Discussion essaysConsidering both sides of the argument

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.

  • Examine the arguments for and against capital punishment.
  • Schools should teach children not only academic subjects but also important life skills. Discuss.
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of technology in the classroom?

Structure

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.


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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
PositionTo give the opinion of the writer (not always possible).
Definition(s) (optional)To explain any important technical words to the reader.
ThesisTo 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.

Discussion vocabulary

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.

  • First..., First of all..., The most important...
  • Second..., In the second place...
  • Finally..., Lastly...

The following can be used when introducing your opinion.

  • There is no doubt that...
  • I believe that...
  • One of the main arguments in favour of/against X is that...

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'.

  • advantage: benefit, a positive aspect/feature, pro (informal)
  • disadvantage: drawback, a negative aspect/feature, con (informal)


Example essay

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?


General
statements
 
Definition(s)
Position
 
Thesis
 
Adv
 
Disadv
 
1
 
2
     
 
Summary
 
Opinion
Recommend-
ation
   

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.

General
statements
Definition(s)
Position
Thesis
 
Adv
1
 
2
 
Disadv
 
Summary
Opinion
Recommend-
ation

Checklist

Below is a checklist for discussion essays. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.


Item OK? Comment
The essay begins with general statements
There is a clear position
Definitions are given if needed
The essay has clear thesis statement
One or more advantage paragraphs are included (including clear transition)
One or more disadvantage paragraphs are included (including clear transition)
The conclusion includes a summary of the main points
The writer's opinion is given
There is a recommendation, which relates to the points in the essay



References

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



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Find out how to write persuasion essays in the next section.




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