Putting Together a Position Paper

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman
Editor: Stephanie Nardei

Time: 1 class
30 minutes to read lesson
Materials: Access to a computer or time in the computer lab

In this lesson students will learn the format for writing position papers as an essential part of the third quarter’s final project, the meeting of the U.S. President’s energy task force. The requirements for the position papers were established in the government class, but students will explore them in detail in English class.  With your guidance they will produce the paper‘s appropriate tone for its intended audience.

Purpose – This is the Explore Lesson.  Students will ascertain writing requirements for position papers as the quarter‘s final project.

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify the target audience for their writing
  2. Create an appropriate format for their papers
  3. Focus on the developing clear arguments and supporting all key points with facts

W-P5.  Write formal communications for a target audience and with a clear purpose.
      PO 1. Establish a clear purpose for a specific audience.
      PO 2. Use a clear and appropriate organized pattern.
      PO 3. Include only relevant information.
      PO 4. Use appropriate degree of language formality.

Teacher Background
Become familiar with the lessons to be taught in government class this quarter and confer with the government teacher on the final project/activity.

Resource Websites

The Library of Congress website: This section explains the public hearings.
Research & MLA Citation Guides http://www.whrhs.org/mediacenter/ResearchCitationsGuides.cfm
Purdue University OWL (online writing lab) http://owl.english.purdue.edu/
APA Style guide http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/
Starting the writing process http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/587/01/
Style Guides & Strategies http://www.studygs.net/wrtstr9.htm



1. With your class consult public hearings http://thomas.loc.gov/home/lawsmade.bysec/considbycomm.html#pubhrngs..  This website says committees require witnesses who appear before them file a written statement of their proposed testimony in advance and limit their oral presentations to a brief summary of their arguments.  In the case of a witness appearing in a nongovernmental capacity, a written statement of proposed testimony shall include a curriculum vitae and a disclosure of certain federal grants and contracts.

2. Ask students to state in their own words what this says about the requirements of the position paper.  They should see that they will be writing a formal persuasive paper describing the arguments made before the Congressional committee.  What elements create an effective persuasive paper?  Clear arguments, abundant facts supporting the arguments and well-chosen vocabulary adding strength to key issues are all essential elements of an effective persuasive paper.

3. The format of an expository theme would fit these requirements well.  Go over this format with your students, highlighting necessary elements: a focused introduction, body paragraphs beginning with a clear topic sentence and supporting factual sentences, ending with a conclusion that reviews all arguments and leaves the reader pondering.

4. In the government class the position paper requirements are:

    • Organization’s mission statement
    • Point of view on energy resources
    • Discussion of organization ‘s current issues on energy and/or the environment

Students do not know about these requirements, of course, as they will be explained in the final project.  The class will be divided into eight groups ranging from lobbyists to government representatives to scientists.  All of that will be assigned later after numerous classes on teaching students the formation of government policy.Your task is to give students practice writing a persuasive paper, successfully preparing them to write one for the final project.  Since the final project will be dealing with the production of energy using coal, oil, and nuclear power,  it is suggested you have students research and write on an alternative form of power production for this learning cycle so to not to duplicate the government assignment, instead offer practice for the same assignment.  So, the paper will address part c of the later assignment.  Each energy task force member will argue for support on their energy production form. Therefore, students need to address benefits of their energy production form in areas of:

      • Economic viability,
      • Environmental impact, and
      • Feasibility of implementation.

In your class discussion, please guide your students to those three points.

5. Emphasize the paper’s audience will be government officials and politicians.  Ask them what tone will be best for their paper.  Make a list of formal features for a paper’s tone.  What features make professional people take papers seriously?  Such features are:

  • The avoidance of slang or informal language,
  • The inclusion of technical terms appropriate to the subject,
  • Precise descriptions,
  • More complex sentence structures,
  • Always presenting ideas with credible facts and scientific studies, and
  • Avoidance of first person and personal opinion.

Emphasize to students they will be writing papers for a formal audience who may not be sympathetic to their point of view and the paper must be both persuasive and relatively concise.

The students should think about which form of alternative energy would be most interesting for them to research.

Embedded Assessment
Student learning in this lesson would be best gauged by class participation.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: March 7, 2007
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