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What Is a Discursive Essay?

By Karize Uy
Updated May 23, 2024
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A discursive essay is a type of essay that discusses a problem, a controversy, or a recent issue. This essay may be informal or formal, but is most often written in a formal manner. Many universities and classes require applicants and students to write this type of essay to examine and evaluate their skills in writing, thought formation, and analysis.

One of the distinguishing elements of a discursive essay is its objectivity. It is important that the writer present the problem in an unbiased manner, discussing all points of argument thoroughly and carefully. If instructions allow the writer to side with one point, he should first present all sides before choosing one. To make the essay more objective, it is recommended that the essay be written in a third-person perspective and avoid using first-person phrases such as “in my opinion,” “I believe,” and “I fully support.” In this way, a discursive essay is different from an argumentative essay, as the latter only presents one side of the issue and discusses details for or against that side.

An effective discursive essay often, if not always, starts with a sound introduction that clearly establishes what the issue is about. It can also discuss the issue’s relevance and context to other current issues. The gist of the issue should not go beyond one paragraph, which can be composed, generally, of three to six sentences.

The succeeding paragraphs after the introduction are always allotted for the different points and arguments within the issue. These paragraphs should also be arranged in a logical and organized manner. For example, a writer can discuss first all the positive points of the issue before citing the negative points, instead of jumping from one positive argument to a negative one.

Ideally, each main point should be discussed in just one paragraph. The writer can start the paragraph with a concise, to-the-point statement before expounding into details and presenting other lines of reasoning. To make an argument more credible, the paragraphs can also include further examples, situational cases, and even quotations from reliable sources and important people regarding the issue. After finishing one point, the writer should start with another paragraph, using proper conjunctions and connective phrases to make for a smooth transition.

A discursive essay should also end with a conclusion, or a paragraph that summarizes the main elements and arguments within the issue. If allowed, the writer can also state his position regarding the issue, but should still be unbiased. He can also give a “forecast” of what can or cannot happen, given the information and details presented. The conclusion should not include new ideas that are not expounded before. A discursive essay should not only discuss a certain subject matter, but should also invoke readers to create further discussions.

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Discussion Comments

By Certlerant — On Jan 27, 2014
You are right, Telesyst. Journalistic writing has changed, especially with the emergence of 24-hour internet-ready news.

Still, I'd bet journalism schools still teach the five Ws and objectivity.

By Telsyst — On Jan 27, 2014

Unfortunately, it seems that objectivity in journalism has given way to scoops and sensationalism.

So often today, the headline draws the reader in to an article that is far less controversial or newsworthy than they are led to believe it will be.

By Certlerant — On Jan 26, 2014

Although many people equate discursive essays with research or other academic papers, the concept of objective writing that hits on the main points of a topic and provokes reader thought and discussion is also the basis of journalistic writing.

The main difference is that journalists are trained to address all of the most pertinent information in the lede, or first paragraph, rather than in a series of topic sentences.

Also, journalistic writing does not include a conclusion, but invites the reader to draw their own conclusions based on the facts presented.

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