Contemporary and Controversial: How to Write a Powerful Social Issues Essay

More often than not, when you’re assigned an essay, you think, “Great. I have zero interest in this topic. How am I supposed to write five pages about it?”

But every once in a while, you get that essay assignment that encourages you to write about something you feel passionate about. Something you can sink your teeth into. Something that you know you can write five pages (or more) about.

If that essay assignment involves arguing whether Game of Thrones is better than The Walking Dead, you probably don’t have to worry too much about broaching a touchy subject or offending your readers.

On the other hand, if your essay assignment requires you to write about a more serious and impactful social issue—such as abortion, marijuana legalization, or immigration—you need to be able to write a thoughtful, convincing, and respectful essay.

In need of a little assistance navigating the waters of such subjects? Here are a few tips to help you write about contemporary social issues.

How to Write a Powerful Social Issues Essay

social issues essay

Let me first start by saying that this post is designed to help you write about a specific type of topic (a powerful social issue).

If you’re assigned to write about a social issue but haven’t chosen a topic yet, check out 7 Awesome Secrets for Choosing More Interesting Essay Topics.

Once your topic is firmly in place, consider these tips before writing a social issues essay.

Tip #1: Show some respect

If your grandmother is anything like mine, she has told you (likely more than once) to “respect your elders.” Her words of wisdom ring true not only when it comes to respecting (all) people in your daily life but also when writing essays.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re a blonde, and you read an essay about how the “dumb blonde” stereotype is true. You might be offended, right?

Now think about reading an essay that attacks your nationality, your gender identity, your religious beliefs, or your race. Think about how you’d feel about that writer and how angry you might feel about the writer’s words.

No one wants to read an essay that offends or attacks, so be respectful by carefully choosing your words so that you don’t offend your audience.

For instance, if you’re writing about immigration, using the terms “alien” and “illegal” can be offensive. Instead, use more correct terminology, such as “migrant,” immigrant,” or “refugee,” depending on the context of your discussion.

Being respectful also means avoiding generalizations about specific groups. Don’t assume that all marijuana users are criminals or that all immigrants are “bad people.”

Instead, be careful to clarify that, while a segment of these populations may fall into one category, the groups themselves cannot be generalized into one broad definition or description.

Tip #2: Stay cool

Being passionate about a subject is no excuse for going off on a rant. If you’re ranting about a topic, your essay will sound like one big complaint.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re unhappy about the homeless population who begs for money in your neighborhood.

If your essay simply rants about how you think homeless people make your city look bad, how they shouldn’t bother people, and that they should just go get a job, it does little to solve the problem or rationally discuss the topic. It simply lists a series of complaints.

social issues essay

How do you keep a level head when discussing such a passionate topic? Try listing your concerns and opinions through a prewriting exercise.

This might mean that you list all of your complaints (and angry rant topics). That’s okay. Prewriting lets you get it all out of your system before drafting. Then you can objectively examine your key points and decide which information is appropriate for your paper.

Once you’ve drafted your social issues essay, make sure to revise your paper. This will give you another chance to review your work to make sure that your arguments are solid, rational points rather than mere complaints.

If you want some help determining whether your arguments are appropriate, get additional help from the expert editors at Kibin.

Tip #3: Be convincing

In most cases, if you’re writing about controversial issues, you’re writing an argument essay. This means that the goal of your paper will be to convince your readers. You can do that in three ways:

  • Create logical arguments
  • Choose appropriate evidence
  • Avoid bias

Create logical arguments

You might initially think that including anything and everything that seems to even remotely support your argument is the most effective way to convince your readers. But the opposite is actually true.

To be convincing, you must first create logical arguments.

You can’t argue that legalizing marijuana means it won’t be long before all narcotics will be legalized. One action doesn’t always lead to another similar action or reaction.

This type of reasoning is a slippery slope logical fallacy and weakens your argument. (To learn more about logical fallacies and how to avoid them in your own writing, read 10 Logical Fallacies That Will Kill Your Argument.)

Choose appropriate evidence

Another component of creating a convincing argument is choosing appropriate evidence. Be careful, however, that you don’t cite only sources that support your argument. Also look for sources that argue the opposing view.

Including a strong discussion (and rebuttal) of the counterargument demonstrates that you have examined the argument carefully and aren’t simply including information that supports only your personal beliefs.

Avoid bias

A third component of creating a convincing argument is avoiding bias. We all come to the table with a certain inherent bias, but don’t let your personal biases interfere with your writing.

Here’s what I mean. If you’re a religious person arguing against abortion, you have strong moral and religious convictions. Those convinctions can lead to a biased opinion as you present your arguments about why abortion should be illegal.

The same holds true if you’re an atheist who believes in abortion rights or if you’re a non-practicing Christian who falls somewhere in the middle of the argument. Your background and beliefs can change the tone and even the content of your writing.

So keep any biases in check.

In other words, use evidence from your sources—rather than personal, biased opinions—to support your arguments. (Not sure whether your sources are appropriate and don’t contain biases of their own? Read How to Apply the CRAAP Test to Your Essay Sources.)

Tip #4: Be original

social issues essay

When drafting, create a unique and original social issues essay. Don’t rely on the same old, tired arguments that you wrote about in middle school or that your professor has read too many times already. Look for a new approach.

How do you create an original essay? It can be as simple as narrowing your topic. If you’re writing about immigration, for instance, don’t write a basic essay that argues whether the United States should accept immigrants and/or refugees.

Instead, you might write about DACA and argue whether the program should be kept in place, whether it should be revised, or whether it should have never been instituted in the first place.

Writing about something more specific means that you can focus your ideas. It also means that your paper will not only be more interesting to research and write, but also be more interesting to read.

(Remember, an interested professor is a happy professor, and this might reflect kindly on your grade!)

Live in the Present

You’ll notice that the title of this post uses the word “contemporary.” Thus, my final piece of advice is to make sure that you choose a current topic for your social issues essay.

Many social issues have been debated for years. So if you choose one of them as the focus of your essay, make sure you write about a current discussion (unless, of course, you’re in a history class, and the assignment is to discuss the history of such topics).

Not sure where to find current, relevant, and interesting topics? Check out 4 Ways to Mine Social Media for Better Topics to Write About.

Finally—some examples. I know it’s easy to tell someone how to write, but it’s also important to show people how to write. To read a few examples of finished papers about the topics in this post, check out these papers about abortion, marijuana legalization, and immigration.

Happy writing!

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