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Argumentative Research Topics and Theses

Argumentative Research Topics and Theses

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson explains how to find topics appropriate to a research paper and turn them into valid theses.

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Welcome back to English composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? We're going to learn about the intersections between argumentative writing and academic research. We'll cover research topics and argumentative research thesis statements then look at some examples of these.

It's perfectly possible for writers to make argumentative essays using only their own logic, experience, and emotional appeal, but going beyond our personal experience gives writers a huge advantage. Incorporating research adds credibility to argumentative essays by showing the writer's engagement with a topic that allows the writers to explore the topic and learn going beyond his or her personal opinion. Research can also help writers make unique and valuable contributions to the conversation by showing how their ideas bring new knowledge or perspectives to the topic. This innovation can come through distinguishing the writer's ideas from those in the secondary sources or through original research and analysis or both.

Just as with other kinds of writing, when beginning an argument of research paper, writers should try to find a topic that interests them personally and which is also narrow enough to discuss effectively in a time and space allowed for the essay. The other important restriction that all writers should follow is to only choose research topics that are debatable. They should focus on questions which has not already been proven and do not already have agreed-upon answers to whether as a society as a whole or as a specific field of study.

The reason there's such an emphasis on making sure research questions are debatable is that the priority of academic writing is to participate in the broader conversation and contribute to the pool of knowledge, neither of which is possible if the question being answered isn't debatable. One easy way to make sure your question is debatable is to choose one for which there are at least two clear sides. After all, if others are debating it, then you can too, right?

Of course, many topics and many questions will encompass way more than two perspectives and so, just like avoiding yes or no questions, it's a good idea to select topics with multiple nuance perspectives. The more, the merrier. This will most likely lead you to writing a more dynamic essay and it's almost certainly going to teach you something.

If, for example, you chose to write about a subject like animal abuse, that would be a hard topic to write an effective research paper on. Without focusing it more, there aren't a lot of positions available. Either it's bad and unforgivable or it's bad, but not that bad. Obviously, I'm oversimplifying here, but compare this broad topic to that other more specific one of animal cruelty as regards to the food industry. Now it's a little more complicated and as such, there are more positions to hold, from those who believe in eating meat but refuse on principle to fund factory farms that treat chickens, pigs, and other livestock as less than even an animal for slaughter to those who will eat anything but would still like to see farm conditions improved, the vegetarians and the many intersections of these three.

As you can see, the topic chosen makes a huge difference, not only for the arguments that can be made and the positions that can be taken, but for the kinds of argumentative research essays that might come of them. And just like with other forms of academic writing, argumentative essays must include a clear, focused thesis, one that ideally takes a strong position or makes a specific and debatable claim. There are many ways to bring a research topic to this point, but here are some suggestions, questions that writers often go about asking at the beginning of the writing process.

Ask yourself what kind of question you're asking. Is it a question of fact, definition, interpretation, or policy? These are the most common forms of thesis questions, questions that seek to either understand a thing, explain what exactly it is to the reader, state how the reader should understand it, or seek the best course of action for a particular group or about a particular issue. Ask yourself if it's a yes or no question and if so, how you could complicate it and in doing so, generate a more complicated answer. Other important questions to ask yourself are what impact you want your essay to have and what its overall purpose is.

For example, do you want your readers to take an action or just to know or understand something they might not already know or understand? What exactly is your claim or position and what is your primary reason for believing this claim or position is true and important? Can you write an entire essay proving this primary reason as opposed to several scattered reasons? If not, should your focus be expanded or narrowed?

It's also a good idea to consider the models of argumentation and which would best suit your essay's purpose. For example, would the rationalism of the Toulmin model work better or worse than the consensus-building emphasis of the Rogerian model? And once you've brainstormed through these questions, draft a working thesis and let it guide your research, outlining, and drafting processes. And remember to feel free to adjust the thesis as needed. This is not a sign of a faulty thesis, but of your developing ideas and opinions about the subject and that's a good thing.

Now, let's say I've just been assigned an argumentative research paper on something within the topic of animal abuse just to stay with the theme today. We've already seen how that topic, broad as it is, can be honed down into manageably focused areas. So let's say I've come up with three questions that I might want to try to answer in my upcoming essay. The first is, what penalty should be put in place to prevent abuse of animals? What I need to do now is ask myself some of the questions we've just gone over.

Looking at the question, I can see that it's a question of policy and it's fairly complex as the answers I might make for it are varied and would need nuance to make complete. I'd want this essay to have the effect of convincing readers to take the specific action of pushing for animal abuse legislation on the federal level probably and I could definitely write an essay if not a book on the answer I come up with for this question. In fact, now that I'm looking at it, I can see that they're probably too many facets to this question. Even though I thought I had already narrowed it down, I can see now that this question and any thesis I might put out to answer it would have to encompass a huge range of issues, from abuse of pets to livestock, from negligent or accidental abuse to deliberate cruelty.

What seemed like a specific question at first is actually hiding a huge range of assumptions about what animal abuse really means. A more specific question might be something along the lines of what penalties should be put in place to specifically punish and prevent deliberate or obscene cruelty and abuse of animals. This would narrow my focus to particular kind of abuse and let me focus my answer on arguing for the creation of a special category of abuse reserved for deliberate or egregious cruelty to animals.

So here's a working thesis. We should create a new category of abuse reserved for deliberate or egregious cruelty for animals and have harsher punishments for those who commit it. As for the second question, how about this is. What industrial control should be enacted to govern the food industry's handling and treatment of animals? It's another question of policy and it's already fairly complicated. There are, I think, two possible effects I'd like an essay answering this question to have, one to convince readers that the food industry can and should be doing more to treat the animals it uses with compassion if not necessarily kindness or dignity, and possibly two, to change their eating habits so as to only support companies and individuals who treats food animals this way.

So as you can see, for this question and this essay, the policy I have in mind is a personal policy, one I'd like to share with the readers and perhaps convince them to adopt. I believe my policy is morally correct and important based off of my personal experiences in the periphery of the industry, but I know I would have to bring in outside sources too and I'd probably want to use the high rationalism of the Toulmin model of argumentation and avoid the emotional appeals that are, in my opinion, over used as this topic is concerned.

So anyway, I was thinking the next question is already working fairly well, but since it seems I'm more interested in focusing on the personal intersections of food and animal rights, I'll reword it to reflect this difference. What food choices can and should an American consumer makes to avoid supporting animal cruelty as an industry standard? And my working thesis, we should all go through the extra process of knowing where our food comes from especially when that food was once a living, breathing being and as such we should take responsibility for knowing what process we're buying into when we buy meat or other animal products.

And my third question, what are human's moral responsibilities regarding animals? It's obviously taking a different angle, questioning the nature of the overall subject. This I'd say is a question of interpretation since any answer to this would have to make some kind of analysis of human morality in general and then apply that to our treatment of animals. Depending on the answer's direction, it might also be a question of definition as some thesis statement seeking to respond to this question might go about outlining and creating a set of rules literally defining a human's moral responsibilities regarding animals.

As for me, I think the purpose of any essay I might write about this research question would be more about interpretation, focusing on how we can apply the rules and taboos that all people seem to share to some extent at least regardless of ideology or religion to the case of animals. Whether I'd want to define animals as non-human people as I know some writers do, I'm honestly not sure. I think, however, that this question is already focused enough assuming we rephrase a little just to make sure my answer would only have to be applied to animal cruelty and not, for example, whether a human should be morally obligated to risk injury to save an animal or other questions related to morality and animals, but not morality and the abuse of animals.

How about this is just to close that door? What are our moral responsibilities regarding cruelty to and abuse of animals? And my working thesis would probably be something to this effect. As creatures capable of conscious thought and empathy, we are morally obligated not to participate in any avoidable cruelty or abuse of an animal and to prevent it when possible.

So as you can see, within this single topic lie an uncountable number of possible questions to ask and even within each question are multiple answers that we could put forth. But by analyzing the questions we ask, we can make sure that whatever our answer, whatever our thesis, it will be both searchable and debatable.

What did we learn today? We learned about the intersections of academic research and argumentative writing, focusing first on research topics and how to generate an argumentative thesis with the research in mind and ending with a few examples of this. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.