In academia and the professional world, one of the most valuable writing skills to develop is the ability to clearly express and support a position in writing. When you write a position paper, this is the skill you’re strengthening.
What is a position paper?
A position paper is a type of academic writing that supports the author’s position on a topic through statistics, facts, and other pieces of well-researched, relevant evidence.
The purpose of a position paper is to clearly and concisely communicate the author’s position on a topic. For example, a teaching assistant may write a position paper about students’ use of AI writing tools in academic assignments. In this example, the author acknowledges how certain AI tools can enable students to work more efficiently while also acknowledging the tools’ drawbacks, such as other AI tools allowing students to avoid doing the actual writing. The author clearly states and supports their position with credible sources, and readers come away understanding the author’s exact position on the topic.
Position papers aren’t always individuals’ positions. They can also communicate groups’ and organizations’ positions on topics. To go back to our previous example, a university writing department may publish a paper on its official position regarding AI writing tools. This paper, which would be approximately one page long, would then become a go-to resource for students and faculty with questions about the department’s position on such tools. These are a few areas where position papers are frequently published and used this way:
- Government and organizational policy
How to write a position paper in 5 steps
1 Choose a topic
The first step in writing a position paper is choosing your topic. You may be assigned a topic, or you may need to develop a topic yourself. In either case, a good topic for a position paper is one that allows you to take a definable, defendable stance that you can back up with relevant data. This is why thoroughly researching your topic is critical to writing a strong position paper—which we’ll explore further in the next section.
2 Conduct research
Once you’ve determined your paper’s topic, the next step is to do a deep dive into it. At this stage, you may not have a clear position yet—that’s perfectly fine. You’ll determine your position by researching the subject.
Consult sources that support multiple positions on your topic. This way, you can find any logical fallacies, misunderstandings, and other shortcomings behind various positions one can take on the subject. Through your research, determine the most logical position to take in your paper. Remember, though, that a position paper isn’t based on opinions—although you’re taking the position that best reflects your understanding of the topic, you need to support that position with credible facts.
3 Write a thesis
Once you’ve determined the position you’ll take in your paper, write your thesis statement. Your paper’s thesis statement is the sentence that concisely states the position the rest of your paper will support.
4 Challenge your thesis
After you write a thesis statement, you need to challenge it. Arguing against your thesis statement in good faith demonstrates that you understand the topic from all angles and support your position from a place of logic and careful reasoning.
5 Collect supporting evidence
Including quotes from experts in your position paper can be beneficial, but be careful to avoid the appeal to authority fallacy. Their expertise must be directly relevant to your position, as do the quotes you include. An example of a relevant quote would be an excerpt from a pediatrician’s research on adolescent circadian rhythms in a position paper supporting later starting times for high schools. An irrelevant quote would be a parent’s anecdote that their teen often sleeps late and misses the bus. While this anecdote may be true, it’s not a researched or tested fact from an expert.
Position paper outline (with examples)
In the introduction, hook your reader with an engaging opening, then introduce your thesis statement. Then, briefly include your supporting argument.
The body paragraphs are where you support your thesis statement. You can include as many paragraphs as you need, but remember that a position paper is typically a short piece of writing. Include one body paragraph per argument—including counterarguments. In each counterargument paragraph, demonstrate the flaws in the counterargument using relevant, credible facts and figures.
Be careful to strike a balance between paragraphs supporting your position and paragraphs discrediting counterarguments. Overall, your paper should do more supporting than discrediting because the focus is your position’s strength, not its opposition’s weakness.
In the final section, restate your position and summarize your argument. You don’t need to restate your thesis statement word for word, but you should reinforce it here with a summary of the points you made in your paper’s body paragraphs.
Tips for writing a position paper
Identify your audience
Before you begin to write, determine who will read your position paper. This will help you choose the right tone to use and which details and sources to include. A position paper meant to be read by others in your industry, for example, can use a more technical tone and include more jargon and industry-specific knowledge than a position paper you plan to publish for a wider audience.
Once you’ve determined your paper’s audience, figure out which sources make sense for that audience. If it’s an academic position paper, support your thesis statement with scholarly sources. If it’s a professional paper, support your thesis with industry-relevant statistics and insights from key leaders. And if you’re publishing your position paper as a blog post or opinion piece to be read by the general public, be sure to use sources that will resonate with them.
Include supporting research and data
Weave your sources into your paper. You can use direct quotes, paraphrasing, or both. Including credible sources, both in support of and against your position, demonstrates that you did your research and can back up any statement you make or refute others’ claims.
Choose a topic with two (or more) opposing sides
A strong position paper takes a clear position on a topic that people can disagree about. When there’s no disagreement about a topic, it’s difficult to write a compelling position paper.
For example, a position paper about why humans need to drink water wouldn’t be very compelling. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees with your position that everyone needs to drink water every day. A better topic for a position paper would be whether it’s more harmful or beneficial for people to drink coffee every day because there is detailed research to support both positions.
Cite your sources
It’s not enough to include references; you need to cite your sources as well. In most cases, you’re required to include a bibliography that lists the sources you used to research your position paper. Even when this isn’t a requirement, citations show that you have credible sources to support your position.
As with any other type of writing, proofread your position paper before you send it to your professor, colleagues, or supervisor, or before you publish it on your LinkedIn profile or website. A spelling or grammatical mistake can undermine your position—and it takes only a second to fix.
Position paper vs. argumentative essay
A position paper states a position and supports it through references to credible sources. An argumentative essay is similar, but it generally presents its position as an argument or question rather than as a statement. Here are a few examples of titles for both:
Position paper: A Car-Free Campus Is Healthier for Everyone
Argumentative essay: Should Cars Be Banned From Campus?
Position paper: Legacy Status Is an Outdated Metric
Argumentative essay: Is It Time to Stop Considering Legacy Status?
In many ways, a position paper is similar to an argumentative essay, with the key difference being their goals. An argumentative essay’s goal is to sway the reader’s opinion on its topic by guiding them through a nuanced, balanced look at various positions, leading them to the position the author supports. A position paper is a shorter piece of writing that spends less time exploring opposing positions and instead simply presents the reasons the author holds their position.
Position paper FAQs
What is a position paper?
A position paper is a type of academic writing that supports an author’s or organization’s position on a topic through statistics, facts, and other pieces of well-researched, relevant evidence.
Which professions publish position papers?
Professional areas that use position papers include legal, research, healthcare, government, and organizational policy.
What’s the difference between a position paper and an argumentative essay?
A position paper states a position and supports it through evidence from credible sources. An argumentative essay has a broader scope and generally presents its position as a reasoned argument or question rather than as an evidence-driven position.