values or strong beliefs) your audience holds about this type of subject?
  4. How are your warrants (values or strong beliefs) different or the same as those of your audience?
  5. 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, and convenience.
  6. Which of these needs and values could be effective for you to appeal to in your position essay?
Women should be encouraged to go into science.

Women should be encouraged to go into science.


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 that 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 that urges the reader to believe it or do something about it. Ways to conclude:

  1. Make a final appeal to the reader and tell them what you want them to think or do.
  2. Depending on your topic, you may want to make an appeal to logic, emotion or authority.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. If you started with a question, you may save your final claim thesis for the end.

Peer Editing

Have one or more classmates read your paper and answer these questions to help you to write your final draft.

  1. What do you think about the claim?
  2. What do you want to know more about?
  3. What other positions are there about this claim? What will the writer need to do to give a rebuttal?
  4. 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?
  5. Do you have information or evidence the writer can use to support their claim?

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the procedure for writing a position paper based on a policy document to be published in a journal?

Answer: Do you mean you are writing for or against this policy document which is an unpublished journal article? The method would be to create a question that the policy document is discussing and then formulate the answer that the article gives, then create your own answer. The way you would write it would be to do something like this:

1. Give a story that explains the issue.

2. In the policy document "title here" it states that "write what it says."

3. The question is "state the question here."

4. Your answer is next and why. That is the thesis and the reasons for your position are the body of your essay (along with examples or evidence to support your reasons.

5. Your conclusion should tell the audience what to think, do, or believe about this issue.

Question: What do you think of this topic: "Legalizing Divorce in The Philippines" (I am against it). Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for my topic to be convincing and at the same time have a strong point?

Answer: You should make your topic a question: Should divorce be legalized in The Philippines? Then your answer to that question will be your thesis. You should think of at least 3 strong reasons for your answer and back it up with good evidence, statistics, and authoritative studies.

Question: What do you think of this topic: "What responsibility do Americans have for providing clean water to other nations?"

Answer: Your topic would be a good one. You could also write on these topics:

1. Do Americans have a responsibility to help less privileged nations?

2. Why should Americans help to provide clean water to other nations?

Question: My paper topic is "What exactly is American identity?" Can you offer any other topic ideas?

Answer: Other topics you can explore are:

1. What is "American?"

2. Is being an American an identity or a culture?

3. Can people who have never been to America have an identity which makes them "American?"

Question: I will be teaching the "Position Paper." What teaching strategies, methods, and techniques can you suggest for me?

Answer: You can have your students use my easy steps. Here is an article that I've written on teaching problem solution essays that will also help you:

Question: How do I write a position paper to publish in a journal?

Answer: How you write the article depends on the kind of journal. The first thing to do is to read the articles in the journal you want to publish in very carefully. Underline the thesis and topic sentences of the articles and then write up an outline. Notice the kind of evidence that is used and how they use sources. After you have carefully read the articles in the journal, you should have a good idea of what kind of writing is accepted. Write your article in the same way and you will have a better chance of publishing.

Question: When writing a position paper, is it okay to leave the question in the introduction, or not?

Answer: Generally, I think it works best to keep the question in the introduction and then the answer to the question is your thesis. However, some instructors may not like you to do it in that format, so be sure to ask your instructor. Another possibility is to put the question as the title of your essay.

Question: What is the format of position paper?

Answer: You can follow the outline included in this article or look at my article on Argument Essays Step by Step for help: If you are doing research, you might try looking at my Research Paper Outline Format article: