The goal of a position paper is to show your chairs, your fellow delegates (and yourself!) that you have researched your committee topics, and have a good understanding of how your country intends to handle the various dilemmas that will be touched on in your committee sessions.
A position paper should accomplish three goals:
- It needs to show your country's unique understanding of the problem at hand
- It needs to show your countries previous relationship to the topic (preferably with relevant examples)
- It needs to show policies and ideas that you, as a delegate representing the interests of your country, would ideally like to see in the resolution, in order to improve the status quo.
As most position papers are limited to one page, a minimum of one paragraph should be devoted to each of the aforementioned goals, and there should be clear transitions from paragraph to paragraph.
In the cases where your country has a strong link to the topic, the examples in the 2nd paragraph should be about your country's connection to the specific topic. If your country does not have a strong link to the topic, the examples can be about your connections to related relevant topics or about countries similar to your countries relations to the topic with a few lines explaining why your country is just as relevant, and even possibly moreso, to argue this case. (More on this in our article about ‘Making your country relevant’) Furthermore, while you do not need to fully commit yourself to what you write in your position papers, it is important that you show the margins within which you will be operating at the conference. It is thus strongly advisable that you not write something that you will directly contradict through your actions in committee sessions.
Choose what is most important
Part of the challenge of a position paper is showing your most important ideas in the limited space you have been allocated. With the right use of information and allocation of material, the reader of your position paper will feel that you had much more to write and what they are reading, while centrally important, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your knowledge.
For this reason, try to avoid writing the obvious in your position paper and avoid being off clash. The position paper is your first introduction with your chair, and sometimes the other delegates, and this is a chance to brings facts and ideas into the discussion before the committees even starts!
Types of position papers
While not all Model United Nations conferences require position papers, many of them do and knowing your audience will help you craft the right paper for the right occasion.
Position papers for the sake of submitting them
Some position papers will not be read by the chairs and you simply need to send them in to qualify for a diplomacy award. Some conferences will admit this but others will not. A few hints that your position papers likely won’t be read are when chairs are not required to send you feedback on the position paper or the deadline is the day before the conference. In such cases the writing of the position paper is more to organize one's own thoughts and case, but a poor document can be just as easily submitted to qualify
Only the chairs will read them
When the chair is required to send feedback, this usually means they will have read it. This is an excellent opportunity to go all out, regarding the reasons for your country has the position that it is taking and why you chose the policies that you did. (See our article on ‘How do I find what policies make sense for my country?’) This is also a place to describe your call to action / the policies you want to implement in detail.
In such cases, the position paper is an excellent opportunity to bring facts and ideas that you wants known to the chair but don’t have time to fit into your first speech or two. It also flags the ideas with the chair, so that they will more likely both hear them in your speech and understand what you are trying to do as the round progresses. While not bluntly giving away your country's real motivation, you have a lot more liberty to flag things you’re afraid might get missing once the committee session starts with this paper
Everyone can read them
These types of position papers, where all the delegates can access them, are the most complex and devide into two categories. The first if where the delegates and the chairs read them and the second is where the chairs will likely not read them in depth (for example a room with 200 delegates and the position paper deadline is the day before the conference).
For when only the delegates read them and the chairs probably do not, you still want to use the platform to show why the discussion should focus where you want it to focus. For this reason, the position paper should be written more to frame the issue than give concrete detailed policies. Delegates who did not research to the same extent, or have no position can be introduced to your interpretation of the topic, and might adopt it or at least be familiar with it when they hear it in a speech.
When the chair will read the position papers, and the delegates can access them as well, as the most complex to write. In these cases the ideal would be to write a paper where the chair will see what you would want them to see if only they were reading it while the delegates would see the same. This is a hard balance to find but if erring to one side, better to build for the delegates and hope the chair has the experience to read between the lines.
Credit is given by good chairs to delegates who properly predict the room and are able to guide their policies from the position paper to the final resolution. An idea from the position paper reaching the resolution is to the delegate credit. This is because it means either that the delegates accurately predicted which direction the discussion would go it, or better still were able to direct the room in that direction.
This does not mean that the best delegate must have an excellent position paper, or perfectly stick to it. Aside from the best position paper award, the actions that take place in the committee are almost completely what chairs will consider for awards. However, the position paper has many times been used as a tiebreaker.
To show a good understanding of the issue, your country and the strategy of Model UN and position papers, the following should be kept in mind.
The policy outlined in the final section of the position paper should show the ideas as to how to solve the problem associated with the committee topic (as should have been specified in the first paragraph), and should be justified by the country’s past history and relation to the topic (the second paragraph). Each of these paragraphs should try to have as much unique information as possible that can’t be found in the committee study guide, as everyone in the committee theoretically knows that information. For those who don’t, while regrettable that they didn’t read the study guide, your position paper is not the pace to introduce them to it. Obviously the main issues of the topic needs to be there but aside from that it should be information that supports your case.
Other supporting material, covering additional angles, can fill further paragraphs but the key is to show clear thinking and support of the policy, or policies, that are being advocated for. Collectively, all of the sections of the position paper should show how the delegates unique and country specific research furthers the understanding of what was originally read in the committee study guide.
One more variable to take into consideration is when position papers are written for a gigantic committee (100 or more delegates).
In gigantic rooms, the position paper should have at least the basics of the policy because one might not speak in the first few hours and this might be the only way to get it onto the floor.
In a nutshell
Position papers are important. Knowing if the position paper will be read only by the chair or by the delegates should be taken into account when choosing what to write and focus on in the paper.
A position paper should accomplish three goals:
- Show your country's unique understanding of the problem at hand
- Show your countries previous relationship to the topic (preferably with relevant examples)
- Show policies and ideas that you, as a delegate representing the interests of your country, would ideally like to see in the resolution,
The policy outlined in the final section of your position paper should show your ideas as to how to solve the problem associated with the committee topic (as you should have specified in your first paragraph), and should be justified by your country’s past history and relation to the topic.