Top 10 Tips for Writing a Strong Position Paper
As scientists and researchers, you might be familiar with objective research papers, which tend to consider both sides of an argument and present findings based on facts. But are you aware of another important piece of academic writing known as the position paper? A position paper takes a controversial issue and focusses on one aspect of an argument, providing valuable insights into how to interpret issues where science is ambiguous. It can also provide a format for scientists and researchers to put forth solutions to resolve problems. Similar to objective research papers, position papers are still rooted in facts, statistics, evidence, and data. Additionally, they further enable authors to take a position on what these facts and data are telling us. In this article, we will discuss how to structure a position paper and share expert tips on writing a great position paper that clearly presents an argument or opinion.
How Do I Select a Good Topic for My Position Paper?
Selecting a good topic for your position paper is just as important as having a well-structured paper that presents a strong argument. A well-written paper about an uninteresting or uncontroversial topic is simply a waste of time and effort. So how can you best choose a topic for your argument ?
Like all types of research, you should begin with preliminary research. A good topic for a position paper will answer yes to the following questions :
- Does the topic represent a genuine controversy?
- Are there two clear positions?
- Do you care enough to argue for one of those positions?
- Is the scope of the topic manageable?
Once you have found a topic that meets these criteria, you will need to conduct research to build a solid case in favor of your argument. This means finding supporting evidence (for both sides!) just as you would for an ordinary research paper . By including supporting evidence for the opposing side, you will be able to more clearly refute the conflicting arguments. In other words, you can point out weaknesses in the evidence cited by the opposing side or highlight strengths of evidence that supports your stand in comparison.
How Do I Structure a Position Paper?
The structure of a position paper is flexible, but it should generally follow a simple flow that clearly conveys the problem and the position of the author(s). A position paper should begin by clearly stating the problem and its relevance to the scientific community or even to the society as a whole. It should then address the main position of the author. For example:
- Background: For decades, the WHO has urged the adoption of a tax on unhealthy foods to discourage the consumption of products that are harmful to our health.
- Relevance: Sugar has been shown to have a negative impact on health, and play a major role in the rising obesity rates in America.
- Position: The United States should adopt a tax on drinks with added sugar, to reduce the consumption of sugar, and promote healthier eating habits.
The author should then clearly list the common arguments and possible objections against this position. To continue with our example:
- Argument 1: A sugary drink tax that focuses on soda may not impact other products that have an equally negative health impact such as fruit juice or candy.
- Argument 2: A sugary drink tax is regressive and places a financial burden on the poorest consumers.
A strong position paper acknowledges the validity of the counter-arguments and then puts forth reasons why the author’s position is still the correct one. In our example paper, the author can address the counter-arguments in the next section like so:
- Counter-argument 1: It is true that a sugary drink tax would not impact all sources of added sugar in the average American diet. However, it would still have a significant impact on a major source of added sugar to achieve its goal of reducing overall sugar consumption.
- Counter-argument 2: All consumption taxes are regressive. A sugary drink tax would be most effective accompanied by subsidies for healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables.
Finally, summarize your main points and re-state your position in your conclusion. All arguments in the paper should be backed up by facts, data, and evidence , with proper citation attributed to your sources. In this way, a position paper is no different from an ordinary research paper. If you wish, you can include a brief literature review in your discussion of the background of the issue. While such a literature review is not essential, it can make your paper stronger.
Ten Tips for Writing a Strong Position Paper
Now that we know what a position paper is, let us review some tips to write a great position paper.
- Select a timely, relevant topic with two clear opposing sides.
- Conduct thorough preliminary research, collecting evidence supporting arguments for and against your position.
- Identify your intended audience. You should tailor your tone depending on who the paper is written for (the public, other scientists, policymakers, etc.).
- Clearly state your position on the topic.
- List and refute the counter-arguments to your position.
- Include supporting data and evidence to back up your argument.
- Properly attribute your sources using correct citation .
- Keep it simple! Position papers don’t need to go into excessive detail . Present your points clearly and briefly.
- Each paragraph in the paper should discuss a single idea.
- Have someone proofread your paper to ensure it reads well and looks professional.
A position paper can be a great way to expand your horizons and write a new type of research paper. While position papers are unlike ordinary research papers, they still contribute valuable perspectives to the scientific community. Use these ten tips to write an effective position paper!
Have you written a position paper? What are your tips for writing a strong argument? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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How to Write an Argumentative Essay | Examples & Tips
Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on December 6, 2021.
An argumentative essay expresses an extended argument for a particular thesis statement . The author takes a clearly defined stance on their subject and builds up an evidence-based case for it.
Table of contents
When do you write an argumentative essay, approaches to argumentative essays, introducing your argument, the body: developing your argument, concluding your argument, frequently asked questions about argumentative essays.
You might be assigned an argumentative essay as a writing exercise in high school or in a composition class. The prompt will often ask you to argue for one of two positions, and may include terms like “argue” or “argument.” It will frequently take the form of a question.
The prompt may also be more open-ended in terms of the possible arguments you could make.
Argumentative writing at college level
At university, the vast majority of essays or papers you write will involve some form of argumentation. For example, both rhetorical analysis and literary analysis essays involve making arguments about texts.
In this context, you won’t necessarily be told to write an argumentative essay—but making an evidence-based argument is an essential goal of most academic writing, and this should be your default approach unless you’re told otherwise.
Examples of argumentative essay prompts
At a university level, all the prompts below imply an argumentative essay as the appropriate response.
Your research should lead you to develop a specific position on the topic. The essay then argues for that position and aims to convince the reader by presenting your evidence, evaluation and analysis.
- Don’t just list all the effects you can think of.
- Do develop a focused argument about the overall effect and why it matters, backed up by evidence from sources.
- Don’t just provide a selection of data on the measures’ effectiveness.
- Do build up your own argument about which kinds of measures have been most or least effective, and why.
- Don’t just analyze a random selection of doppelgänger characters.
- Do form an argument about specific texts, comparing and contrasting how they express their thematic concerns through doppelgänger characters.
An argumentative essay should be objective in its approach; your arguments should rely on logic and evidence, not on exaggeration or appeals to emotion.
There are many possible approaches to argumentative essays, but there are two common models that can help you start outlining your arguments: The Toulmin model and the Rogerian model.
The Toulmin model consists of four steps, which may be repeated as many times as necessary for the argument:
- Make a claim
- Provide the grounds (evidence) for the claim
- Explain the warrant (how the grounds support the claim)
- Discuss possible rebuttals to the claim, identifying the limits of the argument and showing that you have considered alternative perspectives
The Toulmin model is a common approach in academic essays. You don’t have to use these specific terms (grounds, warrants, rebuttals), but establishing a clear connection between your claims and the evidence supporting them is crucial in an argumentative essay.
Say you’re making an argument about the effectiveness of workplace anti-discrimination measures. You might:
- Claim that unconscious bias training does not have the desired results, and resources would be better spent on other approaches
- Cite data to support your claim
- Explain how the data indicates that the method is ineffective
- Anticipate objections to your claim based on other data, indicating whether these objections are valid, and if not, why not.
The Rogerian model also consists of four steps you might repeat throughout your essay:
- Discuss what the opposing position gets right and why people might hold this position
- Highlight the problems with this position
- Present your own position , showing how it addresses these problems
- Suggest a possible compromise —what elements of your position would proponents of the opposing position benefit from adopting?
This model builds up a clear picture of both sides of an argument and seeks a compromise. It is particularly useful when people tend to disagree strongly on the issue discussed, allowing you to approach opposing arguments in good faith.
Say you want to argue that the internet has had a positive impact on education. You might:
- Acknowledge that students rely too much on websites like Wikipedia
- Argue that teachers view Wikipedia as more unreliable than it really is
- Suggest that Wikipedia’s system of citations can actually teach students about referencing
- Suggest critical engagement with Wikipedia as a possible assignment for teachers who are skeptical of its usefulness.
You don’t necessarily have to pick one of these models—you may even use elements of both in different parts of your essay—but it’s worth considering them if you struggle to structure your arguments.
Regardless of which approach you take, your essay should always be structured using an introduction , a body , and a conclusion .
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Like other academic essays, an argumentative essay begins with an introduction . The introduction serves to capture the reader’s interest, provide background information, present your thesis statement , and (in longer essays) to summarize the structure of the body.
Hover over different parts of the example below to see how a typical introduction works.
The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts is on the rise, and its role in learning is hotly debated. For many teachers who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its critical benefits for students and educators—as a uniquely comprehensive and accessible information source; a means of exposure to and engagement with different perspectives; and a highly flexible learning environment.
The body of an argumentative essay is where you develop your arguments in detail. Here you’ll present evidence, analysis, and reasoning to convince the reader that your thesis statement is true.
In the standard five-paragraph format for short essays, the body takes up three of your five paragraphs. In longer essays, it will be more paragraphs, and might be divided into sections with headings.
Each paragraph covers its own topic, introduced with a topic sentence . Each of these topics must contribute to your overall argument; don’t include irrelevant information.
This example paragraph takes a Rogerian approach: It first acknowledges the merits of the opposing position and then highlights problems with that position.
Hover over different parts of the example to see how a body paragraph is constructed.
A common frustration for teachers is students’ use of Wikipedia as a source in their writing. Its prevalence among students is not exaggerated; a survey found that the vast majority of the students surveyed used Wikipedia (Head & Eisenberg, 2010). An article in The Guardian stresses a common objection to its use: “a reliance on Wikipedia can discourage students from engaging with genuine academic writing” (Coomer, 2013). Teachers are clearly not mistaken in viewing Wikipedia usage as ubiquitous among their students; but the claim that it discourages engagement with academic sources requires further investigation. This point is treated as self-evident by many teachers, but Wikipedia itself explicitly encourages students to look into other sources. Its articles often provide references to academic publications and include warning notes where citations are missing; the site’s own guidelines for research make clear that it should be used as a starting point, emphasizing that users should always “read the references and check whether they really do support what the article says” (“Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia,” 2020). Indeed, for many students, Wikipedia is their first encounter with the concepts of citation and referencing. The use of Wikipedia therefore has a positive side that merits deeper consideration than it often receives.
An argumentative essay ends with a conclusion that summarizes and reflects on the arguments made in the body.
No new arguments or evidence appear here, but in longer essays you may discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your argument and suggest topics for future research. In all conclusions, you should stress the relevance and importance of your argument.
Hover over the following example to see the typical elements of a conclusion.
The internet has had a major positive impact on the world of education; occasional pitfalls aside, its value is evident in numerous applications. The future of teaching lies in the possibilities the internet opens up for communication, research, and interactivity. As the popularity of distance learning shows, students value the flexibility and accessibility offered by digital education, and educators should fully embrace these advantages. The internet’s dangers, real and imaginary, have been documented exhaustively by skeptics, but the internet is here to stay; it is time to focus seriously on its potential for good.
An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.
An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.
At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).
Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.
The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .
The majority of the essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Unless otherwise specified, you can assume that the goal of any essay you’re asked to write is argumentative: To convince the reader of your position using evidence and reasoning.
In composition classes you might be given assignments that specifically test your ability to write an argumentative essay. Look out for prompts including instructions like “argue,” “assess,” or “discuss” to see if this is the goal.
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The author should then clearly list the common arguments and possible objections against this position. To continue with our example: Argument 1: A sugary drink tax that focuses on soda may not impact other products that have an equally negative health impact such as fruit juice or candy.
Example: Two-sided argumentative essay prompt Has the rise of the internet had a net positive or negative impact on education? Support your argument with evidence. The prompt may also be more open-ended in terms of the possible arguments you could make. Example: Open argumentative essay prompt
You present a clear and strong statement usually at the start of your paper that asserts your position on the topic. (See the Writing Center’s handout on thesis statements for more help with this stage!). You then provide strong, logical evidence that supports the validity of your argument throughout your paper. Consider your Audience! Who is ...