The discursive essay is a new component of Module C: The Craft of Writing. In this article, we explain what a discursive essay is and give you a step-by-step process for writing one.
Do you know what a discursive essay even is? Do you know how discursive responses differ from persuasive responses? What does discursive even mean? If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re not alone. But don’t worry! In this post, we’re going to explain what a discursive essay is and show you to write one worthy of a Band 6.
A discursive essay is a type of writing that explores a few different perspectives.
NESA gives the following definition for discursive texts:
Texts whose primary focus is to explore an idea or variety of topics. These texts involve the discussion of an idea(s) or opinion(s) without the direct intention of persuading the reader, listener or viewer to adopt any single point of view. Discursive texts can be humorous or serious in tone and can have a formal or informal register.
The discursive essays you have to produce will need to discuss ideas in this way.
Don’t worry, it’s actually a lot more fun than it sounds.
Let’s see why.
The 2019 English Syllabus for the HSC has substantially changed Module C.
No longer is Module C another Module analysing texts and writing essays. Instead, the new Module C: The Craft of Writing is aimed at helping you become a better writer.
To do this, they’ve developed a Module that requires you to write in a variety of different modes:
NESA hope that by teaching you to write in a variety of modes you will become a more confident and competent communicator.
This approach to writing will broaden your writing skills in ways that are practically accessible outside of High School and the HSC.
Most essays that you write in High School ask you to take a position on something and argue for it. Essentially, you’re being asked to persuade a reader of something – a theme or an idea in a text or its connection to context.
In contrast, discursive essays don’t require you to take a particular position on something.
Instead, when you write a discursive essay, you can explore your topic from a few different perspectives. This gives you the opportunity to explore the pros and cons and also see what others might think of something.
In addition, discursive essays are less rigid and formal than the standard persuasive essay you are asked to produce for other Modules. In a discursive essay, you will have the opportunity to develop your own voice and style.
Consider the following table to get a sense of the differences in forms:
|Table: Comparison of Discursive and Persuasive Essays|
|Detail||Discursive Essay||Persuasive Essay|
|Register of language||A mix of formal and informal languages with occasional colloquialisms||Formal|
|Style and tone||Aim for an educated audience, but the tone and style can be friendly and more openly subjective||Academic, objective, and intellectual|
|Use of first-person pronouns||First-person pronouns are fine||First person pronouns should be used cautiously and judiciously|
|Use of figurative devices||Should be used throughout||Not recommended|
|Use of evidence and examples||Yes, but not in a T.E.E.L or P.E.E.L format||Yes, consistently and in a particular format|
|Structure||Requires an introduction, conclusion, and paragraphing.|
Paragraph length can vary. There is no definitive scaffold.
|Introduction, body paragraphs, conclusion.|
Formal structure appropriate to the Module.
Consistent paragraph length throughout.
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Writing a discursive essay is a bit different to a persuasive essay. There are both stylistic and structural differences to the formats you are used to.
Let’s see what these differences are.
When you’re writing an essay, your opinion always counts. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a detailed persuasive essay for Module B or a discursive piece as part of a Module C assessment, your ideas and opinions are crucial.
However, when you write a persuasive essay, there is the assumption that it is your voice and your opinion. Hence, teachers often say not to use personal pronouns because adding a stronger element of your personal voice will make your writing seem too subjective and, thus, not as persuasive.
Additionally, personal pronouns in persuasive essays are often seen as being tautological (this means, essentially, saying something twice, which is seen by some as a stylistic fault).
In contrast, in a discursive essay, you can take a more personal approach. For example, including personal anecdotes and your own strong voice can help add depth and insight to the perspectives you discuss.
Discursive essays are stylistically different to persuasive essays. They can be serious or they can be humorous.
They’re not a new style of writing – discursive essays were a very common form of writing during the Renaissance and Early Modern Period.
Mary Wollstonecraft, Charles Lamb, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Samuel Johnson, GK Chesterton, and Michel de Montaigne were all famous essayists in their time who wrote discursive texts as well as persuasive ones.
Over time, the discursive essay became less common than the persuasive essay. In our context, discursive writing is becoming more common once more. Contemporary writers such as Zadie Smith, Helen Garner, John D’Agata, and Ta-Nesi Coates all have discursive essays among their oeuvre.
You will find examples of discursive writing in publications like:
You’ll need to provide evidence in your discursive essays, but not in the same sense as your persuasive writing.
The idea is to explore ideas or a variety of topics. To do this, you’ll have to present some evidence. But this won’t necessarily include literary analysis (although it might if you so choose).
You’re not going to be writing T.E.E.L or P.E.E.L paragraphs or listing techniques and effects (not that you should ever list technique and effect!).
Instead, you’ll be writing about ideas and maybe supporting these with quotations from other people or you’ll be supporting them with anecdotes and reflections from your personal experience.
When you write persuasive essays, you will draw on essay scaffolds depending on whether you are discussing one or more texts and the Module you’re studying. In addition, you want to ensure that your paragraphs are consistent in length and have explicit signposting – such, as topic sentences and linking sentences.
Discursive essays don’t have the same rigid structure or the same approach to signposting.
In a discursive essay, you may not be discussing texts, but rather ideas or things – for instance, an advertisement, political system, a type of sneaker. This means that some paragraphs will need to be longer than others, depending on the aspect of the idea you’re discussing.
In addition, because a discursive essay will want you to discuss things from an objective point of view, but also include your anecdotal experiences, where appropriate, you may find that your anecdotes produce shorter paragraphs than your discussion of ideas.
While you will need to introduce your ideas in the introduction and at the start of each paragraph, you won’t need to have formal thesis statements and topic sentences. You are, after all, trying to be more conversational and less formal.
As with producing any essay, there’s a process that you can follow to produce high-quality essays and make your life easier. Don’t worry, we’ve got a process we can use.
Let’s take a look at the steps Matrix method Matrix students learn.
Now we’ll discuss how to write a discursive essay. This process has the following steps:
When you write a persuasive essay, you are given a specific question. When you do a discursive task, you may not have a question at all. Instead, your discursive tasks will have a variety of potential forms:
Your discursive tasks may well be far more free-ranging than a persuasive essay.
Because of the nature of discursive essays, you won’t be analysing and unpacking a question like you would for a persuasive essay. instead, you’ll need to research and explore different ideas or subjects.
As with any essay, it is important that you take the time to research and plan your work first. This is especially true if you are writing on a topic for the first time. So, this is why we begin with planning and research.
Before you start doing anything, you need to consider what you know about the topic you need to discuss.
Your first step is to produce a mind-map that lists what you know about the topic. Mindmaps should list the aspects of the topic that you think are worth exploring or would be interesting to explore.
Your mindmap is important as it will give you the points that you need to explore and research.
You’ve produced a brainstorm so that you’ve something to start from. Now you have unpacked some ideas, you need to develop these ideas. This will require you to do some research.
Fortunately, you have the power of the internet at your fingers. Look at your mindmap and start researching the topics or ideas you have noted down.
Wikipedia is a good place to start looking for information about subjects. But you can also look at videos on Youtube or check out news sites, such as the New York Times.
Make sure you try to use reputable sites. For example, a personal blog is not going to have the same level of trustworthiness as a major news site, a museum, or Wikipedia.
You want to start by looking at the broad topic you find interesting, and then pick two or three aspects to consider in detail.
Don’t let your research get too out of hand, you’re likely only going to be writing a 1000-1200 word response.
Some dos and don’ts:
Once you’ve researched your topic, you’re ready to start planning things.
Even though a discursive essay lacks the formality of a persuasive response, you’re still going to need a logical structure.
This means you’ll need:
Planning is important because it will help you structure your introduction and develop your ideas. Your introduction should briefly introduce the topic and you’re talking about it.
When you plan, you want to note down your ideas and think about how to best present them so a reader can understand the topics you are discussing. This means planning what you will discuss in each paragraph and what bits of evidence are going to best assist this.
You might think about structuring your body paragraphs like this 4 paragraph structure:
This scaffold isn’t rigid. You could quite easily switch around where you put your anecdote. Rather than exploring different perspectives in different paragraphs, you may want to contrast these views in the same paragraph. In a discursive essay, you have flexibility.
Make sure you write this plan down on paper and make some notes about what bits of evidence or quotations
Now you’ve planned everything, you’re in a position to start writing.
Don’t feel ready to write yet? Do you need to see an exemplary discursive essay to see what you should be doing?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
The introduction of a discursive responsive is different to other essays in that you don’t have a formal thesis statement and thematic framework.
Instead, you can ask questions to introduce the topic or you can use an anecdote to frame the topic. You also don’t need to lay out a roadmap of how your essay will unfold, so you can spend time explaining your interest in the topic.
Some effective ways to start discursive essays are:
The length of your introduction can vary widely. As you’re not trying to explain the structure of your argument, you can focus on introducing the topic in the manner you find most engaging
This is where your planning comes in handy. When you’re writing the body of your discursive response, you want to think about the order of information your reader needs to make sense of your discussion. So, use your planning notes to structure your body paragraphs.
While you don’t need a topic sentence per se, you need to get to the subject of the paragraph within the first couple of sentences. You can vary the length of your paragraphs to suit the amount of material you want to discuss.
Some useful rules for writing your paragraphs:
Your conclusion needs to summarise things. While you’re not trying to reassert your ideas a’ la the persuasive essay, you do need to tie things together.
You don’t need to follow the rigid formula of :
Instead, you need to tie together the various perspectives that you’ve looked at in your essay.
Remember, the point of a discursive essay is to explore a subject from different perspectives and not persuade of a single perspective.
Because of this, you want to take your reader back through the different perspectives you’ve encountered. Perhaps you might present the perspective on a matter you hold – for example, “Yes, I do prefer dark chocolate to white chocolate, but that doesn’t mean that white chocolate is not without its uses, benefits, or zealots.”
Once you’ve finished your conclusion…
You’ve finished your first draft. Now you’re ready to proofread and edit it to produce a second draft.
Once you’ve completed your first draft, you want to put it aside for a couple of hours or a day or two before you reread and edit it. This will let you look at it with “fresh eyes”, meaning that you will have forgotten bits of what you’ve written. Fresh eyes will allow you to a bit more objective when proofing your first draft.
ideally, you want to print out your first draft, so you can annotate it as you go. But that is not always convenient and it’s certainly not environmentally friendly. Using track changes on a Word, Pages, or GoogleDoc will also work.
Do take the time to annotate and use track changes. You want to keep track of your changes and you may also have to demonstrate that you’ve employed an editing process for your teachers
To proofread and edit your response you want to do the following:
It’s important to be objective about your writing.
It’s often hard to separate ourselves and our feelings from the things that we produce.
This can make it hard to give an honest appraisal about what works and what doesn’t. Do your best to be as objective and critical about your work as you can.
You need to use these notes and edits to write a second draft.
Once you’ve finished proofing and editing your work you’re ready to write your second draft.
You really should write a second draft from the beginning rather than editing an existing document.
Rewriting sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? But it’ll be worth it.
Rewriting drafts from scratch will always improve the quality of the writing. Because you are not already working with sentences on a page but, rather, are rewriting them, you will be less inclined not to change them and make them better.
What do I mean?
Do you ever look at a sentence in a word document that you’re editing and say to yourself, “I know I should change that sentence, but I really like it so I’m going to make it work?”
You’re not alone if you do. But it’s a bad habit to get into.
Rewriting your second draft from a blank page will make you less inclined to hang onto sentences that may seem beautiful to you, but aren’t great at conveying your ideas. In addition, rewriting your essay will make it easier to include new rhetorical devices and literary techniques, rearrange things, and make large structural changes.
Don’t hesitate to use the drafting process as a way to experiment with your writing and make it better.
If you must, you can submit your second draft. Ideally, though, you should try and get a second opinion.
How should you do this?
Maybe you can run it by a friend or family member. Matrix students get feedback from their teachers and workshop tutors to help them develop their second drafts. If you approach your schoolteacher politely, they might give you some feedback if the task allows for it.
The drafting process doesn’t have to finish with the 3rd or, even, the fourth draft. You should keep refining your work to make sure it is as good as it can possibly be. Band 6 results don’t just miraculously appear, they are developed over time.