Defending an Argument


In writing, a genre is a category of literary composition. One such genre is a position argument. In a position argument, your purpose is to present a perspective, or viewpoint, about a debatable issue and persuade readers that your perspective is correct or at least worthy of serious consideration. A debatable issue is one that is subject to uncertainty or to a difference of opinion; in college classes, a debatable issue is one that is complex and involves critical thinking. These issues are not rooted in absolutes; instead, they invite writers to explore all sides to discover the position they support. In examining and explaining their positions, writers provide reasoning and evidence about why their stance is correct.

Many people may interpret the word argument to mean a heated disagreement or quarrel. However, this is only one definition. In writing, argument—or what Aristotle called rhetoric—means “working with a set of reasons and evidence for the purpose of persuading readers that a particular position is not only valid but also worthy of their support.” This approach is the basis of academic position writing. It is also important to note, however, that the term rhetoric is flexible and has other meanings in the English field involving written, verbal, spatial, and even visual communication, among others. 

Your instructor likely will require your position argument to include the following elements, which resemble those of Aristotle’s classical argument. However, as you continue the development of your writing identity throughout your composition endeavors, consider ways in which you want to support these conventions or challenge them for rhetorical purposes.

  • Introduce the issue and your position on the issue
  • Explain and describe the issue
  • Address the opposition
  • Provide evidence to support your position
  • Offer your conclusion

Position arguments must provide reasoning and evidence to support the validity of the author’s viewpoint. By offering strong support, writers seek to persuade their audiences to understand, accept, agree with, or take action regarding their viewpoints. In a college class, an audience is usually an instructor and other classmates. Outside of an academic setting, however, an audience includes anyone who might read the argument—employers, employees, colleagues, neighbors, and people of different ages or backgrounds or with different interests.

Before you think about writing, keep in mind that presenting a position is already part of your everyday life. You present reasoning to frame evidence that supports your opinions, whether you are persuading a friend to go to a certain restaurant or persuading your supervisor to change your work schedule. Your reasoning and evidence emphasize the importance of the issue—to you. Position arguments are also valuable outside of academia. Opinion pieces and letters to the editor are essentially brief position texts that express writers’ viewpoints on current events topics. Moreover, government organizations and political campaigns often use position arguments to present detailed views of one side of a debatable issue.

On a larger scale, arguing in favor of a position is deeply rooted in the American political and social systems, in which free speech and, by extension, open debate are the essence of the democratic process. They are also at the heart of the academic process, in which scholars investigate issues dealing with science, society, and culture, or shared values, customs, arts, and other traits of any social group. However, in the academic world, unlike the political and legal worlds, posing position arguments is usually less about winning or losing than about changing minds, altering perceptions, or defending beliefs and ideas.

It is most useful to look at a position argument as a rational disagreement rather than as a quarrel or contest. Rational disagreements occur most often in areas of genuine uncertainty about what is right, best, or most reasonable. In disciplines such as literature and history, position arguments commonly take the form of interpretation or analysis, in which the meaning of an idea or text is disputed. In disciplines such as engineering and business, position arguments commonly examine a problem and propose a solution. For example, a position paper in engineering might focus on improvement recommendations for systems in the oil and gas industry; a position paper in business might focus on technological changes that would benefit a particular company or industry.

In college, position arguments aim to persuade readers to agree with a particular viewpoint. Assignments commonly require you to take a stance on an issue and defend your position against attacks from skeptics or naysayers. You are asked to choose an issue, present a viewpoint about it, and support it with reasoning and evidence. Remember these basic points:

  • Choose a debatable issue: A position argument that states, for instance, that three-year-old children can not be left alone all evening is one with no room for debate, so the topic would not lead to an effective argument. Without a debate, there is no argument.
  • Present a clear, definite viewpoint: Readers do not want to guess your position. Although you present both sides of a position, readers must be clear about which side you support. A middle of the road approach to argument is also possible but must be articulated and defended clearly. 
  • Support your viewpoint with reasoning and evidence: If, for instance, you are writing about backing a local proposal to remove a statute of a Civil War general who fought for the Confederacy, readers need to know why you favor its removal, why the statue was first erected, and how removal will help the community. You would then support each with cause-and-effect reasoning and evidence. For example, details that explain why you favor removal might include the general’s support of the Southern economic system sustained by enslavement. Details that explain why the statue was erected might include that the general was from the town and that his family was rich and influential enough to fund the creation and placement of the statue. Details that explain how the removal of the statue will affect the community might include the promotion of a feeling of solidarity with local citizens of all races and the end of negative publicity resulting from association with the general.
  • Identify counterclaims (dissenting opinions): When you address differing or contradictory opinions, show empathy and the ability to understand and share the feelings of others for those with dissenting views. If, for instance, people oppose a proposed new law because they think it will cost too much money, then explain why the money will be well spent or offset by savings in the future. Neither antagonize nor dismiss the opposition. Alienating them could make you come across as hostile and hurt your ethos as a writer. 


Adapted from Michelle Bachelor Robinson and Maria Jerskey’s “10.1 Making a Case: Defining a Position Argument” of Writing Guide with Handbook, 2021, used according to  CC by 4.0. Access for free at


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