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Persuasive Essay and Paper Topic Ideas

Persuasive writing permeates our lives. Whether it is a television commercial, a printed ad, or an opinion piece written in the editorial section of a newspaper or online, people want to convince other people to buy their products or services or to believe as they do and/or accept their positions. Some of these writers use psychological techniques; others use actual factual data to support their opinions; some use both.

In an academic setting, students will often be required to produce persuasive essays and papers. And the standards are usually high. Students will have to conduct significant research, develop an opinion or take a side, and then, through their writing, attempt to convince others to accept their position.

Usually, persuasive essays and papers have topics that are controversial and over which there is a lot of discussion. The good new is this: There is a lot of research out there on these topics – research that is easily accessible.

So, let’s take a look at some of the topics that would make for good persuasive essays and papers.

  1. Drunk Driving: Decades ago, drunk driving did not command the attention that it has in more recent times. The dangers are obvious – accidents that result in injury and death. Perhaps one of the most vocal organizations that has put a national spotlight on drunk driving is MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). This organization has been responsible for lobbying state legislators for stricter laws and increased penalties. A good research paper topic might be related to this organization and its accomplishments. Another might relate to current imposed penalties, if they are tough enough, and, as well, the rehabilitative efforts that may be in place to assist alcoholics recover from their disease.
  2. Abortion: While this is very much a “tired” topic, it is nonetheless in the spotlight again now. In 1972 the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion nationwide. Since that time, the controversy has not died down. In states where the majority of voters appear to be against abortion, legislators have passed laws restricting abortion and putting unachievable regulations in place that have forced clinics to close. In several instances, abortion doctors have been attacked and even killed. Planned Parenthood has been under attack because it performs abortions. If you choose abortion as a topic for research and persuasion, then you must have your own position clearly defined from the start. And you may want to explore topics that are a bit different from the more common ones – perhaps explore abortion from a civil right perspective or research social programs that promote and supply birth control so that abortions are not necessary in the first place. One interesting topic comes from the book Freakonomics. There is a chapter relating reduction in crime rates to abortion and the decrease in teenage pregnancies that result in births.
  3. Animal Testing: Another hot topic, especially for animal rights activists. For many years, all sorts of companies have engaged in research that uses animal subjects, even in cosmetics development. Proponents of animal testing, especially in the medical field, insist that animal testing is critical and has resulted in many breakthroughs, as well safety of foods and drugs. Obviously, the big question is whether animal testing is moral and ethical. But another topic could relate to the advantages and disadvantages of animal testing from a factual standpoint, and then taking a position that one outweighs the other.
  4. Global Warming: The science is really “in” on this one, though there are still those who insist that the threat is a hoax. How could you convince a non-believer that global warming is real? And what are the politics involved? For example, fossil fuel corporations have a vested interest in continuing to produce and sell fuel products that are clearly responsible for a chunk of climate change. How much sway do they have over legislators, and should they? What about the role of cattle farming? Most large beef producers keep cows in pens where they feed on grains. Why? Because the meat supposedly “tastes” better than grass-fed beef. The problem is, when cows are grown in this environment, they fart – a lot. Cow farts are estimated to produce about one-third of the methane gas that destroys the ozone layer. Persuading consumers to change their beef eating behaviors and cattle producers to alter their methods would both be great topics for a rather unique topic on global warming.
  5. Violent Video Games: The verdict is still out on the impact of violent video games on children and teens and their behaviors. Psychological researchers have only recently begun to study this issue. But there is some research out there that can be explored and reported, as you take you stand and attempt to convince others.
  6. Death Penalty: One of the Ten Commandments states, “Thou shalt not kill.” Throughout history, however, people have killed others during wartime, in self-defense, and, even in earlier times, to settle arguments through duels. Governments have established the death penalty as a punishment for serious crimes. In the U.S., the death penalty punishment is left up to each state. Those who oppose the death penalty state that no man has the right to determine the life or death situation of another. They also point out that wrongful executions have occurred. Those who support it state that some crimes are so heinous that only the death penalty is an appropriate punishment. This controversy is nothing new. But here is a potential topic: In those states that have the death penalty, has crime decreased? In countries that have banned the death penalty at a national level, has crime increased. You will find data that can support your opinion, no matter which side you are on.
  7. School Uniforms: Religious schools have always had uniform requirements. It is their belief that such a policy establishes a stricter more disciplined atmosphere and eliminates the competition for appearance on the part of students. These are all good arguments, and there is research to back up the arguments of why we should have school uniforms in public schools as well. The other side of the coin is this: school uniform requirements are a violation of First Amendment rights, specifically, that dress is a manner of free speech. You may have an initial opinion on this, of course, but it would be a good idea to conduct some research first. Specifically, you should look at the data regarding academic and behavioral changes, if any, upon the implementation of a uniform policy. You can then have an opinion based upon science, not just opinion.
  8. Gay Marriage: Oh dear. If you decide to choose this as a topic for a research piece, you will find no lack of resources, arguments, and threats. No matter what your opinion may be regarding gay marriage, don’t be like the stubborn King Creon who refused to see any other side of the picture. Instead, keep an open mind, and research both sides of the issue before forming your own opinion. You might want to address some legal issues. For example, if gay marriage is legal in one state, and a married couple moves to another state where it is not, what is the status of their marriage? What opinions might you have to solve these legal issues? Are national laws a solution?
  9. Illegal Immigration: Right now, the focus on this issue is at our southern border. President Trump wants to build a wall, as he promised during his campaign, but Democrats and a few Republicans are opposed to this. Illegal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. is a reality, of course. And the controversy has brought many proposals for immigration reform, none of which have been adopted. But illegal immigration is not just occurring at the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico. Many who come on temporary visas; many who come as students simply do not leave when supposed to. And they are from Asia and the Middle East. Research topics might involve some of these lesser-covered issues, making your paper stand out among the others.
  10. Racism: A topic that is always on the table, especially more recently, given the more visible activity of racist groups and the continual publicity related to the killing of Black males by police officers. There are a number of topics for argumentative essays and papers, such as the recent trend toward rolling back affirmative action programs that universities have had in place for many years. There are other issues of racism as well, for example, discrimination against Muslims, in response to terrorism. Again, try to choose a topic that is not commonly covered, and your instructor will perhaps be more engaged while reading it.
  11. Stem Cell Research:  The controversy surrounding this issue is primarily religious and relates to whether a human embryo is indeed a human life with rights to life. Staunch anti-abortionists tend to oppose stem cell research too. But such research has already resulted in medical breakthroughs and holds promise to positively impact disease prevention and treatment. One potential topic relates to government funding for stem research, especially in terms of grants to university or other medical facilities for such research.
  12. Should College Athletes Be Paid: College sports programs are expensive. And adding pay to athletes obviously increases the costs. There is also the issue that those institutions with large endowments in sports are far more competitive in recruiting top athletes, thus un-leveling the “playing field.” In arguing why college athletes should be paid, many proponents state that athletes are virtually employees of the university, making money for that university, and yet receiving no compensation for their contributions. Opponents also state that most college athletes are on scholarship with tuition, books, and room and board paid for – benefits that most other students do not have. And they end their college careers not in debt, unlike the majority of students today. Thus, they do receive compensation while in school. Your obvious thesis for this issue is in support of or opposed to salaries for college athletes. Pose your argument logically.
  13. Is Breaking the Law Ever Justified: There is an ancient Greek Tragedy, titled Antigone. In it a sister buries her brother against the decree of the king, who believed him to be a traitor and forbid a proper burial. She broke the law but felt justified in doing so. Are there ever instances in which breaking a law can be justified, especially a law that is deemed to be unjust? Rosa Parks, for example, broke the law when she sat in the front of the bus. Black students broke the law when they sat at a dime store lunch counter. The other side of this argument is that laws should never be broken but, instead, opponents should work within “the system” to change those laws they oppose. Pick a side.

Additional Topics On Which You can Take a Stand

  1. Government shutdowns
  2. Term Limits for political leaders other than governors and Presidents
  3. Universal healthcare
  4. Influence of large corporations on legislators
  5. The Electoral College
  6. Prison privatization
  7. Life terms for federal judges
  8. Underground oil pipelines
  9. Emission controls
  10. Paris Climate Accord
  11. Iran Nuclear Agreement
  12. Human rights violators of the world
  13. Russian influence in American elections
  14. Free speech – how far does it go?
  15. Gun control/rights
  16. Affirmative Action
  17. Genetically-modified foods
  18. Animal abuse
  19. Using credit scores as factors in insurance costs
  20. Privacy vs. data gathering by government
  21. College costs and student loan debt
  22. Immunization requirements vs. individual freedom
  23. Right to die
  24. Social welfare safety nets – food stamps, housing subsidies, etc.
  25. Food labeling
  26. Government responses to natural disasters
  27. Offshore drilling
  28. Wrongful convictions
  29. Reparation payments to groups whose rights were violated in the past
  30. Voter suppression
  31. Gerrymandering
  32. Harmful pesticides
  33. Couch Potato kids
  34. Free trade policies
  35. Plight of Native Americans
  36. Stop and frisk policies
  37. Graphic news reporting and children viewing it
  38. Discrimination against the handicapped
  39. Evaluating teachers on their students’ test results
  40. Ignoring infrastructure needs
  41. Deforestation
  42. Dress codes at work
  43. Age discrimination
  44. Gender discrimination
  45. Legalized gambling
  46. Prison reform
  47. General education requirements for degree programs
  48. Keeping exotic animals as pets
  49. Paternity leave for fathers
  50. Cloning
  51. Music and academic performance
  52. Eminent domain
  53. Traditional vs. progressive educational models
  54. Academic requirements for sports participation
  55. Hunting for sport
  56. Protection of endangered species
  57. Ocean garbage
  58. Space garbage
  59. Diet fads
  60. Money and the justice system
  61. The Draft
  62. Internet bullying and harassment
  63. Frivolous lawsuits
  64. Manipulation of the markets
  65. Tariffs and trade wars
  66. Social vs. academic skills – which is more important
  67. Men should wear pastel colors
  68. Workplace harassment
  69. Biological and chemical weapons
  70. Bank bailouts
  71. Torture as a means to get information
  72.  Racial Profiling
  73. Polygamy (for both genders?)
  74. Ethics of drone warfare
  75. Parking fees on college campuses
  76. Breast feeding in public
  77. Net neutrality
  78. Banning plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam products
  79. Using worms in landfills
  80. Unnecessary medical testing
  81. Hormone and antibiotic use in chickens and other for-food animals
  82. Usury interest rates at Payday and other loan companies
  83. Interest-free student debt repayment
  84. Free public college
  85. Megachurch wealth with no taxes
  86. What constitutes excessive police force?
  87. “War on Christmas”

There you have it. Thirteen controversial issues and a host of other potential topics for argumentative research essays or papers. As well, any of these suggestions would make great topics of persuasive speeches too. The next time you are assigned an argumentative piece, refer to this list. You will surely find something that interests you.