Persuasive Essay Topics

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Looking for persuasive essay topics? When choosing a topic for persuasion, you have basically two choices: to take a stand on an existing controversial issue or to make a proposal to solve a problem. If you choose to take a stand, you will have the advantage of some preexisting arguments but will need to find additional arguments and examples of your own. Often this is called a “position paper.” Candidates for political office write dozens of these and post them on websites so people can see exactly what their stand and solutions are on subjects of public interest. Committees for nonprofit organizations like The Sierra Club or The National Rifle Association also write many position papers to define the organization’s official stance on issues. Freshness of idea will be difficult with some topics such as pornography, nuclear power, and drug laws because most supporting arguments on both sides are well known. If you make a proposal of your own—a new solution to a problem— you will have to invent all your own arguments. But you will have the advantage of freshness. Proposals sound more stimulating than taking a stand:

  • “Students with ‘A’ grades in a course will receive free tuition; those with ‘D’ or lower will pay double tuition.”
  • “No politician should serve more than one term in office.”
  • “Put a $1 per gallon tax on gasoline and use the receipts for solar research.”

But proposals require more careful thinking: Can you think of a serious objection to each of these proposals as well as a positive benefit?

How to Write a Persuasive EssayIn career writing, of course, you will be writing proposals 98 percent of the time. Most employers pay people for new concepts and plans, not rehashing of old issues. Persuasion will be needed to convince your supervisor and colleagues, and more persuasion needed to sell clients, government agencies, customers, and other institutions. The higher you rise in your career, the more persuasive proposals you will write, and in fact, writing proposals for new ideas is one way to rise rapidly. Imagine how an employer would react to receiving proposals like these from you under your own initiative:

  • We can draw more customers to the store by providing a shuttle bus service from three locations.
  • Bookkeeping at the company can be simplified if we adopt the following plan…
  • The summer recreation program can be improved if we stagger the children’s nap times and alternate quiet tasks and outdoor activities.

Top 20 Controversial Topics for Persuasive Essays

1. Abortion

Abortion has been legal in the USA and in almost all western European countries since the early 1970s, and in Belgium and Ireland since the early 1990s. Although abortion was legal in the Soviet Union for several years prior to its collapse, abortion politics have subsequently come to the fore in some Eastern European countries (e.g., Poland) as a result of government attempts at scaling-back abortion. Legal access to abortion continues to be highly restricted in Mexico and in several Central and South American countries. Abortion is most intensely debated in the USA, where legal and congressional initiatives to amend the US Supreme Court’s recognition (Roe v.Wade, 1973) of a woman’s legal right to an abortion continue unabated. Abortion activism is pursued by several religious and secular organizations, and abortion politics dominate presidential and congressional elections and debates over judicial appointments. Grassroots efforts to restrict abortion have met with some success; post-Roe Supreme Court decisions have imposed various restrictions, most notably the imposition of spousal and parental notification requirements. Currently, the issue of late-term abortion is intensely debated (though most abortions are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy).

2. Death Penalty

The death penalty is the sentence of death after conviction following due process of law. The death penalty has been sanctioned by major juridical and religious traditions. It was defended during the Renaissance and Reformation by many Enlightenment thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. This same period first saw the emergence of the movement to abolish the death penalty with the seminal work of Cesare Beccaria (1764), an end which was advocated in the nineteenth century by the jurists Jeremy Bentham and Samuel Romilly. The practice has undergone two key transformations in modern times: a restriction on the crimes and categories of offender punishable by death; and a transformation from public displays of excess to private, medicalized executions. These shifts have been explained either by the cultural dynamic of the privatization of disturbing events or by the transformation in technologies of power from punishment as a public and violent spectacle inflicting pain on the body to the emergence of disciplinary power and surveillance of the soul.

3. Disability

Common sense takes disability as a simple natural fact, but the sociology of disability emphasizes that disability has to be differentiated from impairment. Not every chronic health condition is acknowledged as disability. There are cultures in which the social fact of disability does not exist. Disability as a social problem has evolved as a product of the modern welfare state. With the beginning of modernity and, above all, during the period of industrialization, a line was drawn between ‘‘the disabled’’ and other poor and unemployed people. In the course of the twentieth century disability became a horizontal category of social stratification. Even today the ascription process is ambivalent: it includes rights and benefits as well as discrimination and segregation.

4. Discrimination

Discrimination refers to the differential, and often unequal, treatment of people who have been either formally or informally grouped into a particular class of persons. There are many forms of discrimination that are specified according to the ways in which particular groups are identified, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, class, age, disability, nationality, religion, or language. The United Nations Charter (1954) declared in article 55 that the UN will promote human rights and freedoms for all, ‘‘without distinction as to race, sex, language, and religion.’’ Later in 1958, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights added eight further grounds for possible discrimination, which were color, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.

5. Divorce

A major social trend during the past century has been a global increase in the divorce rate. During the second half of the twentieth century divorce rates increased in most industrialized countries. Some of the social characteristics that appear to have contributed to the increase in the divorce rate are increased individualism, increasing marital expectations, the economic independence of women, and no-fault divorce laws. During the past 30 years there has been a gradual decrease in the US divorce rate. Divorce is a complex process influenced by many social and individual characteristics. Factors that have been found to be associated with the risk of divorce include age at marriage, premarital cohabitation, parental divorce, infidelity, alcohol and drug abuse, poor financial management, and domestic violence.

6. Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior designed to exert power and control over a person in an intimate relationship through the use of intimidating, threatening, harmful, or harassing behavior. Victims of domestic violence are primarily female. Women are up to six times as likely to be assaulted by a partner or ex-partner than by a stranger and they are more likely to suffer an injury when their assailant is an intimate. Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of injury to women in the USA. Domestic violence rates also vary by age and economic status, with highest victimization rates among the poor and females between the ages of 16 and 24 years.

7. Environment

Humans have faced poor environmental conditions throughout history, but what we think of as ‘‘environmental problems’’ became more common and apparent with urbanization. In the USA urban air and water pollution attracted growing attention throughout the last century, and by the 1960s became recognized as significant problems. Celebration of the first ‘‘Earth Day’’ on April 22, 1970, helped transform ‘‘environmental quality’’ into a major social concern, and a wide range of environmental conditions from pollution to declining wilderness and wildlife became major social problems. Examining the socio economic processes that generate environmental problems is beyond the scope of this essay, but the nature of such problems can be clarified via use of an ecological perspective. Ecologists note that the environment provides many ‘‘services’’ for human beings (and all other species), but we can simplify these into three general types of functions that it performs for human societies. First, the environment provides us with the resources necessary for life, from clean air and water to food and shelter, as well as the natural resources used in industrial economies. In providing what ecologists term the ‘‘sustenance base’’ for human societies, the environment is serving a ‘‘supply depot’’ function. It supplies us with both renewable and non-renewable resources, and overuse of the former (e.g. water) may result in shortages and the latter (e.g. fossil fuels) in potential scarcities.

8. Eugenics

‘‘Eugenics’’ derives from the Greek word eugenes meaning ‘‘good in birth’’ or ‘‘noble in heredity.’’ Eugenics was developed in the late nineteenth century and means ideologies and activities aiming to improve the quality of the human race by selecting the ‘‘genetically fit.’’ It can entail (1) ‘‘positive’’ strategies to manipulate the heredity or breeding practices of ‘‘genetically superior’’ or ‘‘fit’’ people, or (2) ‘‘negative’’ strategies to exterminate the ‘‘genetically inferior.’’ Eugenics combines genetics as a scientific discipline with ideas from social planning and rational management developed during the industrial revolution. Eugenic ‘‘science’’ was considered to be the application of human genetic knowledge to social problems such as pauperism, alcoholism, criminality, violence, prostitution, mental illness, etc. In the early twentieth century, eugenics became a social movement first in Europe and then also in the United States. Public policies were developed which were rooted in eugenic ideology and justified on grounds of societal or state interests: those deemed ‘‘genetically unfit’’ were stigmatized as an economic and moral burden.

9. Gambling

While gambling is widely accepted today as a source of entertainment and recreation, a growing tendency to highlight problematic aspects is also to be noticed. Traditionally, heavy gamblers who sustained repeated losses and other adverse consequences were considered derelict, immoral, or criminal and for much of the twentieth century the prevailing view of excessive gambling continued to define that behavior as morally and legally reprehensible. A few decades ago, a new perspective emerged in which gambling is seen as pathological – as a form of addictive behavior in need of therapeutic treatment. The disease-concept (at least partly) replaced former deviance-definitions as a kind of willful norm violation, and excessive gambling increasingly is considered to be an expression of a mental disorder resembling the substance-related addictions. Since 1980, this change in perception has been strongly stimulated by – and reflected in – the evolving clinical classification and description of pathological gambling in the various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

10. Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering (GE; often also called biotechnology) is the technique and science of intervention into the genetic mechanisms of a biological organism. For sociologists of risk (e.g. Ulrich Beck) GE it is a paradigmatic case for risk society. There are two main applications: agriculture and food production, and medical genetics; furthermore, GE is used in different fields of industrial production. GE is one of the most contested technologies, especially in the medical field. Critics claim that there is a general trend towards ‘‘geneticization,’’ i.e. explaining social behavior with genetics (e.g. homosexuality, criminality, alcoholism). Since people cannot change their ‘‘genetic outfit’’ and genetics has prognostic power also for families and future generations, the status of and access to genetic information are important issues in legal regulation. ‘‘Genetic privacy’’ refers to third party access to genetic information. Further topics are: the combination of genetics and reproductive technologies (pre-implantation and prenatal diagnosis), research on human embryos and stem cells, human cloning, gene therapy and human enhancement.

11. Genocide

The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish-Jewish origin, in 1944. It was legally defined in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948. The Convention states that ‘‘genocide means . . . acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.’’ Such acts as detailed in the Convention include: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to them; deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another one. This definition excludes groups defined by class and political affiliation. Contemporary human rights lawyers include these groups and count, e.g. the genocide of its own people by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as genocide.

12. Globalization

Appearing first in the 1960s, ‘‘globalization’’ has become a central but contested sociological concept. Although the origins of globalization can be found in the distant past, the concept was used widely after the end of the cold war, after which it was possible at least to imagine a ‘‘borderless’’ world in which people, goods, ideas, and images would flow with relative ease. The global division between capitalism and state socialism gave way to a more uncertain world in which capitalism was the dominant economic and social system. This coincided with the development of digital communication technologies from the late 1980s and their dramatic consequences for socioeconomic organization and interpersonal interaction. Global restructuring of states, financial systems, production technologies and the politics of neoliberalism in turn accompanied these developments, creating previously unprecedented levels of transnational interdependence.

13. Human Rights

‘‘Human rights are those liberties, immunities and benefits which, by accepted contemporary values, all human being should be able to claim ‘as of right’ of the society in which they live’’ (Encyclopedia of Public International Law 1995: 886). Human rights are constitutive for the contemporary discourse on the moral nature of society and individuals that is simultaneously a legal discourse on rights of individuals, and obligations and accountability of states and international organizations. As such they embody the ‘‘collective conscience’’ of a world community that is developing among citizens, judiciaries and legislatures still embedded in nation states. The paradigm of contemporary human rights emerged with the modern nation state and has its philosophical roots in the Enlightenment tradition of Europe and the United States. The Petition of Right in 1628 and the Bill of Rights in 1689 in Britain were followed by the American Declaration of Independence (1776), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), and the American Bill of Rights (1791).

14. Immigration

Sociologists look at migration as a social phenomenon. Their research is focused not on individual immigrants but on immigrant populations and their characteristics, because the characteristics of immigrant flows and immigrant populations are essential for understanding migration processes and the reaction to these processes from the receiving societies. The volume of the migration flow, its demographic structure (only young males, or whole families e.g.), the homogeneity or heterogeneity of the immigrant population according to educational attainments for instance, this kind of variable is relevant for the description of immigration as a social phenomenon. A second decision relates to the societal context of our field of study. Because migration is such a ubiquitous phenomenon it has occurred and still occurs under very different circumstances. The world counts to date millions and millions of people who have migrated out of their own free will or as compelled by ethnic cleansing, civil wars or natural disasters. The receiving societies differ fundamentally in nature and stability of state formation to mention only one important characteristic.

15. Racism

When most people think about racism, they think about the concept of individual prejudice – in other words, negative thoughts or stereotypes about a particular racial group. However, racism can also be embedded in the institutions and structures of social life. This type of racism can be called structural or institutional racism (hereafter ‘‘institutional racism’’), and it is significant in creating and maintaining the disparate outcomes that characterize the landscape of racial inequality. There are two main types of institutional racism. The first, which is called ‘‘direct,’’ occurs when policies are consciously designed to have discriminatory effects. These policies can be maintained through the legal system (such as in the case of Jim Crow in the USA); or through conscious institutional practice (such as redlining in residential real estate). The second type, ‘‘indirect’’ institutional racism, includes practices that have disparate racial impacts even without any intent to discriminate (such as network hiring in workplaces).

16. Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other forms of unwanted attention of a sexual nature, in a workplace or elsewhere. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome (sexual) jokes, remarks with sexual connotations, gossip, repeated requests to go out, and any form of unwanted touching or invasion of personal space, as well as sexual advances or assault. The overwhelming majority of victims are women, as well as adolescent and young workers. Perpetrators are most often individual men or groups of men. Same-sex harassment has also received attention, in particular, gender and sexual harassment among men. Besides consequences such as loss of a job or not being promoted, victims can experience adverse psychological effects such as confusion, discomfort, anxiety, anger, and stress.

17. Social Services

Social services are provisions that society makes to support individuals in need. Developed in the west to supplement family care, social services are found across the world and delivered mainly by socialworkers in various settings (state, voluntary agencies and commercial enterprises) in a ‘‘mixed economy of care.’’ Bureaucratized under the ‘‘new’’ managerialism and market forces, social services cover children, families, older people, disabled people, mentally ill people and offenders. Social workers care for and about people within a tension-filled environment that complicates delivery. An important issue is what causes need – personal inadequacies or structural factors. The Settlement Movement favored explanations involving structural causes. The Charity Organization Society (COS) originally popularized personal pathology, dividing claimants into deserving and undeserving ones. The former received stigmatized and inadequate services; the latter nothing. This tension continues as ‘‘welfare dependency.’’ Other sources of tension are: care-control dilemmas; low professional status; charitable giving or societal entitlements; state or market providers; and public or personal responsibility. Professionals and claimants have challenged analyses based on individual pathologies and demanded change through radical social work. Legislative fiat and social policies constrain their aspirations through reduced public expenditures and shifting service boundaries.

18. Surveillance

Surveillance, from the French verb, surveiller, means ‘‘watching over.’’ It involves the observation of behaviors, actions and activities to collect data and personal information on the part of governments, law enforcement agencies, and others such as credit and banking institutions, corporations, and research companies. Surveillance functions as social control. Michel Foucault’s concept of the Panopticon is a metaphor for surveillance society and accompanying disciplinary apparatuses. State power is no longer exercised through torture; rather, it is hidden in the everyday corpus of technologies to make populations self-police their own behavior. For example, why drive within the speed limit? Because someone (or some camera) may be watching.

19. Unemployment

All industrialized or post-industrial societies consider themselves to be working societies. Work – or more precisely, gainful work – defines an individual’s worth and status. It is for most people the main means of earning a living and frequently the prerequisite to be eligible for social security coverage. Unemployment endangers the livelihood of the unemployed individual and, possibly, also that of his or her family. It is the most important cause of poverty and is also frequently associated with problems such as crime, right-wing extremism, suicide, and illness. Therefore, unemployment is a principal social and political challenge. Usually, the unemployment of individuals with low education is markedly higher – generally by a factor of 2 to 4 – than that of highly qualified workers. Often, the unemployment of younger and older workers is also above average. Marked gender differences can be perceived in continental European countries, where women’s unemployment is often significantly higher than men’s, while there are hardly any gender differences in Anglo-Saxon countries with their liberal labor markets or in the Scandinavian countries with their greater emphasis on gender equality. In most cases, ethnic and racial minorities suffer significantly higher unemployment rates than the native-born majority.

20. Welfare

Welfare dependency refers to the use that people make of publicly provided cash benefits/transfers or human services. Welfare underuse is the term applied when people entitled to publicly provided benefits and services fail to do so. Welfare dependency is a feature of advanced industrial societies with developed welfare states, whose citizens enjoy specific ‘‘social’’ rights, for example, to social security, healthcare, social support and education. The premise on which the advocates of state welfare provision promoted it was that, as societies become more complex, the ‘‘states of dependency’’ that arise at various points in the human life-course may be ‘‘recognized as collective responsibilities’’ (Titmuss 1955: 64). The policy makers who fashioned the modern welfare states of the post-World War II era favored guaranteed basic minimum state provision, but they also, to varying degrees, expected people to depend so far as possible on income from paid employment and on support from their families.

Raising Problems That Matter

Your thesis should be stated in a single sentence, and in most persuasive writing it appears at the end of the introductory paragraph. This is not unalterable law, but it is a pattern that makes reading easier to follow. It’s a mini-map for reader and writer. Short persuasive essays may defer the thesis until the conclusion, especially in cases when the writer finds both sides appealing. It is used less often simply because it’s trickier to bring off successfully. What does the rest of the introduction do? It makes the reader care about the problem. The introduction can also establish your reasonable tone. For example, one might start the essay on “Grades and Tuition” this way:

Teachers complain many students are unmotivated. Colleges don’t figure transfer grades into one’s grade-point average—“C” is good enough for credit. Many graduates wonder if working hard for a high cumulative GPA is really worth the effort when they might get a job based on their personality. Many good students just slide through with little effort, and the taxpayers foot much of the bill. Perhaps we can motivate students with something closer to home: cash.

At this point the writer has established a problem and has shown she’s considered it from several angles (teachers, transfer colleges, several types of students, and taxpayers), and she probably has the reader saying something like this: “Yes, motivation is poor; what should be done about this?” In other words, by showing us a serious problem, the writer has made the reader hungry for an answer. Then the thesis is presented as the last sentence of the paragraph followed by the essay that supports it.

The proposal for the shuttle bus might begin this way:

A customer who wants our product circles the store three times. Our tiny parking lot is full; street parking is full. Will that customer ever return? Unlikely. No one in the area will sell us space for parking, the city has refused to run a bus route nearby, and we have already made our employees park six blocks away. If we can shuttle them, why not our customers?

One way of starting to think about persuasive writing tasks is to raise all the problems you can about a topic—perhaps by writing a brain-teaser bug list. Much of this may turn up in your introduction.

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