A Formula for the Perfect Position Paper: Solution-Oriented Research

I’m a bit of a research nerd. As a young and eager new delegate, I used to put all of my effort into writing a perfect position paper, spending weeks compiling every fact I could about the topics. In short, I found myself spending hours on end just sifting through the information I uncovered in my research and constructing it into a paper. While it made for a formidable amount of knowledge, as I advanced in my high school tenure and became more and more busy, this method of research became increasingly impractical. As a result, I came up with this formula to target my research and make my papers detailed and complete, but also quick and painless to write. Without further ado, I present to you my guide on writing the perfect position paper, without spending an excessive amount of time researching: the solution focused position paper.

My research used to come in volumes.

When grading position papers, many conferences put up to 50% of the paper’s weight into the proposed solutions section. This means that, for delegates who want research awards or simply want to know where to concentrate their efforts, the best option is the solution-focused paper. In this form of position paper, the four general sections still apply, but the paper itself is geared toward building a cohesive flow into your solutions. If done correctly, not only will your paper be concise, complete, and organized, but you will find your proposed solutions section much simpler to write.

 

Topic Background

Most Common Pitfall:

  • The epic novel—I love exploring my topic. I like to know everything about what is happening, who is involved, and what other issues it is linked with. But while this is great knowledge to have in committee, not all of it belongs in your position paper. The name of the game is clear and concise, as this section can easily grow out of hand without revealing any knowledge or skill on your part. While it may be tempting to place the bulk of your paper’s length here, keep in mind that the most important section is your proposed solutions. For help with choosing the most relevant information, see the formula below.

    The topic background section can easily become a nightmare of irrelevant facts and extensive history. Using this formula can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend navigating this section.

Essential Goals:

  • Project, don’t reflect-– The chair won’t be testing you on what the issue used to be. They want to know where you think it’s going. The goal of this section is not to reflect the past, but project the future. This way,  you can determine the most pressing matters to deal with. That being said, this section should focus on analyzing trends in where the issue appears and identifying obstacles to resolving it.
  • Break it down—One of the most important things you can set up in this section is sub-issues. By breaking the issue down into smaller topics, you make the initial problem more manageable and have more targeted goals to frame your solutions.

My Formula

  • Name at least three regions or nations in which the issue is most pronounced.
  • Name at least two things these regions or nations have in common that could be the source of the issue.
  • Name three relevant historical events that led up to the issue.
  • Look at the research you’ve collected so far and note any trends in the conditions under which this issue appears.
  • Three sub-issues associated with the topic. (See our article on Framing)
  •  For each sub-issue, explain what the deterrent has been in resolving it. Can the UN not enter the nation? Is there too little stability? A lack of education? What factors have made this issue so prominent and difficult to solve?

 

Past UN Actions

Most Common Pitfalls:

  • The Resolution focus—Many delegates tend to interpret this section heading to mean “Past resolutions”, but in reality, UN resolutions are only the beginning. Often times the most significant information in this section will come from broader action plans or collaborative efforts taken by regional bodies or NGOs. For example, the functions of oversight bodies such as the UN Supervisory Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) are not necessarily connected to a resolution. Turning this into a paragraph about past resolutions greatly limits the options you can explore.
  • Listing–Many delegates place so much focus on compiling a strong list of resolutions that pertain to the topic, that they pass over the analysis part, which is the real purpose of this section.

Essential Goals:

  • Analyze Solutions—Don’t let this section turn into a list of resolutions. Writing about past UN actions isn’t as much about knowing what has been done as providing analysis of why certain actions were taken. Instead of providing a vast quantity of actions, choose a few significant resolutions or action plans and dig into the reasons these plans may have succeeded or failed. This will be the precedent by which you will frame your own solutions to the issue.
  • Explore failures as well as successes—Many position papers place the focus of this section on what has been done about the issue. While it is important to understand what plans are already in place, it is equally beneficial to understand what ideas have failed and why. In the case of resolutions, a failed resolution is just as important as a passed one. In the case of the violence in Syria, a UNSC directive supported by the majority of the committee was double vetoed by China and Russia. This is a fairly forceful action that should be taken into account when you consider your own solutions.

My Formula:

  • Two unique, significant action plans implemented by the UN or other international bodies. (UN-REDD, UNSMIS)
  • For every one of the above, answer the following:
  • What were the goals of the plan, and were they accomplished?
  • Is the plan still in effect?
  • What elements may have contributed to the plan’s success/failure?
  • What elements of this plan can be adapted to fit the issue at hand?
  • Two to three resolutions that have been passed or failed that attempted to deal with the issue
  • For each of the above, answer the above questions
  • If the resolution failed, specify why. Was it vetoed? What parties voted it down and why might they have done so?

 

National Policy

Most Common Pitfall:

Sometimes it can be difficult to find overt statements of your nations policy. In these situations, your best bet is extrapolation.

  • The neutral Nation–Some nations simply don’t have as strong a policy as others. It’s easy to find public records of South Korea being opposed to North Korean nuclear programs, but it may be more difficult to find exact quotes from government officials or public records of less polarized nations on less controversial issues. In those instances, some extrapolation may be necessary.

Essential Goals:

  • Explore both the internal and external—Don’t limit yourself to actions your nation has taken on the international stage. Take some time to explore your nation’s official websites and public records to find out what has been done within your own national borders. Internal legislature and action plans are an excellent source of ideas for dealing with the issue, and are a surefire way to find out how your nation feels about the issue, and because they are implemented by a single nation, they will often be much more strong and action-oriented than international plans.
  • Extrapolate–Look at factors other than what your nation has done overtly, such as its core values (national sovereignty, humanitarian relief, etc.) and any regional, religious, or political bodies it belongs to (OPEC, NATO, AL). Use this information to determine more about your nation’s policy than is immediately evident by their voting records. Remember: every nation has a policy, even if it isn’t expressed as strongly as those of other nations.

My Formula:

  • Two internal policies or pieces of legislature your nation has implemented that are relevant to the issue at hand.
  • Two programs your nation has supported or been involved in at the international level.
  • Two resolutions your nation has voted for or against
  • Identify at least two trends among the things your nation has or has not supported.
  • An objective analysis of what you feel are the most important goals of your nation. Do you believe in defending national sovereignty? In addressing humanitarian issues above political ones? What is your nation’s agenda?

 

Proposed Solutions

This is where your solution-focused position paper starts to do the work for you. Looking into your background research, you already know where to target your actions, three smaller issues to focus in on, and the preventable events that led up to this being an issue. From your Past UN Action, you know what types of plans have succeeded and failed in the past, and have even drawn conclusions as to what causes them to do so. You also know which ones are still in effect. All you have to decide which ones you want to amend, expand, and discontinue.

The beautiful thing about solutions found in this way is that because they already exist, the United Nations does not have to spend valuable time and money setting up an entirely new institution to manage a complex plan. Looking into your nation’s policy, you also know what measured have proven effective or ineffective at the national level, so you know what sorts of actions the UN can encourage other nations to take, and even aid them in doing so. The final part of your proposed solutions is making sure that you have addressed all three of your sub-issues.

Using the Formula

When I do my research, I fill out my formula like a worksheet. Gathering your information in a linear format, piece by piece, will make your paper come together in a much quicker, more complete manner.

To make your Works Cited page as easy as your paper, simply fill in the information like a work sheet, noting your source next to the topic it pertains to. This will make citing your sources a piece of cake, whether you are using parenthetical or footnotes.

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