16 Persuasive Essay Topics About Controversial Issues

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Written By Jim Peterson

Jim Peterson has over 20 years experience on speech writing. He wrote over 300 free speech topic ideas and how-to guides for any kind of public speaking and speech writing assignments at My Speech Class.

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One of the best ways to make your persuasive essay engaging is to pick a controversial topic. But, of course, that’s just the start of the writing process. Students often get stuck at the very beginning as the page in front of them seems blank.

To help you overcome your writer’s block, we’ve compiled a list of several interesting topic ideas along with brief persuasive writing prompts. These can give you a headstart and guide you through the initial stages of your research and the actual writing.

List of 16 Good Persuasive Essay Topics and Writing Prompts

Below is a list of 16 interesting persuasive essay topics and a brief elaboration on the arguments you can make on them. There’s plenty of information online on each of these, so it’s not difficult to build a strong argument.

Keep in mind that our topics for essays and speeches are the same, and we have a huge list of these on our Essay Topics page if you’re looking for more ideas.

Is Global Warming Humanity’s Greatest Threat?

Many questions related to climate change are hotly debated (pun intended), but most of them are virtually settled by scientists, at least to the degree that scientific inquiry allows any issue to be conclusively established.

Is climate change real? That question is about as meaningful as asking, “Does the Earth revolve around the Sun?” Scientists have long ago verified that our planet goes through natural cycles of changes to the climate. Thus, the more pressing question is, “Is climate change accelerating?” Once again, the scientific consensus points to a resounding, “Yes.” 

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The next logical step is to ask, “Is the acceleration of climate change caused by humans?” Here, we are faced with another question that experts answer affirmatively. All evidence points to the fact that we produce a large amount of heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, which are proven to cause our atmosphere to get warmer.

So we come to the question in the title of this section. Humanity faces many existential threats, such as nuclear war, rogue biotechnological attacks, or artificial intelligence. Likewise, global warming is undoubtedly on this list, so it’s an interesting topic to examine in your academic paper.

Is the Death Penalty Effective?

This is a question that we’ve tried to answer for ages—and for a good reason. It encapsulates many issues from different spheres. For one thing, you can look at it as a question of whether governments should have the power to determine who has the right to live. It also touches on the purpose of sentencing in general—is it primarily meant to protect society from violence or punish perpetrators for wrongdoing?

Besides the ethical issues, we also have purely practical ones. Is capital punishment effective in deterring violent crime, or is it just a remnant of a crueler past? To date, there have been no credible studies establishing a connection between the death penalty and crime deterrence, so we can safely say that it’s ineffective in this respect.

As for the moral side, there’s a strong argument against the use of lethal force in the name of justice. Amnesty International is just one global NGO that strongly condemns capital punishment. The organization argues that state-sanctioned executions violate two of our fundamental human rights established by the United Nations—the right to life and the right to live free of torture or inhumane treatment.

Amnesty International also cites the many examples of corrupt governments using the death penalty to eliminate enemies, wrongfully sentenced individuals on death row, and its disproportionate effect on minorities.

Although it’s an age-old debate, it’s far from over, so it’s a great chance for you to pitch in and practice persuasive essay writing.

Is the US Criminal Justice System Fair?

This is a multifaceted question that you can explore from more than one side or pick an aspect you want to look at. There is a movement in the USA that’s in favor of a complete justice overhaul, but most groups focus on specific issues and call for reforms of certain parts of the system.

Two of the most controversial issues that often come up in relation to this debate are drug possession charges and institutional racism. These two come together in one of the most salient examples of injustice—the disparity between sentences for powder cocaine and crack cocaine possession.

Although the two drugs are, in essence, one and the same, possession of crack, which is stereotypically associated with Black people, comes with one hundred times longer sentences than powder cocaine on average. This leads many to blame the disparity on racism. A group of bipartisan lawmakers has recently introduced a bill to reform this discriminatory sentencing trend, so the debate is ongoing.

This is just one example of a good persuasive essay topic related to justice system reform. Since fairness is something we all seek, it’s an issue that’s worth exploring.

Should the Voting Age in the USA Be Lowered to 16?

Did you know that the voting age in the USA used to be 21 until 1971? That was when a long campaign that transcended partisan lines achieved its goal of convincing lawmakers to introduce the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, reducing the voting age to 18.

This movement began during World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt lowered the draft age to 18, and suddenly young people were going to war to protect America but couldn’t vote in its elections.

Some argue the USA is currently at a similar crossroads. There’s a growing movement among progressives to lower the voting age to 16. According to supporters of the reform, teenagers 16 and above have the right to work and have to pay income taxes, so they should have a say in the policies that affect them. Proponents also cite research that says there’s little difference between the knowledge and cognitive abilities of 16- and 18-year-olds.

Whether you agree or not, this topic provides a great chance to develop your persuasive writing skills.

Should Fast Food Be Taxed at a Higher Rate?

This has become a topic of discussion in many countries in recent years, as developed and developing nations alike face an obesity epidemic. Colloquially referred to as a “fat tax,” this measure is intended to disincentivize consumers from buying unhealthy foods, such as those high in sugar or fat.

However, the effectiveness of the “fat tax” is far from established. Opponents claim that imposing such a tax does little to curb obesity and promote a healthier diet. Instead, it disproportionately affects poorer communities that live in so-called food deserts—urban regions where healthy food options are lacking and the only available options are processed foods with a long shelf life.

Supporters of such a measure cite success stories from countries that have given this tax a try and have seen positive results. A recent study from New York University and Tufts University looked at several places where such a tax was imposed, such as Mexico, Hungary, and several US regions, and found some benefits for public health after the measure was implemented.

Since this is an issue with a lot of solid evidence on both sides of the argument, it’s a great topic for a persuasive research paper.

Is Social Media Increasing Political Polarization?

Few would deny that social media has a massive effect on our lives. Studies show that we spend more than two hours on various social media sites every day. How does that exposure affect our political views?

Many blame social networks for the increased political polarization we see around the world. The algorithms these platforms use are believed to create “echo chambers” in which every person is exposed to information that only confirms their preexisting views. This can cause near-total dismissal of opposing perspectives and pushes a person’s opinions to the extreme of the political spectrum.

Social media companies have faced a lot of scrutiny from the public lately, and some have tried to take measures to amend the adverse effects of this polarization. To address concerns, some platforms made changes to their algorithms so that people would get more opposing views in their feeds. However, that effort backfired.

It turned out that this only makes things worse. Why? It is because of these platforms’ tendency to amplify radical opinions. It turns out being exposed to extreme views from the other side of the spectrum only strengthens one’s existing beliefs.

That’s just one aspect of the huge debate around social media’s role in the shape of today’s politics, so writing an argumentative essay on this topic is sure to be engaging.

Do Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior?

The question of video games’ effects on the psyche of children and adults alike is more pressing than ever. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced many students around the world to stay home, screen time has surged. A significant part of that time is dedicated to video games, as evidenced by the double-digit increase in the global game company revenue in 2020.

Likewise, can this pastime be blamed for violent behavior in the real world? Some US politicians have tried to pin tragic events, such as school shootings on shooter-type video games. However, scientists are yet to find a link between engaging in virtual killing sprees and real-life ones. As one researcher put it, “The data on bananas causing suicide is about as conclusive. Literally. The numbers work out about the same.”

It’s worth noting that recent research pointed to a connection between violent video games and aggression, but these studies were retracted, and their authors were accused of manipulating data.

Is this controversy even warranted? Most probably not, but, unfortunately, public sphere debates are usually as tied to scientific evidence as bananas are to suicide. That’s why exploring this in your persuasive essay is a great effort to bring awareness to this issue and nail your assignment at the same time!

Are Cell Phones Addictive?

The large majority of people own smartphones nowadays and use them for much more than calls. As comedian Gary Gulman puts it, “To me, the phone is this seldom-used app on my phone.”

We’re so used to having this multifunctional device at our disposal 24/7 that most of us shudder at the idea of going out without it. In fact, there’s a condition called nomophobia that describes the fear of being without your phone.

So are we addicted to those things? That’s a difficult question to answer definitively, because we first need to define addiction. Most experts agree that excessive cell-phone use has some detrimental effect on our mental health, but there is some disagreement on whether it fits the description of addiction or if it’s just an issue of poor impulse control.

Whatever the formal definition is, there’s growing concern about cell-phone use among teenagers and its effect on their development, so this is definitely a strong topic for a persuasive speech or essay.

Should Students Be Required to Learn a Foreign Language?

There’s little doubt that gaining fluency in a second language has benefits, some more palpable than others. Learning another language usually comes with an increased knowledge of other cultures and an appreciation for different communication styles. It helps students gain perspective and understand the value of diversity.

Fortunately, there are also practical benefits. A 2005 study published in The Review of Economics and Statistics found that being fluent in a second language is associated with a higher salary. This makes sense since knowing a foreign language opens doors in areas related to international business relations.

However, the question in the title of this section still stands: should learning a second language be required? That’s where some disagreements emerge. Opponents argue that although having foreign language requirements has its benefits, the time spent on it could be better used if students are given the option to focus on more relevant skills for the current job market, such as computer programming or statistics.

This is just one of many good persuasive topics related to education.

Is College Education Worth the Cost?

According to a report by the Institute for College Access & Success, the average graduate in the USA leaves college with a student debt of almost $30,000. This cost prompts many young people to wonder if attending university is even worth it.

A survey by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave asked recent graduates who took out a student loan if they think the degree was worth going into debt for. Thirty-six percent said it wasn’t. On top of that, a growing number of people, including successful entrepreneurs who dropped out of college, are joining the chorus of those calling for a reassessment of college degrees and their usefulness.

Is that the whole story? Most probably not. The majority of experts still agree that a college education is worth the cost, even if you have to take out a student debt. They urge people to think of it as a long-term, low-interest investment in their future, as a degree pays off more and more as time goes by.

Personal finance advisor Ramit Sethi argues college is definitely worth it: “I want to encourage everyone here to not just take advice from a bunch of people on Twitter who are telling you, ‘Drop out of college—student loans are bad.’”

This is an important question for young adults and a great persuasive essay idea, especially for college-level assignments.

Are Good Grades a Predictor of Career Success?

It seems like common sense that a successful academic career leads to a similarly successful professional one. After all, why else do we need to put in the effort to get high marks? It turns out the relationship between a high GPA and future success is more complicated than that.

Good grades throughout school and college do have a predictive quality in some respects. That’s because GPA encompasses more than just obtained knowledge—attendance and on-time homework submission are just some of the factors that usually go into an evaluation. These components give an indication of a student’s personality traits, such as discipline and motivation, which are actually a good predictor of future success.

However,it gets even more complicated when we introduce the element of creativity. Research shows that successful entrepreneurs who are innovators in their field often did poorly in school, especially in classes where their imagination could not flourish. So standardized testing is probably not a good way to measure innovation potential.

High grades are, of course, still preferable, and writing a good persuasive essay on this topic can get you one.

Is Online Learning an Effective Alternative to In-School Classes?

As the COVID-19 pandemic prompted school closures, many are asking if online schools can replace traditional learning. Some argue that the time out of school is causing irreversible damage to a whole generation, while others maintain it’s the lesser of two evils and say Internet-based learning is a viable alternative to in-school instruction.

There’s supporting evidence for both camps. Traditional school is more than just a place to learn—it’s where young people connect with their peers, improve social skills, and develop a sense of purpose. Studies show that the isolation caused by the pandemic is taking a toll on teenager’s mental health. Anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts are on the rise among teens, as they are physically removed from part of their social support network.

Experts also argue that Internet-based schools present purely academic challenges. Professor of education Susanna Loeb from Brown University says online learning can demotivate students: “In the online setting, students may have more distractions and less oversight, which can reduce their motivation.”

This issue touches on economic inequality as well. Many are concerned that students from poorer families are at a disadvantage because of their limited access to computers or the Internet and online learning only exacerbates existing inequality.

Proponents of online learning note that it’s a temporary and necessary measure or argue that its shortcomings are the wrinkles that will be ironed out as we get used to the new reality.

Whichever side you pick to base your thesis statement on, you’re bound to find more than one good argument and counterargument.

At What Age Should Sex Education Start?

The topic of sex education usually conjures up an image of “the talk”—the conversation between a parent and a child (usually at the start of puberty) that takes the form of a lecture on the biological aspects of sex. However, it’s a lot more than that.

Sex education is concerned with relationships, boundaries, respect, and identity, among other things. It’s an opportunity to instill values in your child that set them up to become a healthy and functioning adult.

So how young is too young for sex education? Some experts argue it’s never too soon to start the conversation and that puberty is already too late. As Dr. Eva Goldfarb of Montclair State University puts it, “When your child starts talking, you can start talking.” When parents establish a rapport with their child on topics that are often considered taboo, the child is more likely to turn to the parents for answers instead of seeking them elsewhere.

There’s more than one angle you can approach this from for your persuasive essay. You can explore the school’s role in sex education or focus on the topics that parents should discuss with kids of different ages.

Should Middle-School Students Be Drug Tested?

This question stirs up a lot of emotions in both parents and children. There are two separate campaigns related to drug testing and middle-school students.

One is trying to push the introduction of testing for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs for students involved in competitive sports, arguing that it shouldn’t be any different from what large sports organizations do, such as the Olympics or Tour de France.

The other campaign calls for introducing random drug testing in middle school to prevent drug abuse. Supporters say this could help address addiction among young people at the roots.

However, opponents of both drives claim this is not only unnecessary but invasive, going as far as to call it a civil liberties violation. Many students argue it’s also humiliating and overbearing, while some parents say it shouldn’t be the school’s responsibility to deal with such issues.

Whichever side you want to persuade readers of, you’ll find enough ideas to build a strong argument.

Should Animal Testing Be Banned?

This is another moral dilemma that’s nearly impossible to answer conclusively because it depends on what value we place on animal welfare. 

Surely, few would argue that animal experimentation is harmful to the creatures involved. Proponents usually frame it as a necessary evil that allows the development of new medical technologies that save human lives. However, who’s to say that human lives are more valuable than those of animals? As people, we take this to be true at face value.

What’s more, we now know for a fact that other creatures have emotions—an idea that was not widely accepted in the past. In previous centuries, philosophers such as Descartes argued that animals are little more than automatons that react in predictable ways and don’t have a consciousness of their own.

Calls for the ban on lab testing on animals also cite evidence that drugs that cured diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes in mice proved ineffective in humans, questioning the usefulness of such experiments. Whichever side you pick, you’ll have the chance to make a strong case.

Should People Be Allowed To Keep Exotic Animals as Pets?

There’s a certain allure to owning an exotic animal such as a possum, a squirrel monkey, or even an eagle. That’s especially true after the wildly popular Netflix show Tiger King pulled back the curtain on the bizarre world of the illegal exotic animal trade. Some conservationists and animal rights activists insist the show brought awareness to a serious issue, while others argue it downplayed the animal abuse involved in this trade.

Whatever the case, we now know that there’s a huge demand for exotic animals as pets worldwide. Many are asking, though, if most of these creatures can function in a domestic environment or bring up other legal, ethical, and even health concerns.

For one thing, large mammals such as apes and big cats are often resistant to training and can seriously hurt or even kill humans. The exotic animal trade is also blamed for driving some species close to extinction or promoting the spread of zoonotic diseases—infectious pathogens that jump from wild animals to humans.

Whatever you choose to focus on, this issue is a great way to improve your persuasive essay writing skills.

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