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How to Write a Discursive Essay – Guide with Examples

Published by at March 28th, 2022 , Revised On July 26, 2023

What is a Discursive Essay?

You can see the word ‘discursive’ is close to the word ‘discourse’; in short, it means involving discussion. “In a discursive essay, you explore the discussion and perspectives surrounding a topic. Then proceeding with reason and argument, you reach a conclusion in which you may or may not agree with one of the perspectives you have presented.”

What is Discussed in a Discursive Essay?

The discursive essay discusses ideas and opinions on a topic without the aim of persuading the reader to take a given view. It is your unbiased presenting of differing viewpoints that allows the reader to decide which is best. This allows you to present the topic from several viewpoints, showing the pros and cons of them all.

During the Renaissance, discursive essays were quite popular, though they have become much less so over time. Many consider the discursive essay to be one of the more difficult to approach. As such, many students struggle with them, and it is quite common to seek essay writing assistance.

What is the Purpose of a Discursive Essay?

The purpose of a discursive essay is to show that there are different and often competing viewpoints around a subject. The subject often raises a controversy or describes a problem requiring a solution. As such, discursive essay assignments are often used when comparing subjective opinions on literary works. Discursive essays highlight different opinions and arguments but do not argue either way.

Do Discursive Essays Offer Solutions to Problems?

It is not the author’s job to solve a problem. The problem could be a long-running one with no solution in sight. For example, in a discursive text, you do not examine a problem or literary text; instead, you discuss the opposing ideas and opinions surrounding them. These essays benefit readers by presenting a collection of various views on a subject all in one place, saving them from doing the research themselves.

What is the Author’s Role in a Discursive Essay?

Apart from creating the essay, the author’s role is minimal. That is, the essay should not be a personal opinion piece. The author stands in the centre of the ongoing debate, selects some of the best arguments and presents them to the reader. In this way, the author is more like a facilitator providing a clear view of the arguments surrounding the topic.

Should the Author Give an Opinion?

The role requires the author to stay mostly neutral, but it is acceptable for authors to take a stance. Whether you include your own stance in the essay is either up to you or your tutor. There is no rule that says you have to. You can clarify where you stand early in the essay, or you can wait until the conclusion.

Present Others’ Views Fairly

You should present the views of others in the best possible light; showing balance between the arguments is essential. When presenting others’ viewpoints, you should not try to prejudice readers or persuade them your view is best. This is not an argumentative essay.

How Does a Discursive Essay Differ from an Argumentative Essay?

Discursive Essays Argumentative Essays
Purpose To give a credible and fair assessment of discussion on a given issue. The essay avoids persuasive and emotional language. However, it is not always totally neutral; the writer may take a position in the argument. It is written using well-researched relevant facts and presents both sides of the issue equally. To convince readers that your position is best by providing supporting evidence. This is done with thorough research that produces valid material to persuade and inform the reader. Although a counterargument is included, it does not need to be in equal balance.
Style and Structure As the author is presenting the views of others, the style is impersonal and formal, although it can be acceptable to write in a light-hearted style. It mostly conveys the thoughts of others, not necessarily those of the author.
1. The introduction states the issue the essay looks at. It may or may not assert the author’s position. It describes exactly what will be covered.
2. Within the body, 3-5 points are discussed from different viewpoints. Arguments and counterarguments are carefully balanced. There are different organisational styles.
3. Paragraphs begin with strong sentences on the issue, and evidence is provided.
4. The conclusion summarises the main points. The position the author takes may be inserted here.
Argumentative essays are in the general style for academic writing. They are slightly less formal in tone than discursive essays.
1. The introduction includes a very concise and accurate thesis statement, which makes clear the author’s position.
2. The body paragraphs go on to explain with good evidence why this position is correct. The evidence provided will be persuasive.
3. The conclusion restates the writer’s stance, summarises the main points, and invites the reader to agree with the author’s position.

When to Write a Discursive Essay

Your coursework may require a discursive essay in order to test your ability to find and presenting balanced evidence without bias. In this assignment, you need to make a balanced examination of arguments surrounding a topic, with the option of stating your own position. You are not attempting to settle the debate, only to show the thinking that surrounds it.

How do I Know if I Should Write a Discursive Essay?

Your tutor might not directly say ‘write a discursive essay’ but the essay question will give you a clue. It might be a relatively simple question, or it could just state that there is disagreement on a topic. It will not ask you to give your opinion or direct you to persuade your readers. Your essay is part of a study course, so there will be enough guidance from your tutors.

Here are some title examples that would be best discussed in discursive essays.

  • Is modern technology good or bad?
  • The effects of social media on today’s youth.
  • Should children under the age of ten be given mobile phones?
  • Should cigarettes be banned worldwide?
  • The positive and negative effects of water fluoridation.
  • Should governments subsidise healthy food and tax junk food?
  • Arranged marriages last longer than free-choice marriages.
  • Are educational standards declining?
  • How Harmful is cyberbullying?
  • Should gene editing and ‘designer babies’ be allowed?
  • Should the minimum age for driving a car be raised to 20?
  • Has the death penalty been proven as a failure or a success?
  • Does Google have too much power?

Types of Discursive Essays

There are three main types of discursive essays:

  • The opinion essay requires the author’s opinion on the issue. It should be clearly presented and supported with reason and evidence; it should also contain an opposing argument. The writer should explain why the counterargument is not convincing.
  • The for-and-against essay should provide readers with a good debate on the subject, aided by the opposing points of view. The main body should provide examples with sound reasoning to support claims. This should be an objective piece, as its purpose is to bring the information to the reader to make a decision.
  • Essays suggesting a solution to a problem should discuss the stated problem and find the main solution(s) that have been suggested. The introduction defines the problem, its causes and the consequences. The main body offers some suggestions for a possible solution to the problem and the possible consequences that can be anticipated from this solution.

Approaching a Discursive Essay

Before you do anything, read the essay question/prompt several times; let it sink in. All the work you undertake will be based on this. If you study remotely and receive the essay prompt digitally, copy it onto paper to make it real. Highlight key words and make sure you thoroughly understand what you are expected to write. Are you being asked to analyse, discuss, or explain something? These keywords are important to understand.

Steps Towards Creating your Essay

Before you even write the first line of the introduction, you have to carry out research. Trying to write an essay before doing research is like polishing a car before washing it. Researching is a way of learning about the subject while gathering and filtering information, forming the backbone of your coursework. The research you carry out should look into the subject and more importantly, also investigate the broad range of opinions and evidence surrounding it. Your research should not focus solely on the argument you favour but should cover other views equally.

How Many Viewpoints to Include

Some issues have a huge number of opinions surrounding them; you cannot include them all. Using too many will confuse the reader and make a conclusion difficult. Also, you won’t have the word limit to include everything you discover. Ask yourself if you have considered the most relevant viewpoints. Working through your discovered material, you can determine what to include based on appropriateness. It can become overwhelming, but there is plenty of help out there.

Where to Find your Evidence

Much of your research will be done online. But you should not disregard relevant books and other print sources, some of which are also online. There is also television and video to consider, and depending on the subject, you can ask family members and friends. Variety in your research shows you have really made an effort to cover all bases.

Always consider the credibility of any source you use, and always note where you found it. You will need this information to complete your bibliography. When you feel you have enough material and researching has given you a richer understanding of the subject, you can start writing.

Writing your Discursive Essay

The first thing to write is an outline; think of it as a framework. You are going to fill this framework with good material. Remember that every word you put into it will have to justify its inclusion. For a discursive essay, the structure will likely follow the usual format of title, introduction, main body, and conclusion, followed by a reference section.

The Introduction

The introduction should touch on all the points you’re going to cover, even if only broadly. It should provide a concise description of the topic and what your focus will be. Everything you discuss in the body should come under the umbrella created by the introduction.

Help the Reader Right from the Start

From the introduction, the reader should understand where the essay is going; it should not be a mystery tour. This is especially important if the subject is very broad. You can state your position on the subject in the introduction, but it is not necessary.

The discursive essay does not have a formal thesis statement, as with other essay types. This gives you the option of opening with something to really hook the reader. For example, any of these can be used:

  • Be provocative – “Maybe you don’t care about children’s self-confidence…”
  • Be balanced – “There are different opinions on whether children should do martial arts.”
  • Use a relevant quote – “As martial arts practitioners, we are not the type of people who allow life to happen to us. We are the author of our own lives.” – Jay Haynes.
  • Illustrate something – “Four-foot-tall Lisa was once bullied. After taking up kickboxing, she seems to stand much taller. She is no longer a target.”
  • Use an anecdote – “I lacked confidence and direction as a child. Taking up Tae Kwon Do changed all that in the first few weeks.”

After this is a rhetorical question at the centre of the discussion and a description of what the essay will cover.

Argumentative Essay Checklist

Frequently Asked Questions

Although you will provide evidence in a discursive essay, it is not the same as in persuasive or argumentative essays. For example, if the essay is questioning the correct interpretation of a literary work, you do not analyse or review the literary work. Rather, you look at what others say about it and present that for the reader. What you present are ideas. And you support these ideas with quotations from other people, although it’s possible to do this by referring to your own experiences.

You do not have to take a position on the subject you write about in a discursive essay. Your tutor might even instruct you not to. If you decide to tell the reader your position, you briefly say what you think and why. It shouldn’t become a major part of your assignment because this is not a persuasive or argumentative essay. The essay is not based on what you think.

Yes, it makes your work more personal if you do this. You could do this right at the start of the introduction, asking something like, “Have you ever wondered how much information big tech companies hold about you?” A direct question like this can be a useful hook to keep the reader reading. You could say that it reduces formality and brings in familiarity, but used minimally, maybe just once, it can be effective. Generally, the discursive essay should be quite formal and impersonal.

About Grace Graffin

Avatar for Grace GraffinGrace has a bachelor's and a master's degree from Loughborough University, so she's an expert at writing a flawless essay at ResearchProspect. She has worked as a professional writer and editor, helping students of at all academic levels to improve their academic writing skills.