A controversial essay is one that takes as its topic a highly-charged, contestable issue. Controversial essays are often argumentative essays, in that they are seeking to argue for or against one side of a controversial issue. However, not every argumentative essay is a controversial essay, as some argumentative essays are arguing for or against issues that are not highly-charged and contestable. Furthermore, not every controversial essay is argumentative. Though controversial essays are often arguing for or against a political stance, ideology, or issue, controversial essays can also be expository essays—essays that inform the reader of a certain issue or topic—that simply take a controversial subject.
Students are sometimes timid about writing controversial essays because such reports require a learner to express strong opinions about a subject that many people have strong opinions about—thus opening themselves to criticism. However, learners should remember that there are multiple perspectives on all issues, and their opinions are valid, so long as they can be supported with sound reasoning and evidence. Most of the success of any controversial essay depends on the writer's willingness to confidently assert opinions on a topic of controversy despite the risk of offending opposition thinkers. This does not mean, however, that the writer of a controversial report should ignore the ideas of her opposition; in fact, an effective controversial essay depends in many ways on the writer anticipating such opposing viewpoints and addressing them in the report itself.
Issues of controversy are issues that elicit strong and often emotion opinions on opposing sides. Common issues of controversy are those that consistently emerge in political debates, such as the subjects of gay marriage, abortion, capital punishment, and the limits of freedom of speech. These issues are controversial because people hold extreme (and often persuasive) views on opposite poles of the spectrum. A controversial essay is not a place wherein the student should seek to accommodate these opposing views, but argue strongly for one side. This is what makes such a report controversial—it takes a stand.
Every controversial report should assert its stance on the chosen issue of controversy in a clearly and boldly worded thesis statement early. This thesis must announce itself with strong language. For instance, a thesis for a controversial essay on gay marriage that reads "It is unfair for states to prohibit gay marriage because everyone should be entitled to equal rights" is not nearly as bold and aggressive as "The prohibition of gay marriage is a blatant violation of the civil liberties upon which democratic society depends and thrives." Notice how the second thesis statement presents its stance in strong language that makes the issue seem more pressing. The entirety of a controversial report should be cast in such language.
A controversial essay will quickly lose validity if it is merely the writer's rant. Rather than vituperating on injustices or the flaws of the opposition or government failings, the report must maintain a strong but reasoned tone, and support every point with multiple examples. A controversial essay is not controversial if it seems to be merely the complaints or expostulations of a single individual. It must strive for an academic and sophisticated tone by being rooted in sound reasoning and logical debate.
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