Structuring A Discussion Essay Sample

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.


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.


An overview of this structure is given in the diagram below.


Structural componentPurposeStage of essay
General statementsTo 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 forTo 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 againstTo 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.
SummaryTo 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 & RecommendationTo 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.


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'.



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

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


Next section

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




Previous section

Go back to the previous section about different essay types.





This lesson shows you two different discussion essays for IELTS. Part of the idea is to show you that there is always more than one way to approach an IELTS essay. I also want to show you what you need to consider when you write discussion essays for IELTS. This means first looking at some basic ideas about essays and then thinking about what “discuss” means.

Two basic principles

When you write discussion essays for IELTS you need to understand 2 basic principles that apply to all IELTS essays:

your essay must answer the question fully

your essay must be coherent

To get both of these right you need to think clearly about your essay structure before you start writing.

Identify discuss questions

The question can be asked in different ways the usual format is typically:

Discuss both these points of view and give your opinion

If the question asks you to discuss, you do just that: discuss.

Discuss can mean two things

In fact, the question never ever says “write a discussion essay”. The reason for this is that different teachers have different ideas about what a discussion essay is. The idea is not to write a model “discussion essay”, rather it is to discuss the topic in the question – something quite different.

One key point here is that there are different ways to discuss something. Discuss includes both these ideas:

stating what people think (perhaps saying why they believe this – this is a more objective approach)

commenting on what people think (perhaps saying what the pros and cons of their view is – this a more subjective approach)

For me, the better type of discussion essay is one that both states and comments on the different views – if you do this you will discuss better.

Get a logical and clear essay structure

There is absolutely no one structure for a discuss question in IELTS. You simply have to find a structure that is logical and allows you to answer the question. You will find 3 different examples of how to do this below in my essays. Whichever structure you choose, you need to decide first:

what is my introduction?

how am I going to write two/three clear topic paragraphs?

what is my conclusion?

do all the parts of my essay fit together?

See two different ways how to write a discussion essay

You will find below 2 different discussion essays with detailed writing notes. What you should see is that:

both essays answer the question: they discuss the issue and give an opinion

one essay keeps the opinion to the end and discusses only objectively

the other establishes the opinion in the introduction and comments on the issues throughout the essay

See a more objective discussion essay

Almost everyone agrees that we should be training children to recycle waste to save the Earth’s natural resources. Some believe that it is parents who should teach their children to recycle waste. Others argue that school is the best place to teach do this. Discuss both views and give your own opinion

Most people would agree that young people need to be taught about the importance of recycling waste products and packaging. There is a difference of opinion, however, whether this should happen at home or in schools. In this essay, I will examine both points of view and then state my opinion.

The argument in favour of teaching children at school about recycling is largely based around the idea that schools and other educational establishments are the best environment for training children. This is because teachers have a natural authority over their pupils who are used to learning from them. Additionally, the need for recycling could easily be included in biology and geography classess.

There are two main reasons why people think parents taking responsibility for this training could be more effective. The first is that the majority of recycling takes place in the home and parents can therefore more easily control the recycling habits of their children.  If, for example, parents see their child put a recyclable bottle in the wrong bin, they can explain that it needs to go in another bin. The other very practical point is that often children spend more time at home than at school and so parents may have more effect.

My own view is that the best solution is for children to learn about recycling both at home and at school. In this way, they would learn about both the theory and the practice.

(277 words)

 Notes

Overview

This is a much more objective discussion essay.

  • you separate out your opinion from what other people say. Your opinion only comes at the end.
  • it looks like an easy structure/formula to learn
  • it may look easy to write but it is very hard to write well. The introduction uses some dangerously formulaic language and is a very weak thesis statement
  • the conclusion is usually more difficult to write well as you need to refer to the main body paragraphs to make the essay coherent. It is not really enough jus tot say “this is what I think”. Rather, you need to link that conclusion with the main ideas of the paragraph and that means giving reasons that are found in the body paragraphs (both of them).
  • be very careful about balance. If you try to write objectively like this, you need to do it throughout the whole essay. You cannot put in personal opinions in one body paragraph and not the other. If you do, your essay will become incoherent. Your point of view must remain consistent. This means that if you start out neutrally, you must continue neutrally.

Structure

 Introduction – 3 sentences normally

  • Here is the issue.
  • Here are the two views
  • Here is what I’m going to say

Main body 1

  • This is why people think school is the best place (i.e. main idea = one point of view)
  • Reasons with examples (support)

Main body 2

  •  This is why people think home is the best place (i.e. the other main idea = the other point of view)
  • Reasons with examples (support)

Conclusion

  • Your opinion – also summarizing the main points of the essay to make it coherent.

See a more subjective discussion essay

Almost everyone agrees that we should be training children to recycle waste to save the Earth’s natural resources. Some believe that it is parents who should teach their children to recycle waste. Others argue that school is the best place to teach do this. Discuss both views and give your own opinion

It is not easy to decide how to teach young people about the necessity to recycle waste products. One school of thought is that they should be taught this in school. Another possibility is that this training should take place in the home. While teachers may have some part to play, my view is that parents are more likely to be effective in achieving practical results.

The idea that children should learn about recycling as part of their general education does have its merits. One reason why people propose this is that recycling could easily fit in with other subjects on the curriculum such as geography and biology. The general idea is that if children understand about the effects that not recycling has on the environment, then they will naturally choose to recycle waste and packaging themselves. The drawback is that children frequently do not  apply what they learn as theory to life itself.

The alternative suggestion of giving the primary responsibility to parents seems more likely to be effective in practice. This is partly because the majority of recycling actually happens in the home where parents and teachers are present. Parents can, for example, ensure that their children get into habit of sorting waste and packaging and putting it into the correct bin. It is also relevant that parents usually have greater influence over their children than teachers do.  A child is typically going to listen to the advice of a parent than a teacher, simply because their relationship is closer.

My conclusion is therefore that while it may seem better for children to learn about recycling at school, in practice that training would be more effective when given by parents.

(282 words)

Notes

Overview

This is a much more subjective/comment discussion essay.

  • the point of view of the writer is clear throughout the essay
  • it follows a logical structure
  • the introduction avoids formula language and so requires more thought. It has a strong thesis statement where you say exactly what you think.
  • You must make sure that you also cover both points of view and not just give your own opinions in the body paragraphs
  • the conclusion matches the introduction almost exactly and is therefore easier to write: you simply look back at the introduction before you write the conclusion
  • the point of view needs to be consistent all the way through the essay. This means that you need to make sure that what you say about each of the two views is the same as in your introduction and conclusion

Structure

 Introduction – 3 sentences normally

  • Here is the issue.
  • Here are the two views
  • Here is my opinion [contrast this with the first essay where you do not give your opinion in the introduction]

Main body 1

  • This is why people think school is the best place (i.e. main idea = one point of view)
  • comment on whether you think it is a good idea or not
  • Reasons with examples (support)

Main body 2

  •  This is why people think home is the best place (i.e. the other main idea = the other point of view)
  • comment on whether you think it is a good idea or not
  • Reasons with examples (support)

Conclusion

  • Your opinion – reflecting the introduction and the main points of the  body paragraphs

Which is better?

I have a very strong preference for the second type of essay particularly if you are aiming for a high score of 7.0 and above

it is typically more intelligent – by adding comments on the points of view you get more to say and you are able to “discuss” the views both objectively and subjectively – this is likely to help you give a much more complete answer by discussing the points of view fully and not merely stating objectively what people think

it is typically much more coherent – your point of view is clear throughout the whole essay and not just the conclusion

it allows you to avoid some very tired formulaic language

Some people prefer the other structure. Here is why it may help

it is perhaps quicker to learn – it often includes more formula language

it allows you to treat the two parts of the question separately: first their views and then your opinion – this can seem simpler especially at lower levels

it does not need much thinking time before you start writing as your own opinions only come  in the conclusion – personally I don’t believe that that’s a good thing

More advice on IELTS essays

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