5 Steps to Writing a Position Paper

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In a position paper assignment, your charge is to choose a side on a particular topic, sometimes controversial, and build up a case for your opinion or position. You will use facts, opinion, statistics, and other forms of evidence to convince your reader that your position is the best one. To do this, you'll collect research for your position paper and craft an outline in order to create a well-constructed argument.

Select a Topic for Your Paper

Your position paper centers around a topic that is supported by research. Your topic and position have to hold up when challenged, so it's helpful to research a few topics and pick the one you can best argue, even if it may not reflect your personal beliefs. In many cases, the subject matter and your topic are not as important as your ability to make a strong case. Your topic can be simple or complex, but your argument must be sound and logical.

Conduct Preliminary Research

Preliminary research is necessary to determine whether sufficient evidence is available to back up your stance. You don’t want to get too attached to a topic that falls apart under a challenge.

Search a few reputable sites, like education (.edu) sites and government (.gov) sites, to find professional studies and statistics. If you come up with nothing after an hour of searching, or if you find that your position doesn’t stand up to the findings on reputable sites, choose another topic. This could save you from a lot of frustration later.

Challenge Your Own Topic

You must know the opposite view as well as you know your own stance when you take a position. Take the time to determine all the possible challenges that you might face as you support your view. Your position paper must address the opposing view and chip away at it with counter-evidence. Consider having friends, colleagues, or family debate the topic with you to get alternative points of view that you might not have readily considered yourself. When you find arguments for the other side of your position, you can address them in a fair manner, and then state why they are not sound.

Another helpful exercise is to draw a line down the middle of a plain sheet of paper and list your points on one side and list opposing points on the other side. Which argument is really better? If it looks like your opposition might outnumber you with valid points, you should reconsider your topic or your stance on the topic.

Continue to Collect Supporting Evidence

Once you’ve determined that your position is supportable and the opposite position is (in your opinion) weaker than your own, you are ready to branch out with your research. Go to a library and conduct a search, or ask the reference librarian to help you find more sources. You can, of course, conduct online research as well, but it's important to know how to properly vet the validity of the sources you use. Ensure that your articles are written by reputable sources, and be wary of singular sources that differ from the norm, as these are often subjective rather than factual in nature.

Try to collect a variety of sources, and include both an expert’s opinion (doctor, lawyer, or professor, for example) and personal experience (from a friend or family member) that can add an emotional appeal to your topic. These statements should support your own position but should read differently than your own words. The point of these is to add depth to your argument or provide anecdotal support.

Create an Outline

A position paper can be arranged in the following format:

1. Introduce your topic with some basic background information. Build up to your thesis sentence, which asserts your position. Sample points:

  • For decades, the FDA has required that warning labels should be placed on certain products that pose a threat to public health.
  • Fast food restaurants are bad for our health.
  • Fast food packages should contain warning labels.

2. Introduce possible objections to your position. Sample points:

  • Such labels would affect profits of major corporations.
  • Many people would see this as overreaching government control.
  • Whose job is it to determine which restaurants are bad? Who draws the line?
  • The program would be costly.

3. Support and acknowledge the opposing points. Just be sure you aren't discrediting your own views. Sample points:

  • It would be difficult and expensive for any entity to determine which restaurants should adhere to the policy.
  • Nobody wants to see the government overstepping its boundaries.
  • Funding would fall on the shoulders of taxpayers.

4. Explain that your position is still the best one, despite the strength of counter-arguments. This is where you can work to discredit some of the counter-arguments and support your own. Sample points:

  • The cost would be countered by the improvement of public health.
  • Restaurants might improve the standards of food if warning labels were put into place.
  • One role of the government is to keep citizens safe.
  • The government already does this with drugs and cigarettes.

5. Summarize your argument and restate your position. End your paper focusing on your argument and avoid the counter-arguments. You want your audience to walk away with your view on the topic being one that resonates with them.

When you write a position paper, write with confidence and state your opinion with authority. After all, your goal is to demonstrate that your position is the correct one.