What Is The Difference Between Discursive And Argumentative Essay

In a discursive piece you are expected to discuss a given topic and present an argument related to it.

Organising a discursive essay

There are two basic types of discursive essay. Firstly there are persuasive essays in which you can argue strongly either in favour of or against a given discussion.

Alternatively, there are argumentative essays where you look at a discussion topic in a balanced way.

Finding information for a discursive essay

There are many sources you can use to find information for your discursive essay. These include:

  • relevant books from a library
  • online sources
  • magazines and newspapers
  • television and video
  • family members
  • friends

When looking in the library, focus on the non-fiction and reference sections. When searching online, always think carefully about key words.

Make sure you consider the reliability of all your sources. It is important you keep a note of where all your information comes from. This will allow you to check it again later and to complete your bibliography and footnotes.

I am going to start a series of blog posts on discursive writing at the secondary level, beginning with this post on the differences between discursive writing and argumentative writing.

I hope that this series of post will benefit secondary school students in Singapore who have a strong interest in penning such essays but lack the technical and/or  logical reasoning skills to write a remarkable piece of writing. Please note that discursive essays are at times known as “expository essays”, although I prefer to use the term “discursive”, and will be using this term for this blog.

Discursive and argumentative essays are very different.

For starters, let’s look at the obvious differences and defining signatures of discursive and argumentative essays in typical test and exam questions (Note: please click on the image for an enlarged, clearer version):

To better illustrate the differences between discursive and argumentative essays, let’s take a look at some essay questions:

Discursive essays:

The ideal goal.

“Life is not fair.” Discuss.

“Kindness begets kindness.” What are your views?

What are your thoughts on introducing ebooks to the young?

What can we do in order to live healthy and fulfilling lives? (Note: This type of questions usually ask for the writers’ solutions and their reasons for such solutions. The other alternative voice would be to live unhealthy and/or unfulfilling lives,which is not logical or moral. Hence, this is a type of discursive question that moves in only one direction. Another example would be “What are the possible solutions to eliminate or reduce haze in Singapore?”)

Argumentative questions:

“Teachers should always trust their students.” Do you agree?

“Teenagers should be closely supervised by their parents.” Do you agree?

Are children from rich families always happier than those from impoverished families?

Is technology definitely beneficial to the young?

(Note: the third and fourth questions above use “absolute terms” such as “always” and “definitely” to compel writers to write only in a specific direction reinforcing a specific stand.And because it needs to be persuasive, these are argumentative questions, and not discursive questions.)

Up till this point, one can observe that discursive and argumentative essays can easily be differentiated with markers such as “discuss”, “what are your views”, “do you agree” etc.

However, sometimes, the questions cannot be differentiated into discursive and argumentative writing that easily. 

For example, consider the following questions:

1. Are leaders born or nurtured?

2. Is it necessary to control the media?

3, Are experiences on a job more important than paper qualifications?

4. Is youth an advantage or disadvantage?

5. Is it better to have one long school vacation than to have a few short ones?

For the five questions above, students have the flexibility to write a discursive essay stating both sides of the arguments, or an argumentative essay with strong emphasise on the students’ stand.

As to which is a better choice, it is actually a personal choice of students, assuming that they have the ability to write both types of writing well.

In my next blog post, I will be focusing on the rationale of writing discursive essays. 

Stay tuned.

Author’s background:Patrick Tay is an English Writing Specialist who lectures in various polytechnics in Singapore, and coaches students in English as a private tutor. His professional services can be found here. 

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