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.