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How to Write a Discursive Essay

Published by at March 28th, 2022 , Revised On July 1, 2022

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?

Example:
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 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 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. Argument and counterargument 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 finding 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 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 received 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 key words 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 the 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, conclusion, followed by a reference section.

The Introduction

Example:
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.

The Body

In the main body of your essay, each paragraph should handle one idea or argument. You should show an equal number of arguments for and against. This helps create the required balance and prevents your essay from sounding biased.

You should begin paragraphs with topic sentences. And although there is no official requirement, you might find the TEEL or PEEL formulas helpful in building your paragraphs. Some people will find formulaic writing too restrictive, but some might find it a very helpful framework to follow.

What are TEEL and PEEL?

These acronyms describe methods of constructing paragraphs. PEEL is defined as:

Point – the first sentence makes a point and is what your paragraph will discuss.

Example – the second sentence provides an example or evidence supporting the point.

Explanation – the third sentence explains why the example supports the point made.

Link – this part connects your paragraph to the wider argument. You can use it to explain why you think the evidence you provided is important. It also allows you to establish credibility of your arguments by stating the reliable and valid sources used.

TEEL differs in that the T replacing P stands for topic, as in topic sentence. These approaches can be helpful but it is a matter of choice.

Organising the Arguments

As you are writing an essay that essentially shows opposing views, you need to present them in an organised way so your reader can follow easily. It is often good practice to place your arguments in order from strongest to weakest.

Block and Alternating Approaches

There are two main ways to present the various viewpoints: block and alternating. The block method will have for example, all the ‘positive’ opinions in one block of text, and all the opposing arguments in the following block. Where numerous points are being argued, the reader can easily lose the thread. The alternating method focuses on one point of the topic under discussion, presents all viewpoints surrounding it, then moves to the next. You will likely need to write five paragraphs in your discursive essay, but it can vary slightly.

The Block Approach

  1. Introduction
  2. Main Body
  • Paragraph 2 – All ‘for’ viewpoints on the various points
  • Paragraph 3 – All ‘against’ viewpoints on the various points
  • Paragraph 4 – Your comments on these viewpoints
  1. Conclusion

The Alternating Approach

  1. Introduction
  2. Main Body
  • Paragraph 2 – Point 1 with views for and against
  • Paragraph 3 – Point 2 with views for and against
  • Paragraph 4 – Your comments on these viewpoints
  1. Conclusion

Regardless of how you organise arguments, you should give them all the opportunity to shine through as the most compelling, even where they disagree with your standpoint. This practice makes for a more exciting read because everything sounds so convincing.

Linking Between Paragraphs, Maintaining Flow

Your essay needs to flow, and there are words and phrases that can help with transitions.

Purpose Words & phrases to use
Showing a similar line of thought furthermore, likewise, in addition, similarly, also, moreover, just as
Making definite statements without question, without doubt, undoubtedly, unquestionably, absolutely, inarguably, needless to say, obviously
Showing contrasting ideas yet, on the other hand, nevertheless, however, although, conversely, otherwise, on the contrary, whereas, alternatively, in contrast
Leading to further examples because, for instance, since, for example, so that, despite the fact that, accordingly, although, if, though, unless, such as, a case in point is, furthermore
Concluding or summarising thus, therefore, consequently, accordingly, in retrospect, hence, in conclusion, in brief, as a result, ergo, to summarise, in summary, for this reason, this is why, all in all, all things considered

This part connects to the larger argument, provides positive support, and includes a quoted source.

The Conclusion

This is where you summarise the main points and evidence in the essay. If you have made your position clear, do not contradict it. You can, however, clarify why you have taken one in particular. Say why you agree with viewpoint x without saying what you feel, but how you have reasoned it. Using logic and reason is objective whereas using emotions is subjective.

The conclusion should contain no new information and the result should be inescapable based on your evidence. You should not intentionally leave the reader with the idea that one view is far better than the others. Your job is to tie up the end of the essay, leaving the reader to make a decision based on the balance of evidence. As with the introduction, this part of the essay should be kept to a minimal length.

Content and Style in Your Discursive Essay

You should find and include different viewpoints on the subject, arguing all sides of the issue. When you present readers with strong arguments and then equally strong counterarguments, it makes for a very interesting read. Only include facts, supporting evidence, various viewpoints, and reasoning.

Things You Can Address in Your Essay

It is good practice to say why the issue is controversial. You can point out where arguments around the subject are emotional and whether any values are involved or at stake. If the issue is a longstanding one, is there any new thinking on it? What are all the different solutions that have been put forward?

There should be sufficient evidence for you to draw a conclusion. And the conclusion is not the end of your essay; you have to provide a reference section where you cite every source for information you have included, no matter how small. You really have to avoid plagiarism.

What not to Include in Your Discursive Essay

You should not include emotional language that aims to steer the reader, this would not be impartial. Do not fall into the trap of writing a narrative about the subject. It only needs the minimum of introduction. Although you should not use persuasive language, there will be an element of persuasion to the essay. However, this comes only from the strength of the arguments you are presenting. Other things to avoid are clichés, over generalisation, and insisting that you are correct.

Watch out for These Things

Including very convincing arguments can sway the reader. They should do this based on the weight of evidence, not because you amplified it. Although, you will have done your research and found an equally compelling counterargument. This high level of contrast creates a much more involving read. Maintain balance by not including a counterargument that is stronger than the argument.

Is There a Particular Writing Style for Discursive Essays?

Quite appropriately, there are different opinions on whether you should stick to using the third person pronouns: he, she, and it, not the first person, I and me. The problem with using phrases such as “I think”, “In my opinion”, and “I believe” is that it could start to sound like an argumentative essay. As such, check with your tutor to see what is expected in your assignment.

What Tone Should I Use?

The tone of the essay should be quite formal and you should not use slang or colloquial language. The expert writer learns these things with practice. Do not use technical jargon unless absolutely unavoidable, but define specialist terms.

Formality and Passive Voice

There is some disagreement over the use of active rather than passive voice. If you don’t know what this is, in active voice the subject (the dog) carries out the verb on the object (Johnny): The dog bit Johnny. In passive voice the subject, Johnny in the following example, has the verb carried out on it by the object, now the dog: Johnny was bitten by the dog. It allows the object to remain unknown: Johnny was bitten, it is thought that, it has been said… It can sound more formal but it can require more words, as Johnny and the dog will agree.

Some Tips on Language

Vary sentence length throughout the essay and use language that anyone can understand. Too many long sentences will lose the reader, too many short ones together make for unclear reading, sounding more like a list. While discursive essays are generally formal, it is acceptable to write conversationally. The best advice is to use plain English, there is never any need for showy language. Consider that one of the most important existential questions ever asked is written in single-syllable words no longer than three letters: To be, or not to be

What is the Final Thing to do?

If you have written your first draft, the next thing to do is read it through with fresh eyes. For some people this can mean waiting a few hours or until the next day. Initially you read to make sure you have done what you intended. As you read, ask yourself if everything is logical and in the right order, are your topic sentences clear? Do not be tempted to think that you have nothing more to do now. If you want further opinion on your work, give it to others to read. You can now produce your second draft.

Refine the Final Version

Your second draft might still not be the end of the job. If you find you have gone over the word limit, you need to carefully work through it and take out every unnecessary word to make space. Do not be afraid to make big changes, and move large pieces of text around if necessary. Once you are satisfied with your reworked essay, you should go through it again, proofreading for errors such as spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Then, if you have time, repeat the process again. Eventually, you might find that you can recite your essay from memory.

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

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