Draft Your Position Statement
For all practical purposes, it's useful to view a position statement as a "work-in-progress," a statement that evolves or emerges as your research progresses. It's not necessary that you begin with an ironclad position. A vague idea will do.
As you learn more about your selected-or assigned-issue, you may find your stance changing. Keep an open mind in this regard: It will help you clarify and focus your final position on a narrow and arguable point. Following are some useful tips that will help you in the process.
Don't bore yourself. Choose a topic around which there are issues that interest you and don't worry about defining your position. A good topic is one that arouses passion in others as well as yourself. Consult your course notes and make a list of ideas that appear to have the most potential by answering a few simple questions:
- What questions did your instructor ask the class to think about?
- What topics sparked the most spirited class discussion?
- What question created the greatest disagreement; the most heated debate?
- What topics or questions divide the local, national or global community?
Do some broad preliminary research on your selected topic. Ask your instructor, as well as others in your field of study, for information and guidance. To grasp the complexities and nuances of the issues at hand, select a group of books and articles that approach your topic from different angles and study up on them.
Note your reactions and opinions as they occur and develop or mature. In particular, you will want to note when previously held opinions change as a result of knowledge and insight gained from recent readings or discussion. Hone in on those opinions about which your feel the strongest or interest you the most.
Begin drafting a preliminary statement. Keep in mind that your position must be arguable. When shaping it consider the following questions:
- Is there an ongoing debate regarding the issue? If not, it may be that a consensus of opinion has already been reached. The absence of debate indicates that either 1) there is nothing about which to argue, or 2) the issue is brand new and ripe for argument.
- Has the issue been exhaustively debated? If so, the sides may be so polarized that further argument is pointless. The absence of a consensus of opinion indicates that all positions, both for and against, have been thoroughly argued and there remains nothing substantially new to add.
- Is there something new to add to the debate? If so, for whom; for what audience? Often, a new take on an old issue, arrived at by focusing tightly on one aspect, will rekindle interest in the debate and advance your position.
- Is there a brand new issue ripe for argument? Be on the lookout. New stuff happens all the time. Like ships at sea, new issues pop over the horizon every day. First a grey smudge in the academic fog, and then, one day, a sharp outline closing in on the harbor. The first spyglass to pick the smudge out of the fog gets the gold-first pick among the arguable positions.
Finally, the best advice is to be constantly aware of the arguments you wish not to address and continually refine your preliminary statement so as to exclude having to argue them. In other words, as you move toward completing your research, close and bolt all the doors you don't want the opposition stumbling through.