When beginning an argument or research paper, writers should choose a topic that interests them and that is sufficiently focused to cover in the time and space allowed for the essay. Writers should also choose topics that are debatable. A debatable topic involves an issue about which people can argue, differ in opinion, or disagree.
Topics must be debatable because the priority of academic writing is to participate in a broad, scholarly conversation and contribute to a body of knowledge, neither of which is possible when the question being answered isn't debatable. An easy way to ensure that your question is debatable is to choose a topic on which at least two positions can be taken. Many topics encompass more than two perspectives.
Animal abuse, for example, would be a difficult topic to write an effective research paper about because it is broad. Unless the topic is focused to a more specific area, it won't be possible to identify two clear positions. Compare this broad topic to one that is more specific: animal cruelty in the food industry. With this tighter focus, it's easier to identify positions on the topic. These range from those who believe that eating meat is fine, but funding factory farms is wrong; to those who eat meat and don't care about how it is produced; to vegetarians; and many other positions.
The topics you choose make a big difference, not only in terms of the arguments that can be made and positions that can be taken, but in the types of argumentative research essays that result from them.
Consider the following examples of specific, debatable topics that would be appropriate for an argumentative essay, along with some non-debatable topics.
EXAMPLEA debatable topic: whether or not the U.S. government should tax soft drinks containing sugar. Many people disagree on this topic, It has a number of possible sides, pro and con.
Non-debatable topics can only lead to arguments that aren't worth having.
EXAMPLEA non-debatable topic: Whether or not soda a liquid. There’s only one position to take on this topic: Yes, soda is a liquid. This isn’t a topic about which reasonable people can disagree.
The first topic isn’t debatable; a rational person can only answer "yes" to this question. However, the second topic might elicit disagreement among people.
Some would probably respond by indicating that they don't believe that romance novels cause harm; readers of romance novels might argue no, they don't create unrealistic expectations; people who worry about the impact of these novels on impressionable readers might argue that they do create false expectations about relationships. Your thesis statement should take a side on a debatable topic; it should not just state a fact.
Like other forms of academic writing, argumentative essays must include a clear, focused thesis. An argumentative thesis statement must make a strong claim about a worthwhile debate. The thesis statement is different from the topic, which is broader. The thesis statement requires you to choose a side in the debate initiated by the topic.
To move from the broad topic of an essay to a clear, focused thesis statement, ask questions at the beginning of the writing process when you begin to define your thesis. You can come up with some potential research questions based on your topic. Consider the following example, in which a topic of "global warming" has been selected.
Topic: Global Warming
A good start, but because it is a broad topic it needs to be focused. Which aspect of global warming do you want to write about? You might focus on strategies to combat global warming. Doing so might lead you to a research question like the following:
Research question: What are some of the ways to combat global warming?
Based on that research question, you might develop a working thesis statement like this:
Working Thesis: Humans can reduce global warming by making choices that benefit the environment.
Once you've drafted a working thesis statement, ask yourself questions about it to make sure that it works for an argumentative essay and fulfills your intended purpose:
Once you've brainstormed and drafted a working thesis, use it to guide your research, outlining, and drafting processes. Feel free to adjust your thesis as needed. Doing so is not a sign of a faulty thesis, but of your evolving ideas and opinions about the subject. It's a sign that you're learning as you work: that's a good thing.
In an argumentative essay, the thesis statement makes the central argument that is supported by the rest of the essay.