An issue is essentially a problem that needs solving. For an issue or idea to be arguable, it has to be debatable, with two or more arguable sides. If there is no debate, disagreement, or difference in opinion, then no argument exists.

Furthermore, each side of an arguable issue needs credible supporters. In other words, to be worth bothering with, the debate needs to be real, and the resolution in doubt. For example, to write a position paper today for or against slavery, women's suffrage, or nuclear war makes little sense, since no reasonable person would argue for the other side. However, in other times, say the pre-Civil War south, the early twentieth century, or World War II, serious opposition demanded serious argument.

As I write this chapter, I hear real debate about major national issues such as pollution, drug abuse, crime, violence, racism, poverty, overpopulation, and an energy crisis. I hear serious debate, daily, about specific solutions to some of these problems: legislation to cut taxes, limit automobile emissions, drill for more oil in Alaska, institute (or ban) capital punishment, control handgun ownership, ban abortion, curtail affirmative action, and reduce spending for everything from education to defense. And I witness local debates on everything from urban sprawl and shopping malls to alcohol in the dormitory and salad bars in the cafeteria. In other words, if you're looking for real issues about which to have real debates, you'll find them.

Keep in mind that the larger or more significant the issue, the more difficult to solve and the more difficult to resolve in a short college paper. To my own students I suggest investigating an issue with a clear, tangible, and accessible local presence. Instead of investigating abortion, gun control, or affirmative action as general national issues, investigate a range of attitudes about one of these in your local community. The smaller the issue, the more chance for your own voice to be heard; in other words, when you investigate issues that are matters of local campus debate, your position on the matter may be heard and contribute toward a solution.

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