When beginning an argument or research paper, writers should choose a topic that interests them and that has an appropriate scope for 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 even more than two perspectives.
Animal abuse would be a difficult topic to write an effective research paper about because it is very 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.
EXAMPLEA debatable topic would be whether or not the U.S. government should tax soft drinks containing sugar. Many people disagree on this topic, and it has a number of possible sides, both pro and con.
Non-debatable topics can only lead to arguments that aren't worth having.
EXAMPLEA non-debatable topic would be 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.
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
This is 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:
In an argumentative essay, the thesis statement makes the central argument that is supported by the rest of the essay.
Thesis #1: Mangoes are a fruit common to the South Asian subcontinent but beloved worldwide.
Thesis #2: The international treaties governing mango imports and exports have wide-ranging effects on the mango industry.
Thesis #3: International treaties governing mango imports and exports should be improved to allow for greater access to mangoes in the United States.
Mass campaigns against smoking have reduced the numbers of smokers in the United States drastically. Yet some still smoke, leading many to wonder how to further reduce these numbers.
Smoking harms our health and well-being. Smoking directly damages lungs and tissues, and negatively affects the psyche through powerful addiction. And secondhand smoke can be just as dangerous. Smoking is thus dangerous for all.
Strict regulations have reduced the amount of smokers in this country. Cigarette taxes can make the cost of cigarettes prohibitively high. Though the efficacy of such policies is debatable, to further incentivize quitting, cigarette taxes should be increased.
Beyond simply reducing smokers, increased taxes can be used on research, education, and outreach. This can fund programs focused on curing cancer and campaigns teaching youth about the dangers of tobacco. These programs can be very beneficial.
Thesis #1: Many people debate the merits of increasing the cigarette tax.
Thesis #2: Increasing cigarette taxes will benefit smokers and non-smokers alike.