By nature, disagreements are composed of two or more competing claims, derived from contrasting points of view, supported by different evidence (or by different understandings of the same evidence), and motivated by diverse assumptions. We can envision these various claims as positioned on a space of ground each claim akin to a tree in a forest. We can think of that forest as a “territory” of claims, each one supported by evidence, each one anchored in one or more assumptions that hold claim and evidence together as a particular argument. Writers who wish to make their own arguments–take their own positions, stake their own claims–must first become familiar with this territory of diverse claims. Mapping the territory involves describing which claims cluster together (are supported by similar evidence, or take similar stances, or are anchored in comparable assumptions) and which ones stand apart or stand alone (drawn from different evidence, anchored in alternate assumptions).
Once you have mapped the territory of the disagreement you are entering, you are better able to summarize what’s at issue and what’s at stake in taking one or another position on a contestable matter. As importantly, you are better prepared to acknowledge, concede, or refute claims that run counter to your own. Devoting a portion of your paper to describing the field of contrasting, reasonable positions is a valuable step toward conveying an ethos of fair-mindedness.