Pro and Con Essays: Key Issues

The “Pro and Con” paper is a very common type of essay for the social sciences and humanities. It is also one of the most challenging. The following are some points that will help you organize your writing.

1. “Pro and Con” means that you must analyze the positive and negative aspects of some controversial issue, or choose between two competing points of view. This is can be challenging! You can’t just explain one group of facts; you must analyze two conflicting sets of facts and make a rational judgment about their relative validity.

2. Generally speaking, you should make a choice between one of the two sides. You should always discuss both viewpoints, but that does not imply they are automatically of equal worth. Try to make a strong thesis that may concede some points to the opposing side, but still largely favours your main point of view. It is very uninspiring to read an essay that starts with a weak thesis such as, “Both arguments have their strengths and their weaknesses.” Ugh!

3. The order of the body paragraphs depends on your thesis. So, if you’re going to concede a small part to your anti-thesis viewpoint, place them before your pro-thesis examples. In formal rhetoric, it is always more effective to place your pro-thesis examples closer to the conclusion.

4. Try to group your major examples into like-minded body paragraphs. It’s disconcerting to read a paragraph that’s simply a list or collection of random points. Also, use specific examples; explain each point fully and in your own words, but do develop each point around a short quote.

5. In this type of essay, transition phrases are critical. If your first body paragraph is conceding something contrary to the main thesis, use a concessionary transition. When you move to your pro-thesis body paragraphs, you should probably use a contrasting transition because you are moving to a contradictory (but pro-thesis) viewpoint. Without that transition, a reader might think you are contradicting yourself without realizing it.

6. Your conclusion is the clincher and may take more than one paragraph. In addition to summarizing your body paragraphs, you must explain why the concessions are significant (but not dominant), and why your pro-thesis examples are, altogether, more persuasive. This is where you need to show sound reasoning and judgment, so take care with this last part of the essay!