Position Paper Assignment

Position Paper Assignment

Rough Draft Due: October 25

Final Draft Due: November 1

A position paper differs from the personal essay in tone and in purpose.   Its tone is often more serious or academic but may be lighter depending on the subject. Its purpose is to take and support a position on a controversial issue. (By controversial I mean that your position is not obvious – that an intelligent person might disagree.) The position paper should address an issue outside the immediate experience of the writer although a paper that incorporates personal experience or local events is often more vivid and lively. Where the body of a personal essay includes the “telling details” that make a personal experience vivid, the body of the position paper includes the “telling details” that make the issue vivid and persuasive.

For this assignment, you are required to cite at least three different kinds of sources in your paper and at least one of the sources must represent an opposing viewpoint. It is often effective to use one source to provide some kind of broad statistical data that shows the breadth of the problem or issue and another source to make the issue vivid to the reader.

Below are position-paper-type questions from actual college applications. These seem to ask for boring academic essays so remember the advice from “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words” and look for a fresh, creative solution to the problem. Our rule will be if you don’t have something new to say on the subject, find a different subject.

Typical position paper questions found in college applications include the following:

  1. What do you consider to be the major international or national issues today? Address one; outline possible causes, effects and resolutions.
  1. Outline a national, state and/or local issue. Discuss the issue’s relevance to you and the causes, effects and possible resolutions.
  1. Exam any book or work of art that has affected your philosophy or viewpoint.
  1. Discuss the most pressing problem you think our society faces today and its relevance to you.

As you can see they almost beg for an old tired topic and essay. Remember to avoid the bad-question/bad-answer trap.   Your job is to find a fresh issue or take a fresh take on a tired one to make it new.


* Prewriting: The best formal essays are focused and logical but fueled by the passion of the writer. Use freewriting, webbing or listing to find an issue that you really care about. Grounding a national issue in a personal or local concern gives you the advantage of really knowing the issue. It also helps you avoid the “poverty is bad”/”racism is unfair” sincere, but ineffective essay.

* Drafting: Remember to write first drafts on a few different issues before selecting a focus.

* Conferring: Use conferences in class and out to help you get real feedback about the effectiveness of your ideas and writing. Don’t wait until the last minute.

* Revising: Start early so you have plenty of time to revise. Remember to revise for one or two things at a time.

* Editing: At the end, be sure that your presentation does not interfere with the communication of your ideas.

Qualities of an Effective Position Paper

  • Develop a position that is thoughtful and controversial. Don’t state the obvious. Don’t argue the same old, same old.
  • Show an understanding of the problem (breadth, depth and causes)
    1. Show the breadth of the problem with a “telling” statistic. (How many are affected etc.) Cite your sources in the text.
    2. Show the depth of the problem with a personal story (yours or another’s).
    3. Discuss the causes. Use expert opinions to support your own. (Remember the solution must address the causes.)
  • Present a solution that addresses the causes.
    1. Support the solution with examples of how it would work or how it works somewhere else.
    2. Suggest ways to get over expected obstacles.
  • Write a conclusion that comes more than full circle.
    1. Return to the personal story and how it might have been or could be different or:
    2. Return to the “telling” statistics and say how they might of must be changed or:
    3. Tell a story that demonstrates the potential of the solution or the depth of the problem.


* Start with a local incident or issue (stricter tardy rules for athletes and actors. the pressure to wear fancy scarves, the confusion over how to wear your collar etc.) Pick something you really care about or will enjoy writing about.

* In prewrites explore your thoughts about the core or essential issues. (Controversy often arises when two important issues or beliefs are in conflict – for example, freedom vs. responsibility.)

* Give yourself the opportunity to develop or change your opinion. In your essay take a stand on the issue and support your stand with examples, facts or quotes.

* Mentioning other sources in your argument makes your case stronger and makes you appear well informed.

Length: One to two typed pages.

All papers must have a Works Cited page for your four or more sources of research