Discussion essays, also called argument essays, are a common form of academic writing. This page gives information on what a discussion essay is and how to structure this type of essay. Some vocabulary for discussion essays is also given, and there is an example discussion essay on the topic of studying overseas.
What are discussion essays?
Many essay titles require you to examine both sides of a situation and to conclude by saying which side you favour. These are known as discussion or argument or for and against essays. In this sense, the academic meaning of the word discuss is similar to its everyday meaning, of two people talking about a topic from different sides. For a discussion essay, a balanced view is normally essential. This makes discussion essays distinct from persuasion essays, for which only one side of the argument is given. When writing a discussion essay, it is important to ensure that facts and opinions are clearly separated. Often you will examine what other people have already said on the same subject and include this information using praphrasing and summarising skills, as well as correct citations.
The following are examples of discussion essay topics.
Although the structure of a discussion essay may vary according to length and subject, there are several components which most discussion essays have in common. In addition to general statements and thesis statement which all good essay introductions contain, the position of the writer will often be stated, along with relevant definitions. The main body will examine arguments for (in one or more paragraphs) and arguments against (also in one or more paragraphs). The conclusion will contain a summary of the main points, and will often conclude with recommendations, based on what you think are the most important ideas in the essay. The conclusion may also contain your opinion on the topic, also based on the preceding evidence.
An overview of this structure is given in the diagram below.
|Structural component||Purpose||Stage of essay|
|General statements||To introduce the reader to the subject of the essay.||Introduction|
|Position||To give the opinion of the writer (not always possible).|
|Definition(s) (optional)||To explain any important technical words to the reader.|
|Thesis||To tell the reader what parts of the topic will be included in the essay.|
|Arguments for||To explain to the reader the evidence for the positive side of the issue, with support. The most important ideas usually come first. This may be covered in one or more paragraphs.||Main body|
|Arguments against||To explain to the reader the evidence for the negative side of the issue, with support. The most important ideas usually come first. This may be covered in one or more paragraphs.|
|Summary||To give the reader a brief reminder of the main ideas, while restating the issue. Sometimes also says which ideas the writer believes have the strongest evidence.||Conclusion|
|Opinion & Recommendation||To give your opinion, and tell the reader what the writer believes is the best action to take, considering the evidence in the essay.|
When summarising the stages in a discussion or in presenting your arguments, it can be useful to mark the order of the items or degrees of importance. The following words and phrases can be used.
The following can be used when introducing your opinion.
It is important in English writing, including academic writing, to use synonyms rather than repeating the same word. The following are useful synonyms for 'advantage' and 'disadvantage'.
Below is a compare and contrast essay. This essay uses the point-by-point structure. Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes to the right) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. similarities, differences, and structure words. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also the thesis statement and summary, as these repeat the comparisons and contrasts contained in the main body.
Title: An increasing number of students are going overseas for tertiary education. To what extent does this overseas study benefit the students?
Most people spend around fifteen years of their life in education, from primary school to university study. In the past, students only had the opportunity to study in their own country. Nowadays, however, it is increasingly easy to study overseas, especially at tertiary level.Tertiary education, also called post-secondary education, is the period of study spent at university.As the final aspect of schooling before a person begins their working life, it is arguably the most important stage of their education.While there are some undoubted benefits of this trend, such as the language environment and improved employment prospects, there is also a significant disadvantage, namely the high cost.
The first and most important advantage of overseas study is the language learning environment. Students studying overseas will not only have to cope with the local language for their study, but will also have to use it outside the classroom for their everyday life. These factors should make it relatively easy for such students to advance their language abilities.
Another important benefit is employability. Increasing globalisation means that there are more multinational companies setting up offices in all major countries. These companies will need employees who have a variety of skills, including the fluency in more than one language. Students who have studied abroad should find it much easier to obtain a job in this kind of company.
There are, however, some disadvantages to overseas study which must be considered, the most notable of which is the expense. In addition to the cost of travel, which in itself is not inconsiderable, overseas students are required to pay tuition fees which are usually much higher than those of local students. Added to this is the cost of living, which is often much higher than in the students' own country. Although scholarships may be available for overseas students, there are usually very few of these, most of which will only cover a fraction of the cost. Overseas study therefore constitutes a considerable expense.
In summary, studying abroad has some clear advantages, including the language environment and increased chances of employment, in addition to the main drawback, the heavy financial burden.I believe that this experience is worthwhile for those students whose families can readily afford the expense.Students without such strong financial support should consider carefully whether the high cost outweighs the benefits to be gained.
Below is a checklist for discussion essays. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.
Bailey, S. (2000). Academic Writing. Abingdon: RoutledgeFalmer
Cox, K. and D. Hill (2004). EAP now! Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia
Jordan, R.R. (1999). Academic Writing Course. Cambridge: CUP
Roberts R., J. Gokanda, & A. Preshous (2004). IELTS Foundation. Oxford: Macmillian
Find out how to write persuasion essays in the next section.
Go back to the previous section about different essay types.
How to understand the essay question
As your ﬁrst step in preparing for the essay, take some time to think about what the question means and what you are being asked to do. You may think that the question looks straightforward and want to charge straight in and begin reading, or even writing a ﬁrst draft of your essay.
Although some people take this approach, it is likely that they will fail to grasp the full implications of the question and not produce a good essay. If you work in the way suggested below, your essay should take the right approach to the topic from the outset.
Essay questions are usually worded in one of a number of standard ways: they often start with words and phrases such as discuss, analyse, assess, and to what extent? which give you a hint as to how to deal with the question. Here are some typical instructions and what they mean:
|analyse / examine / investigate||break down an issue into its main features and look at them in detail|
|assess / evaluate / how far? / to what extent?||present your judgement as to how far something is the case, supported by evidence|
|compare||identify the similarities between the stated items|
|contrast||identify the differences between the stated items|
|define||give the exact meaning of; explain in detail|
|describe / give an account of / state||present a detailed account of|
|discuss / do you agree?||present the arguments for and against something|
|explain / what? / why? / how?||show that you understand something fully; display your factual knowledge of an issue|
|explore||look at the issue from different points of view|
|illustrate||present the main features, giving relevant examples|
|outline / trace||present the main aspects of an issue|
|summarize||sum up the main aspects of an issue|
One way to get to grips with a question is to write it out and highlight or underline these instructions and any other words which seem important. Make sure you understand all the words you have highlighted: look them up in a dictionary or your lecture notes or ask your tutor if you are not sure what they mean.
For instance, if answering an essay question which asked you to ‘Assess the risks of global war during the Cuban missile crisis’, you might highlight the key words as follows:
Assess the risks of global war during the Cuban missile crisis
Once you have thought about or investigated each highlighted word, then you should be able to make sense of the question and understand exactly what is expected in your essay. In addition to thinking about the key words, another useful strategy is to write in your own words what you think the question is asking you to do.
Read more about essay preparation in:
How to plan time for essay writing
How to do research for an essay
How to organize material for your essay
Back toWriting essays.