A DISCURSIVE ESSAY is a piece of formal writing that discusses a problem, a controversy, or a particular issue.
There are two basic kinds of discursive essays:
- Persuasive essays in which you can argue strongly either in favour of or against a given discussion.
- Argumentative essays.
Writing a discursive essay forces you to review all aspects and viewpoints of a particular topic, allowing you to think deeper and more critical.
TYPES OF DISCURSIVE ESSAYS
There are three main types of discursive essays of FIVE paragraphs each (400-450 words):
1. FOR AND AGAINST ESSAYS present both sides of an issue, discussing points in favour of a particular topic as well as those against, or the advantages and disadvantages of a particular question. Each point should be supported by justifications, examples, and/or reasons. The writer’s own opinion should be presented only in the final paragraph.
How to structure it: It has a generic introduction where you state the topic (without stating your opinion). In the next two paragraphs you present arguments for and justifications, examples or reasons. In the fourth paragraph you present arguments against and justifications, examples or reasons. Thus, in the conclusion you need to balance your consideration or opinion.
2. OPINION ESSAYS present the writer’s personal opinion concerning the topic, clearly stated and supported by reasons and/or examples. The opposing viewpoint and reason should be included in a separate paragraph before the closing one, together with an argument that shows it is an unconvincing viewpoint. The writer’s opinion should be included in the introduction, and summarized/restated in the conclusion.
How to structure it: It has a generic introduction in which you state the topic and your opinion followed by two paragraphs with viewpoints and reasons/ examples. So paragraph 4 will have the opposing viewpoint and reason/example. In your conclusion, you will have to summarise/restate your main opinion.
NB: For both FOR AND AGAINST ESSAYS and OPINION ESSAYS, remember to indicate, in a single paragraph, that there is another side to this argument, with some idea of the points likely to be made for the view(s) which are opposite to your own.
3. SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS ESSAYS, in which the problem(s) associated with a particular issue or situation are analysed and possible solutions are put forward, together with any expected results/consequences. The writer’s opinion may be mentioned, directly or indirectly, in the introduction and/or conclusion.
How to structure it: In the general introduction you state the problem and its cause(s)/effect(s). The other FOUR paragraphs look at suggestions and results. This will lead to the conclusion where you summarise your opinion.
Besides the three types above, many scholars are now engaged with the . . . .
ALTERNATE DISCURSIVE ESSAY – Here make sure you alternate from one argument to the other in an alternate manner, ie: you have an introduction then if you have written the second paragraph in support of the topic, then your third paragraph should be something against the topic and not in support of it. However, the fourth paragraph could be similar to paragraph two, supporting the topic as before.
To write the conclusion you need to sum up the key points, which you will have mentioned in the body paragraphs and based on the essay type, you can state your final position on the topic/statement, which can be either for or against, or even can be neither of the two. Also, remember that your conclusion is not just a repetition of the arguments you have mentioned in the body paragraphs, but a summary of the main findings.
This combination of alternate for and against paragraphs will make your essay look distinct, better and thoroughly researched and will result in a lasting impact on the reader’s mind.
ELEMENTS OF A DISCURSIVE ESSAY
Some of the distinguishing elements of a discursive essay are:
- Its objectivity. It is important that the writer present the problem in an unbiased manner, discussing all points of argument thoroughly and carefully.
- An introductory paragraph in which you clearly state the topic to be discussed or the issue’s relevance and context to other current issues
- A main body – three body paragraphs – in which points are clearly stated in separate paragraphs and exemplified or justified;
- Present each point in a separate paragraph. A well-developed paragraph contains a clear topic sentence, which summaries the contents of the paragraph, as well as a clear justification, explanation or example in support of the point presented.
- It is written in a third-person perspective and avoid using first-person phrases such as “in my opinion,” “I believe,” and “I fully support.”
- A closing paragraph summarising the main points of the essay, in which you stale/restate your opinion, and/or give a balanced consideration of the topic.
Discursive essays are written in formal style. This means you should . . .
- Write in passive voice, impersonal constructions, eg: (It is argued that . . .; It Is a common belief that . . . ). Thus, the writer remains neutral and detached from the topic (objective).
- Points are listed sequentially with the most important points first.
- Use a range of advanced vocabulary (verbs, adjectives, abstract nouns, etc)
- Use sequencing (e.g. First/ly, Second/ly, etc) and linking words/phrases (e.g. however, although, furthermore, however, nonetheless)
- Use complex sentences with a variety of links, dependent clauses, etc (e.g. Although it is widely accepted that . . . .)
- Make references to other sources (e.g. Experts have proved that . . . )
- Make generalisations (e.g. ln most developed countries, education . . . )
- Inversion, especially in conditionals, (e.g. Were this true, we would . . . ; Never has this been more obvious . . . )
- Use quotations, either word-for-word or in paraphrase, being careful to identify the source (e.g. As Winston Churchill said,”. . . )
- Use RACPpERSEE! (There is a topic coming on this, in the Argumentative essay. Once you have mastered this acronym, you will see yourself excelling)
You should NOT use . . .
- short forms (e.g. I’m, It’s) except when these are part of a quotation
- colloquial expressions, phrasal verbs, idioms, (e.g. lots of, put up with, be over the moon about…)
- very emotional language (e.g. I absolutely detest people who…)
- express personal opinions too strongly (e.g. I know…); instead, use milder expressions (e.g. It seems to me that…)
- simplistic vocabulary (e.g. Experts say they think this is bad….)
- over-generalisation (e.g. All politicians are…)
- refer blindly to statistics without accurate reference to their source (e.g. “A recent study showed…” – which study?)
- a series of short sentences (e.g. Many people think so. They are wrong.)
- personal examples (e.g. In my school…)
- simple linking words (e.g. and, but, so) except for variety
So how do I take off?
Introducing A Discursive Essay
The opening of an essay is important. It should capture the reader’s attention in some way or another. It should avoid being bland or dull. It should invite the reader to read on and create a sense of interest. If the beginning is flat, it will not inspire your audience.
Methods of Opening a Discursive Essay
The following methods are suggestions from BBC’s Bitesize. It is up to you to decide which style suits your writing best.
- Provocative – eg. – “It is difficult to see how anyone can approve of fox hunting.”
- Balanced – eg. – “Fox hunting is a subject about which people hold strongly contrasting views.”
- Quotation – eg. – “Oscar Wilde once described fox hunting as ‘The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.’.”
- Illustration – eg. – “On a glorious autumn morning a terrified, exhausted animal is savaged to death by a pack of baying dogs while a group of expensively dressed humans encourage the dogs in their bloody work.”
- Anecdote – eg. – “I have always detested fox hunting since I was almost physically sick while watching a television film of the kill at the end of a hunt.”
Linking Ideas In A Discursive Essay
Any well-written piece of discursive writing will flow as one continuous piece despite being made up of three or four different arguments. One of the techniques which can help you to achieve this effectively is the use of linking words. These words are usually used at the beginning of a new paragraph but can also be used to link ideas within a paragraph.
- Same line of thought – eg: and, firstly, secondly etc., next, furthermore, likewise, in addition, similarly, also, moreover.
- Conclusion/summary – eg: – thus, therefore, consequently, accordingly, in retrospect, hence, in conclusion, in brief, as a result.
- Definite statement – eg: – without question, without doubt, unquestionably, absolutely.
- Contrasting idea – eg: – yet, on the other hand, nevertheless, however, although, conversely, otherwise, on the contrary.
- Further examples – eg: because, for instance, since, for example, so that, despite the fact that, accordingly, although, if, though, unless.
Discursive Essay Topics
Try one of these essays and then send it to me for marking. Write in about 400-450 words in length.
- “When people succeed, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success.” Discuss.
- One should never judge a person by external appearances. Discuss.
- “Animals should be treated with the same respect as humans.” Do you agree with this view?
- “The generation gap is one which cannot be bridged.” Discuss.
- Do you believe that equality for women means that women should also do such things as military service?
- “One language spoken worldwide would lead to better international relations.” Discuss.
- Genetic engineering poses a number of worrying problems, both moral and practical. Discuss some of these problems and suggest what could be done to overcome them.
- “Celebrities should be allowed to keep their private lives private, without the invasion of the media.” Discuss.
- “Fear and ignorance are the root causes of racial hatred.” Discuss this state-ment and offer some possible solutions to the problem of racial prejudice.
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of our ever-increasing use of computer technology?