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.
This is in response to a highly intelligent thread started in the forum by one of the readers of this site. Are there particular skills you need for writing introductions to discussion essays? Here is my response!
The basics of an IELTS essay introduction
The place to start is to remember what the basics of an IELTS essay introduction are. These, I will stress, are guidelines not rules – there is always more than one way to do it:
keep if brief: it is just the introduction, you want to spend most of your time on the main body paragraphs. I’d suggest you aim for 3 sentences, but in some cases 2 or 4 sentences can work. I personally HATE one sentence introductions.
keep it clear: it is really important that the examiner knows what your essay will be about after she/he has read your introduction. Don’t try and be clever. Think clearly and aim to let the examiner know what you want say. Think is the important word in that sentence.
identify the task: all IELTS essay questions ask you to write in a particular way: this is the task. Examples of this are “Say whether you agree or disagree about x”, or “Say what the causes of y are”. For me, it is really important to put this in the intro because if you don’t your essay may not answer the question. A huge mistake.
identify your point of view: this is what some teachers call “thesis statement”. I don’t. The idea is that what you think should be clear throughout the essay. That means you want to give your answer in the introduction and not just the conclusion.
Is writing introductions to discussion essays special?
I don’t think so. I know lots of candidates and teachers like to categorise essays. Personally, I’m not sure that this is necessary. Better I think to have one set of guidelines and answer the question in front of you. Much simpler that way. It is also much more likely to get you a good score. There are no marks for writing a “discussion essay”, there are only marks for answering the question. So focus on that.
Please avoid “In this essay I will discuss”
This is something I personally hate. Much more importantly, it is an example of tired language that almost all IELTS examiners hate too – they want to see you use your own words and not “learned language” . I will show you some examples of how to do this below.
Top tip – learn to write different introductions
A lot of IELTS essays go wrong because students try to write a particular type of essay that they have practised before. Then they get a question in the test that doesn’t quite fit the model. They try to repeat a form of essay they have learned and fail to answer the question. To avoid this it really helps to learn different ways of doing the same thing. Learn how to write introductions that are two and three sentences long.
Two examples of introductions to discussion essays
This is the original task posted by Rohit, read my intro:
Some people think that the teenage years are the happiest times of most people’s lives. Others think that adult life brings more happiness, in spite of greater responsibilities.
Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.
There are different views about whether people are happier as teenagers or in adulthood. While there is something to be said for the idea that the teenage years can be extremely happy, my view is that most people achieve greater satisfaction later in life when they have a career and a family of their own.
- This is only two sentences long. that can be fine. There are very few rules remember.
- I clearly identify the task.
- My point of view is clear too – I also show that I will be talking about the family and careers too. Neat.
- Note how I use while to connect the two different views I need to discuss. Excellent for your grammar and helpful for this task.
- The logical structure of the essay will be one para about how childhood can be best and another about the joys of being 40! Then when I write my conclusion I simply come back to my intro.
This is a slightly more complex question, but asked in the same way:
There is an increasing shortage of housing in many countries. Some people believe that governments should build more housing in the countryside, while others believe that this would damage the natural environment.
Discuss both these views and give your opinion
Most people would accept that some action needs to be taken about the chronic housing shortage that is threatening so many countries around the world. One logical solution to thisproblem would be to create more housing in the countryside which is relatively underpopulated. My view, however, is that thiswould lead to serious damage to the environment and alternative options need to be found.
- See how this introduction is three sentences long. It is still clear and simple though. This is the situation. Here is a solution. This is what I think about the solution. I am still discussing both view and giving my opinion. Just in a different way.
- See how I link the different part of my introduction together with this and however. You want to make sure that your introduction is well-written. Don’t write too quickly.
- Just like the previous introduction, I Identify the task and I clearly state my view.
- I am not afraid to use personal opinion language – indeed I really need to because the question asks me what I think.
Now test yourself
If you like you can leave me an introduction as a comment to this lesson. The alternative is to pop into the forum and post there. Actually, I’d prefer that as that would allow you to share your language and ideas better. If you follow my advice, you will:
- write 2/3 introductions – don’t bother with the whole essay – focussing on a skill is better for learning
- write different types of introduction – this will help in the test – you can’t predict the question you will have