One challenge many college writers face is writing about controversial subjects. Whether a topic is emotionally charged in general or the subject has a long history of argument behind it, writing academic arguments that are sensitive to controversy can be especially difficult. Fortunately, there are three ways to take an emotional or controversial paper topic and turn it into a well formed argument that is appropriate for an academic setting. Through careful choice of content, language, and counterargument, you can write a paper with potential to effectively address important issues.
Since your topic is already putting your readers on edge, it is important for you to pick and choose support that will open your reader’s mind and effectively argue your opinion. One way to do this is to avoid personal attacks on those who may hold different beliefs than you. Instead, use factual arguments from reliable sources. If you can’t seem to find unbiased sources, be sure to investigate the information presented by all sides of the controversy. It is possible to make arguments that rely on intuitive or emotional thinking, but these arguments should always be founded on rational, factual principles if they are going to be effective.
Much like your content needs to be mostly factual, your language should reflect a critical, reason-based argument instead of an emotional appeal to the reader. Emotionally charged words—descriptives that connect more with the reader’s emotion than their mind—should be used sparingly. While they can be effective in moderation, an abundance of these words will make the paper sound more like a rant or an inspirational speech than an essay. This also applies to using personal examples in your paper. These stories usually bring added emotional weight to a paper. If the paper is already well-balanced with facts, using examples to enrich the argument is fine—but be wary of using them in place of well-reasoned claims.
Counterargument is key to writing good arguments in general—but it is vital in papers on controversial subjects. A good paper is going to recognize the biases of both sides. This means you point out how the opposition may be interpreting facts according to other beliefs they hold, but it also means recognizing outside factors that may affect your own opinion. Doing this helps the reader to feel understood and to see the paper as a fair assessment of the whole issue, which is one purpose of the counterargument. The counterargument paragraph should move from these biases to acknowledging the common ground both sides share, which will give you a place to work from that will catch your reader’s attention. Finally, your counterargument should take the problems your opposition will find with your argument and use the common ground you share, as well as facts, to show that your argument is effective in answering their questions.
It's always a challenge to write about controversial subjects, but you can do it well if you apply these principles! Next time you sit down to work on an argument, don’t shy away from controversial topics—just argue them well!