At some point or another in college, you will be asked to write a discursive essay. It’s the academic version of death or taxes — it’s unavoidable.
Learning to write a discursive essay is very important for your education. The process of writing a discursive essay teaches you about constructing the basic outline of all academic papers. If you understand how to write discursive essays, you will understand how to write and interpret other academic papers.
If you’re here, it’s probably your first time writing a discursive essay. Don’t panic. We’re here to help you understand the process of writing a discursive essay — fancy words and all.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What Is a Discursive Essay?
A discursive essay is one of four types of essays you’ll encounter in your studies. These are
- the Narrative Essay
- the Argumentative Essay
- the Descriptive Essay
- and, of course, the Discursive Essay
We’ll get back to these four in a second (they’re quite useful in understanding our discursive essay). First, let’s focus on the discursive essay.
A discursive essay is written in order to present a topic in a balanced way. It presents all sides of an argument, and provides the reader with objective evidence about a particular topic. It is written in an impersonal style, which helps to keep things unbiased.
This means that, as the writer of a discursive essay, you have to be very careful to avoid arguing for one viewpoint. Instead, you should try to keep your personal opinion out of the discussion. If you start to argue a point, your essay will turn into an argumentative essay (like Cinderella’s carriage-pumpkin at midnight.)
Discursive Essays vs Other Essays
Discursive writing is different from other types of essay writing. Let’s look at how it’s similar to and different from other types of essays.
Our first essay type, the descriptive essay, is written to paint a picture for your brain to imagine. It does this by using descriptive language. If you want to get technical, it uses plenty of adjectives, adverbs, comparisons, and sensory figures of speech.
A discursive essay, on the other hand, gives cold, hard facts. There ain’t no time for flowery words here. Unless the evidence needs to be described in a sensory way, descriptive writing stays away from being overly descriptive.
A narrative essay tells a story. It is usually written in informal language, and it usually incorporates aspects of descriptive writing. It uses details to tell a story and draw the reader in. Think of all the classic fairy-tales, like Cinderella, or Goldilocks and the Three Bears. These are all examples of narrative writing.
Now, stories are a great way of drawing readers in, but they don’t necessarily work for discursive essays. With a discursive essay, you must focus on presenting facts and examples. Present evidence. Don’t focus on weaving a story. This makes it easy to lose focus on the facts you’re trying to present.
This is like the bossy older sister of the discursive essay. Essentially, these two come from the same family, ie they discuss topics and present facts and examples about them. Except argumentative writing prefers to see things from one point of view. It might acknowledge the facts, but it will present several arguments about why its opinion is better.
At it’s core, the argumentative writing is used to try and persuade the readers to think in an alternate manner. Arguments are presented to convince the audience to change their mind. The discursive essay merely presents the facts from all sides.
How to Approach Discursive Essay Writing
Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s jump in. You don’t need to be a professional writer to write a discursive essay well. You just need to remember the basics. If you can express your thoughts in logical way in the English language, you’re 80% of the way there already!
Research Your Particular Topic
Before embarking on the quest to craft the perfect essay, you have to know what you’re writing about. This will be accomplished by following a good research process..
You don’t have to be passionate about the subject of your composition, but you have to make some good points and present a good argument. It might help to choose a controversial topic. Here are some suggestions for discursive essay topics:
Essay Topic Examples
- Do violent video games influence a person’s behaviour?
- Should the death penalty should be banned in Singapore?
- Should children under the age of 10 have cell phones?
- Is social media ruining our ability to interact with other people?
- Are Gen Z’s entitled?
We’ve found another great list of topic ideas for all kinds of essays. Check it out here.
Pro Tip: Controversial topics make great discursive essays. The reason for this is because your teacher (or lecturer) wants you to demonstrate that you can approach a highly emotional topic in a rational and objective manner.
Once you have chosen your topic, research it extensively. You should investigate the topic from as many different angles as possible. As you do your research try find answers to the ‘old faithful’ questions:
After that, do it again, but this time from the opposing point of view. By the time you put pen to paper, you’ll be able to write a powerful argument from both perspectives.
Plan your paper
Don’t write your introduction yet. Research is great, but unless you plan how to write it all down, your essay could be messy. Here’s an example of an essay plan. This example works well for verbal learners.
If you’re more of a visual or kinaesthetic learner, here’s an example of a how to create a mind map, which may help you to express your ideas better.
If neither of these work for you, you can simply write out all of the main topics that you will address.
Pay attention to structure
Just like when you build a house, it’s important to structure your writing. You do this by organising your paragraphs in the correct order, and by including the appropriate information in the corresponding paragraphs. Obviously, you should start with an introduction and end with a conclusion, but what comes in between?
Here are some key pointers to help you organise your paper:
- Always be sure to use separate paragraphs. This might seem obvious, but if you don’t know how to use a paragraph, your ideas quickly become jumbled.
- Use your introductory paragraph well. Make your hypothesis statement in the first paragraph. Discursive writing isn’t about writing creatively. It’s about getting the information across succinctly. If it takes more than one paragraph for your reader to understand your discussion, they may lose interest.
- Use the second paragraph to explain HOW you’re going to make your points. This will give the readers a ‘roadmap’ of your ideas, and help them to find the points. Use the main points from your essay planning to help guide you.
- Use your body paragraphs to craft compelling arguments. The main body of your essay is the place for you to discuss the topic at length.
- Write one idea per paragraph. Anything more a single idea in each separate paragraph starts to get confusing.
- Write a conclusion that wraps everything up nicely. Body paragraphs are great, but they need to be tied together at the end.
Understand your main points
Before you try and make up a single body paragraph, you have to ensure that you can answer the main questions about a topic.
That’s the key: Ask the right questions.
This ties back in with our ‘old faithful’ questions. If you have a thorough understanding of the topic, your reader will, too. People can tell when you’re waffling.
Include supporting evidence
Whenever you make a statement in your body paragraphs, make sure that you can substantiate it with evidence. Here are two easy ways to make sure that you’re doing this:
- After each statement, ask ‘why?’ If you can’t give a decent answer, perhaps the statement shouldn’t be there.
- Use the SEA method:
- Statement: Make a statement.
- Example: Give an example (or evidence) to substantiate your claim.
- Application: Show how the theory applies in real life. (Personal examples may be useful here)
- All paragraphs should have their own topic sentences.
- Don’t waffle in the main body paragraphs.
- Give yourself enough time to complete your essay. All nighters aren’t ideal.
- Don’t forget to write a conclusion.
- A discursive essay is not the place to voice your own opinion.
- Use formal language.
- A good writer communicates their ideas well — focus on that.
- Good academic performance doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Make time for other aspects of life, like friends and family, too.
Discursive essay FAQ
Once you have your argument points in place and have written a good introduction and conclusion, you’re most of the way there! Here are a few other things to consider.
What are examples of discursive writing?
You will find some of the best examples of discursive writing in well-written news articles. Note that this does not include tabloid or personal stories, but rather well-researched, in-depth articles written by respected journalists. Here is a list to get you started.
How many discursive essay attempts should I make?
There is no specific number of attempts you should make to get a discursive essay right. It is a good idea to leave enough time to reread your essay once you’re finished writing it. If necessary, then attempt another draft, or at the very least, make corrections. It’s always a good idea to sleep on it and read it again the next day with fresh eyes.
What is the difference between a discursive essay and an argumentative essay?
There are various subtle differences, but the main difference between the two is that discursive essay writing is objective, while argumentative essay writing is written to convince the reader of a specific viewpoint.
How do you know if an essay is discursive?
You can identify a discursive essay by its content. An essay is discursive if it shows both sides of a story and lays out a compelling argument for both sides without showing any bias.
Right. Now Write.
Need some more help? Check out our article on checking your essay before you submit it!