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Top 6 Student Struggles with Discursive Essays and their Solutions | Free Cheatsheet Download

Are you making the same mistakes in discursive essays for Module C? Don't fear. We will show you the top 6 common student problems and give you tips to fix them!

Is discursive writing giving you a hard time? You’re not alone. Module C discursive writing is relatively new in the syllabus and many students are having difficulty. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ace it. In this article, we will go through the top 6 student struggles with discursive essays and their solutions so you can knock Mod C out of the park!

There’s even a free cheatsheet you can download at the bottom of the page.


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What we will discuss in this article:


What is a discursive essay?

NESA has provided us with a definition of discursive texts:

Discursive texts are those 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. These texts include texts such as feature articles, creative nonfiction, blogs, personal essays, documentaries and speeches.

Think this sounds a little vague? Well, you’re right, but you’re not alone!

The definition is very broad… However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It just means that you have lots of creative control!

Discursive texts are quite different from your regular persuasive essays. They don’t have the same purpose, structure, rules or writing style.

Instead, discursive writing aims to explore a variety of different ideas and perspectives in an engaging and informative manner.

You can employ literary and rhetorical devices and also have control over your voice, tone and register in a way persuasive essays don’t allow you.

To read more about what is a discursive essay and how to write them, check out our “How to Write a Band 6 Mod C Discursive essay” article. What we’re going to look at now are the common student troubles with discursive responses and how to overcome them!


Want to ace your discursive essays but don’t know where to start?

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Top 6 student struggles with discursive essay and…. their solutions

Discursive texts were recently introduced to the NSW Syllabus in 2019. As such, most students haven’t had much practice analysing or writing discursive texts.

So, let’s see the common student problems for Mod C discursive writings and how to fix them!


1. The writing is too vague

We know that discursive essays require you to explore different ideas and perspectives. However, the questions aren’t very specific…

Who are we writing for? What is the purpose of the discursive essay? There is no given answer.

As such, many students fall into the trap of listing different ideas to simply illustrate their wide knowledge and research. Students struggle to select specific ideas or structure their discursive essays because it is not specified in the question.

This is a major problem because…

Markers are not examining the number of ideas you can identify.

Instead, they are examining the quality and depth of your exploration of different ideas.


So, how do I fix this?

1. Give yourself a purpose and audience 

The general purpose of discursive essays is to inform and engage an educational audience. However, you can make it more specific to help you write a concise and targetted discursive essay.

Simply ask yourself:

  • What are your interests or perspectives?
  • What do you want the audience to know about the topic? Think about particular aspects of the topic.
  • Who is the audience? Podcast listeners? Magazine readers?

Remember, don’t try to persuade or convince the audience. Discursive texts are about informing.


2. Select ideas that relate to each other 

Don’t simply select different ideas because they sound interesting.

Instead, always figure out how the ideas relate to each other and discuss them.

This will make your discursive writing much more sophisticated and complex

Remember, this doesn’t mean that the ideas have to be harmonising or contrasting. There can be a small point of similarity or opposition that you can use to link the ideas.

A mindmap will help you identify these connections.


3. Use evidence to support the ideas

You should always use evidence like quotations, anecdotes, textual examples, imagery and statistics to support your ideas.

You don’t need to analyse it like a persuasive English essay (although, some questions may give you the opportunity to do so). However, you still need to explain how these examples relate to your idea.

This will illustrate the depth of your research and concepts.

Top 6 Student Struggles with Discursive Essays and their Solutions Social use evidence


2. Writing a for-and-against discussion

Another common student problem for Mod C discursive writing is that students are simply writing a for and against discussion.

Students do this because it seems like a sure way of discussing a range of different ideas. However, the world is not black or white.

Discursive can explore contrasting, similar and/or concurrent ideas that make up our grey world. It is important that you discuss these.


So, how do I fix this?

1. Research, ask questions and speculate! 

The more you research, the more you will be exposed to different ideas and perspectives.

You should always speculate and ask more questions as you research… like, “why?”, or “how? ”

Doing this will guide you to other related topics. So, you will have a wider range of possible ideas that aren’t simply oppositional.


2. Select ideas that relate to each other

As we mentioned before, you need to select ideas that relate to each other.

This doesn’t mean contrasting or harmonising ideas.. but simply ideas that have a point of connection.

So, brainstorm your list of different ideas and draw lines to highlight their connections.

Then, select the ones that interest you and discuss them!


3. Persuading or convincing the audience

It is easy for students to fall into the trap of writing persuasive essays because it is what most students are used to writing.

However, we need to ensure that we shift our purpose from convincing the audience to “informing” the audience.

“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.”

NESA Glossary

Remember, your purpose is to make the audience aware of the possible perspectives and ideas, not convince them that one idea is correct.


So, how do we fix this?

1. Don’t write an argumentative thesis 

Argumentative theses aim to convince and persuade the audience.

Discursive essays require you to inform the audience about different ideas. As such, your thesis should be balanced and objective. Think about what you want the audience to know about the topic.

For example:

  • Argumentative thesis: Nature is a place of solace and growth for individuals.
  • Discursive essay thesis: There are many effects of nature on an individual.

Remember, the topic should be significant to you. And you can always conclude with your perspective… but remind the reader that is one ofmany.


2. Your ideas should explore different perspectives  (not arguments)

When we write persuasive essays, our arguments support our thesis.

However, when we write discursive texts, our ideas are explorations of the thesis. Each idea should be different from one another and display a different perspective.

For example:

  • Argumentative ideas: 
    • Nature provides an escape from the man-made world
    • Nature helps us focus on the present
    • Nature allows individuals to be themselves, away from judgement
  • Exploratory ideas:
    • Nature provides an escape from the man-made world which calms individuals
    • Nature acts as obstacles for individuals eg. droughts, bushfires etc
    • Nature can be a place of adventure for individuals


3. Write a reflective or open-ended conclusion 

You don’t need to come to a conclusion for discursive essays.

Instead, you can simply reflect on the different ideas and what you learned from it. Demonstrate that you have a deep understanding of what you have written, and why you chose to write about that particular topic.

You can also leave your discursive essays open-ended. Simply restate the ideas, without coming to a conclusion. However, you still need to demonstrate your understanding of the topic and your purpose.

Ask yourself:

  • How do you feel?
  • What does the topic mean to you? What is the significance?
  • What does it remind you about?
  • What are your thoughts as a result of your exploration?
Top 6 Student Struggles with Discursive Essays and their Solutions confused writer


4. Too formal or too colloquial

Sometimes, students write discursive texts in the same formal language that they use to write persuasive essays.

Other times, students write too colloquially because exploratory texts are “informal”

However, exploratory texts have a good balance between formal and informal language.


So, how do I fix this?

The language you use in discursive essays is similar to the language you would use in speeches and presentations.

It is conversational but still quite formal and not too colloquial.

Write as though you are attempting to engage and inform an educated crowd. Here are some tips

  • Use simple, common words
  • Use contractions like ‘we’re’, and ‘don’t’
  • Use a variety of sentences types (eg. short, complex and compound)
  • Use rhetorical language like questions, metaphors, anecdotes etc (Look at Step 6)
  • Use 1st person and 2nd language
  • Write in the active voice

You should also develop your personal voice to demonstrate your deep knowledge about the ideas and engage the audience. We will go into this further in the next step.


5. Lacks personal voice/self-expression

Students tend to forget that discursive essays are supposed to be somewhat personal. They aren’t informative essays or a for-and-against discussion.

You need to have a distinct, personal voice.


So, how do I fix this?

  • Draw ideas from your personal experience (i.e. Use personal anecdotes, observations etc)
  • Discuss ideas that interests you
  • Draw ideas from your research
  • Use 1st person language
  • Use a tone that represents you (eg. humorous, cheerful, friendly)
  • Write in a conversational manner
  • Reflect on what you learned
  • Use rhetorical techniques (see below)
megaphone Top 6 Student Struggles with Discursive Essays and their Solutions Social


6. Fail to effectively use literary and rhetorical devices

The major difference between a Mod C discursive writing and a Common Module or Mod A essay is that you need to use literary and rhetorical devices in your writing!

Literary devices make your writing more engaging, AND it also demonstrates your deep understanding of your topic.


So, how do I fix this?

You should incorporate techniques like:

  • Personal anecdotes
  • Rhetorical questions
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor or similes
  • References / quotes
  • Anaphora
  • Pop-culture or intertextual references
  • Inclusive language

Use these techniques (and any other literary devices) throughout your discursive writing.

This will further develop your personal voice and demonstrate your deep understanding of the topic.


Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a lawyer in the future while continuing to run her art business.


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