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What to argue about?

So if you’ve got to write an argumentative essay, you need to pick something to write about and take a stance on. Sometimes you’ll be given a list of topics to choose from, but in other cases you might have to find your own topic.

If it’s a serious essay, then it’s a good idea to pick a controversial issue to discuss. How controversial depends on how good a writer you are and how knowledgeable you are about the issue. If you’re a fantastic writer, feel free to pick highly controversial topics like these:

  • abortion,

  • capital punishment,

  • euthanasia, and

  • gun control.

Warning! These topics are very, very hard to write about for several reasons.

Many people decided their stance on these issues long ago and have very firm beliefs. It’s almost impossible to change these people’s opinions in one essay. And if you can’t convince them, then what you’re writing is going to be contrary to what they believe. The result is that they probably aren’t going to like your essay. Now, in theory, someone marking your essay should mark it on how well it is written, rather than whether they agree with it. However, in practice, it’s very hard for someone to objectively (without opinion) mark a piece of writing that is totally against their beliefs and opinions.

These are very personal topics for many people. Abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia are all issues which many religions have their own stance on.

Also, since there is so much discussion in the media about these topics everyday, many people have a pretty good knowledge of them. This can backfire on you in two ways. Firstly, a lot of people are sick of hearing about these issues over and over again. And secondly, if they know a lot about them, it makes it that much harder for you to appear to be an expert. You’re much more likely to make a mistake or base your argument on bad evidence and be caught out.

In high school, I wrote an argumentative essay on capital punishment. To challenge myself, I did it in two parts - in one I argued for capital punishment, and in the other I argued against it. I found that there was so much you could write supporting either stance that you couldn’t really ‘win’ convincingly one way or the other (this doesn’t mean I didn’t have a personal opinion on the issue, just that I was aware that there were many ways you could argue for either side).

So if you want to make your job a little easier, pick a controversial topic, but one that doesn’t tap into fundamental religious or personal beliefs. You want a topic people might have strong beliefs about, but one they could change their opinion on without challenging their core religious or personal beliefs. Here are some examples, most of which ask a question that you would need to take a stance on in an essay: