Arguing a Position
► If You Are the Writer. To provide focused, helpful comments, your reader must know your essay’s
intended audience, your purpose, and a problem in the draft that you need help solving. Briefly write
out this information at the top of your draft.
Audience: To whom are you directing your argument? What do you assume they think about
this issue? Do you expect them to be receptive, skeptical, resistant, antagonistic?
Purpose: What effect do you realistically expect your argument to have on these particular
Problem: Describe the most important problem you see in your draft.
► If You Are the Reader. Use the following guidelines for giving constructive comments to others on
their position papers.
1. Read for a First Impression. Tell the writer what you think the intended readers would find most and
least convincing. If you think the argument is seriously flawed, try to help the writer improve the
Next, consider the problem the writer identified, and respond briefly to that concern. (If you find that
the problem is covered by one of the other guidelines listed below, respond to it in more detail there if
2. Analyze the Way the Issue Is Presented. Look at the way the issue is presented, and indicate whether
you think that most readers would understand the issue differently. If you think that readers will need
more information to grasp the issue and appreciate its importance, ask questions to help the writer fill
in whatever is missing.
3. Assess Whether the Position Is Stated Clearly. Write a sentence or two summarizing the writer’s
position as you understand it from reading the draft. Then identify the sentence or sentences in the
draft where the thesis is stated explicitly. (It may be restated in several places.) If you cannot find an
explicit statement of the thesis, let the writer know. Given the writer’s purpose and audience, consider
whether the thesis statement is too strident or too timid and whether it needs to be more qualified,
more sharply focused, or more confidently asserted. If you think that the thesis, as presented, is not
really arguable—for example, if it asserts a fact no one questions or a matter of personal belief—let
the writer know.
4. Evaluate the Reasons and Support. Identify the reasons given for the writer’s position. Have any
important reasons been left out or any weak ones overemphasized? Indicate any contradictions or
gaps in the argument. Point to any reasons that do not seem plausible to you, and briefly explain why.
Then note any places where support is lacking or unconvincing. Help the writer think of additional
support or suggest sources where more or better support might be found.
5. Assess How Well Opposing Positions and Likely Objections Have Been Handled. Identify places
where opposing arguments or objections are mentioned, and point to anywhere the refutation could be
strengthened or where shared assumptions or values offer the potential for accommodation. Also
consider whether the writer has ignored any important opposing arguments or objections.
6. Consider Whether the Organization Is Effective. Get an overview of the essay’s organization,
perhaps by making a scratch outline. Point to any parts that might be more effective earlier or later in
the essay. Point out any places where more explicit cueing—transitions, summaries, or topic
sentences— would clarify the relationship between parts of the essay.
Reread the beginning. Will readers find it engaging? If not, see whether you can recommend
something from later in the essay that might work better as an opening.
Study the ending. Does the essay conclude decisively and memorably? If not, suggest an
alternative. Could something be moved to the end?
Assess the design features and visuals. Comment on the contribution of any headings, tables,
or other design features and illustrations. Help the writer think of additional design features
and illustrations that could make a contribution to the essay.
7. Give the Writer Your Final Thoughts. What is this draft’s strongest part? What part is most in need
of further work?