Planning a discursive essay

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Planning a discursive essay

  • Structures and content

Basic Structure

  • Introduction First point (1 pro & 1 con) Second point (1 pro & 1 con) Third point (1 pro & 1 con)  etc  Conclusion
  • Abortion Alcohol Animal Testing Cannabis Contraception Cosmetic Surgery Death Penalty Designer Clothes Driving Age Domestic Abuse Drugs Eating Disorders Euthanasia Fast Food Fireworks Football Fox Hunting Gambling Gun Control Mobile Phones RE Teaching Same Sex Marriage School Leaving Age School Uniform Smoking Surrogacy Terrorism University top-up fees Weapons of mass destruction (Iraq)

Organising a discursive essay

  • There are three basic structures (ways of organising) for the discursive essay -
  • you argue strongly for a given discussion topic
  • you argue strongly against a given discussion topic
  • you argue about a given discussion topic in a balanced way

Finding information for a discursive essay

  • In the same way as you would look for information for the informative essay, you could try the following areas for information which would support arguments in the discursive essay -
  • any relevant books from any library you can reach (check the non-fiction and reference sections)
  • the internet
  • magazines and newspapers
  • television and video
  • mums and dads and brothers and sisters and uncles
  • and aunts and friends . . . . . . !
  • It is important that you keep a note of where all your information comes from. This will allow you to check it again later, and will also allow you to complete the ‘Sources consulted’ section on the folio tag.
  • Other points
  • If you choose to do the discursive essay remember that you are expected to have a personal opinion - try to make clear your personal interest in the issues you are offering for discussion!
  • The following basic structure should be employed for writing this essay.
  • Provide an interesting introduction.
  • Provide a clear indication of your position, your stance in relation to the topic (are you 'for' or 'against' ?).
  • Present your first argument, with supporting evidence.
  • Present your second argument, with supporting evidence.
  • Present your third argument, with supporting evidence.
  • Present your fourth argument, with supporting evidence, and so on (the number of paragraphs like this will depend on the number of arguments you can offer).
  • Indicate, in a single paragraph, that there is another side to this argument, with some idea of the points likely to be made for the view(s) which are opposite to your own.
  • Reiterate (state again) your position and conclude your essay

Introducing a discursive essay

  • The opening of an essay is important. It should capture the reader's attention in some way or another. It should avoid being bland or dull. It should invite the reader to read on and create a sense of interest. If the beginning is flat, it will not inspire your audience.
  • Methods of Opening a Discursive Essay
  • The following methods are suggestions. It is up to you to decide which style suits your writing best.
  • Provocative
  • e.g."It is difficult to see how anyone can approve of fox hunting."
  • Balanced
  • e.g."Fox hunting is a subject about which people hold strongly contrasting views."
  • Quotation
  • e.g."Oscar Wilde once described fox hunting as 'The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.'."
  • Illustration
  • e.g."On a glorious autumn morning a terrified, exhausted animal is savaged to death by a pack of baying dogs while a group of expensively dressed humans encourage the dogs in their bloody work."
  • Anecdote
  • e.g."I have always detested fox hunting since I was almost physically sick while watching a television film of the kill at the end of a hunt."

Linking ideas in a discursive essay

  • Any well-written piece of discursive writing will flow as one continuous piece despite being made up of three or four different arguments. One of the techniques which can help you to achieve this effectively is the use of linking words. These words are usually used at the beginning of a new paragraph but can also be used to link ideas within a paragraph.
  • Same line of thought
  • e.g. - and, firstly, secondly etc., next, furthermore, likewise, in addition, similarly, also, moreover.
  • Conclusion/summary
  • e.g. - thus, therefore, consequently, accordingly, in retrospect, hence, in conclusion, in brief, as a result.
  • Definite statement
  • e.g. - without question, without doubt, unquestionably, absolutely.
  • Contrasting idea
  • e.g. - yet, on the other hand, nevertheless, however, although, conversely, otherwise, on the contrary.
  • Further examples
  • because, for instance, since, for example, so that, despite the fact that, accordingly, although, if, though, unless.

Formal tone in a discursive essay

  • It is important when you write a discursive essay to write in a proper formal way.
  • You should not use an informal style to write a discursive essay.
  • In simple terms, this means the following
  • On a slightly different note, you should also try to make sure that you use a decent standard of vocabulary in any formal essay you write.
  • In particular, try to avoid weak vocabulary such as 'get', 'got' and 'getting'. Relying on this level of vocabulary too often suggests that your power of expression is weak. Build up your word power!
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  • SQA - English
  • Scottish Qualifications Authority English resources, including Past Papers and Arrangements Documents.

Discursive essay example

  • In this page, you will concentrate on one discursive essay structure.
  • Below you will find an example discursive essay. Read the essay over carefully. Study it and work out how it has been written.
  • Reading the essay
  • Whilst reading the essay, consider the following questions, writing down your ideas -
  • what is the main idea the writer is arguing about?
  • each paragraph has a sub-topic which contributes to the essay's main topic - what does each paragraph contribute to the argument?
  • what evidence does the writer offer to support the arguments?
  • which of the three suggested structures identified earlier does the writer adopt in this essay?
  • does the writer link ideas clearly in the essay?
  • You will probably want to read the essay over twice to help you answer these questions.


  • 1 A subject which always arouses strong feelings on both sides of the argument is the use of animals in medical research. I believe that, though this may have been necessary in the past, other ways can be developed to test drugs and, in the future, animals should not be used.
  • 2 One of my main reasons for saying this is that living tissues can be grown in test tubes and new drugs can be tested on these. Computers can also be programmed to show how medicines will react in the human body.
  • 3 Moreover, animals are not always like humans. They do not suffer from all human diseases, so scientists have to give them the illnesses artificially. The joints in rabbit legs are inflamed with chemicals to help research in rheumatism. These tests do not always work because animals do not react to drugs in the same way as humans. Aspirin, for example, damages pregnant mice and dogs, but not pregnant women. Arsenic, which is a deadly poison for humans, has no effect on sheep, while penicillin, which is so valuable to humans, kills guinea pigs.


  • 4 In addition, I believe that animal experiments should not be used because of the unnecessary pain that they cause to animals. The government introduced new rules about the use of animals in experiments in 1986. Scientists claim that these rules safeguard animals because they state that discomfort must be kept to a minimum and that painkillers must be used where necessary and appropriate. Surely this means, however, that scientists can still decide not to use painkillers in the animal experiments because they do not consider them appropriate. The British Union against Vivisection claims that 75% of animals experimented on are given no anaesthetic.
  • 5 In spite of the claims of some scientists about the effectiveness of animal research, the death rate in this country has stayed the same over the last thirty years. There is also more long-term sickness, even though greater numbers of animals are being used in research.
  • 6 On the other hand, scientists claim that some experiments are so small, for example giving an injection, that painkillers are not needed. They also argue that experiments on animals have been very useful in the past. For instance, the lives of ten million human diabetics have been saved because of experiments with insulin on dogs. Dogs also benefited, as the same drug can be used on them. In fact, a third of medicines used by vets are the same as those used by doctors.


  • 7 It is argued by researchers that the use of animals in experiments cannot be replaced by methods using living tissue which has been grown in test tubes. These tests do not show how the drugs work on whole animals and so they only have limited effectiveness.
  • 8 Although I accept that some drugs can be used on animals and humans, this does not mean that they have to be tested on animals in the first place when alternative methods are available. Alternative methods do work. Various groups have been set up to put money into other ways of researching. For example the Dr. Hadwen Trust has shown how human cartilage can be grown in test tubes to study rheumatism. Similar research is being done into cancer and multiple sclerosis. Tests can be done on bacteria to see whether a chemical will cause cancer. There is even a programme of volunteer human researchers, where people suffering from illnesses offer to help in research.
  • 9 In conclusion, I accept that animal experiments have brought great benefits in the past, but now money needs to be spent on developing other methods of testing drugs and medical procedures, so that the use of animals can be phased out altogether.


  • 1. Is global climate change man-made?
  • 2. Is the death penalty effective?
  • 3. Is our election process fair?
  • 4. Do colleges put too much stock in standardized test scores?
  • 5. Is torture ever acceptable?
  • 6. Should men get paternity leave from work?
  • 7. Is a lottery a good idea?
  • 8. Do we have a fair taxation system?
  • 9. Do curfews keep teens out of trouble?
  • 10. Is cheating out of control?
  • 11. Are we too dependent on computers?
  • 12. Are parents clueless about child predators on the Internet?
  • 13. Should animals be used for research?
  • 14. Should cigarette smoking be banned?


  • 15. Are cell phones dangerous?
  • 16. Are law enforcement cameras an invasion of privacy?
  • 17. Are test scores a good indication of a school’s competency?
  • 18. Do we have a throw-away society?
  • 19. Is child behavior better or worse than it was years ago?
  • 20. Should companies market to children?
  • 21. Should the government have a say in our diets?
  • 22. Does access to condoms prevent teen pregnancy?
  • 23. Does access to condoms irresponsible, dangerous, or bad behavior?
  • 24. Are actors and professional athletes paid too much?
  • 25. Are CEO’s paid too much?
  • 26. Do violent video games cause behavior problems?
  • 27. Should creationism be taught in public schools?
  • 28. Are beauty pageants exploitive?
  • 29. Should English be the official language in the United States?
  • 30. Should the racing industry be forced to use biofuels?


  • 31. When should parents let teens make their own decisions?
  • 33. Should the military be allowed to recruit at high schools?
  • 34. Should the alcoholic drinking age be increased or decreased?
  • 35. Does age matter in relationships?
  • 36. What age is appropriate for dating?
  • 37. Should gay couples be able to marry?
  • 38. Are there benefits to attending a single-sex school?
  • 39. Does boredom lead to trouble?
  • 40. Does participation in sports keep teens out of trouble?
  • 41. Is competition good?
  • 42. Does religion cause war?
  • 43. Should the government provide health care?
  • 44. Should girls ask boys out?
  • 45. Is fashion important?
  • 46. Are girls too mean to each other?
  • 47. Is homework harmful or helpful?
  • 48. Should students be allowed to grade their teachers?
  • 49. Is the cost of college too high?
  • 50. Is college admission too competitive?

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