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How to write a good discursive essay / argumentative essay
A discursive essay is a piece of formal writing which discusses a particular issue, situation or problem.
We will be focusing on two main types of discursive essays:
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.
Points in favour of and against a topic / advantages and disadvantages
Example topic: Living in a city or in a small village
Important: Develop a mature argument.
2. Essays suggesting solutions to problems, 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 if the suggested solution if it is implemented.
The writer’s opinion may be mentioned, directly or indirectly, in the introduction and/or conclusion.
A good discursive essay should consist of:
– 3-4 paragraphs
1. An introductory paragraph in which you clearly state the topic being discussed. A typical introduction:
a. Gives a background to the topic
b. Introduces two opposite points of view on the topic or issue at hand
c. Outlines a plan of the essay
d. (Presents the author’s point of view)
Example topic: whether certain websites should be censored / blocked
a. General information on the various uses of the internet and its importance; acknowledge that certain content on the internet may be inappropriate or insecure
b. While the internet has various benefits, it can also present some threats to society’s safety and the morality of vulnerable individuals.
c. In this essay, the possibility of censorship of certain websites will be discussed by firstly discussing how certain content may place society’s safety at risk, secondly considering how particular websites may not be appropriate for children and young people, and thirdly by analysing how vulnerable individuals can be protected from unsuitable content.
2. A main body in which points are clearly stated in separate paragraphs and exemplified or justified and:
a. Present arguments to support the author’s point of view
Support the arguments by including reasons and examples.
b. In another paragraph, present arguments that discuss the opposite position (counter-arguments / against)
Give reasons and examples to develop the paragraph(s).
3. A closing paragraph summarising the main points discussed in the essay, in which you state/ restate your opinion and/or give a balanced consideration of the topic. A typical conclusion includes:
a. to sum up / conclude the key points discussed in the essay
b. clearly state your point of view / opinion and support it with reasons
– Internet uses
– benefits and drawback of the internet
– the possibility of censorship
– how certain internet content may place society at risk
– purchase of weapons and explosive materials online
– terrorist groups recruit individuals e.g. Isis
– websites which may be harmful for young people and children
– pornographic websites, violent content, p(a)edophiles…
– benefits of the internet e.g. research, knowledge sharing, news updates and communication
– how children and young people can be protected
– take advantage of the benefits while eliminating the disadvantages / risks
– summarise the main points: threats to society’s safety, morality of children and young people, how to control the internet to take of the benefits while eliminating/minimising the possible risks
– OPINION [without using ‘I think’, ‘In my opinion’] + REASON
e.g. Censorship of certain websites is necessary to protect vulnerable individuals and society in general. … [Support your opinion by explaining why]
Points to consider
• Present each point in a separate paragraph. A well-developed paragraph contains a clear topic sentence (an introductory sentence), which summarises the contents of the paragraph, as well as a clear justification, explanation or example in support of the point presented.
• Use well-known quotations and reliable sources of information (e.g. As writer Somerset Maugham once said, “It is bad enough to know the past; it would be intolerable to know the future.”), or thought-provoking statements (e.g. the fact that one’s future is what one makes it, there is no such thing as chance.) to make your writing more interesting.
• Before you begin the essay, always make a list of the points to plan your writing.
• Do not use informal style/ emotional language.
1. Do not use personal opinions too strongly (e.g. I know, I am sure… Use “It seems that…” rather than “I know that”).
2. Avoid contracted forms (e.g. they’ve they have, it isn’t it is not )
3. Do not use clichés, overused idiomatic expressions or colloquial language.
4. Avoid personal pronouns, especially the first and second person (I, my, we, you, your).
5. Adopt the passive for a more impersonal style or use the third person but ensure that your sentence is gender-neutral.
(In this essay, I will discuss the benefits of … The benefits of … will be discussed.)
6. You may use the following phrases to introduce the counter-arguments:
Some may argue that…
Research also shows that …
There are certainly different views on …
7. Passive constructions
It is clear that … It is believed that …
It can be seen that… This is supported by the fact that …
Use functional language
1. Use of Adverbs (to describe how or how often an action is done) e.g. generally, ultimately, considerably, gradually
2. Avoiding informal language and abbreviations, e.g. a lot –> many , a considerable number of
3. Use of linking and transition words to increase cohesion
Use the appropriate linkers to show the connection between paragraphs as well as to link sentences within paragraphs (cohesion).
• Firstly, Secondly, Thirdly …
• In addition, Moreover, Furthermore …
• Introducing examples: For example, For instance, In particular, In fact
• Showing contrast: However, Although, On the other hand, In spite of, Despite the fact that, In contrast …
• To sum up, … In conclusion …
Look at the essay plans for the two types of discursive essays, then say what features the plans have in common and how each plan differs from the others.
Look at the following titles and decide whether they should be a solution to a problem essay or a for and against essay.
1. Zoos are great fun for children and adults alike but at what cost? Discuss.
2. Global warming is an issue and we are already feeling the effects. Discuss what can be done to help the environment.
3. Women have had the right to vote since 1947 however we are still light years away from having equality. How can gender equality be attained?
4. Having one international language would be much better for all. Discuss.
5. 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.
6. Celebrities should be allowed to keep their lives private, without the invasion of the media. Discuss.
7. Fear and ignorance are the root causes of racial hatred. Discuss this statement and offer some possible solutions to the problem of racial prejudice.
8. What are the advantages and disadvantages of our ever-increasing use of computer technology?
9. Consumerism plagues our society. Propose some changes that could improve our lifestyle.
10. Sport provides entertainment but costs billions of pounds per year, money which could be used for a better cause. Discuss.
Match the following beginnings and endings. What are they discussing?
It can be argued that all children have the right to be educated in their mother tongue. Many migrant children in the past have spent months or years in school without understanding lessons. In fact, many migrant children are failing in our education system due to the lack of bilingual education programmes. Furthermore, the U.N. report on language and education states that children who become literate in their own language have the best chance of educational success. Additionally, recent discussion concerning the latest figures on university entrance indicate that migrant students perform more poorly than native English speakers at present. State governments should therefore address this issue by setting up bilingual education programmes for all migrant children. An example of the success of such programmes is the ‘two-way’ system currently in place in parts of the Northern Territory.
Is this paragraph complete?