An argumentative essay opens with a boldly expressed point of view and then the rest of the essay presents arguments (examples, proof or logic) to support that point of view. Normally, it refers to opposing arguments but demonstrates that these are weak or even false. (Look at this essay about zoos for an example.) A discursive essay presents both sides of the issue in a more balanced way.
In the end, however, it normally reaches a conclusion; in other words, the writer states what s/he thinks.
The following is an example of how a discursive essay on handguns might be structured: Introduction
: The issue of handgun ownership
A. Some people believe individuals should not own handguns
B. Others believe ownership is an important personal right
of handgun ownership
– Both adults and children can have accidents
– People can use guns for crimes
of handgun ownership
+ People can protect themselves from intruders
+ People can use guns for recreational purposes (e.
g. target practice at gun clubs) Conclusion
(a summary & evaluation of arguments above)
= Problems of accidents and crime make gun ownership difficult to accept = Gun ownership should not be allowed in the interest of a better society Your task in this assignment is to write a discursive essay about the advantages and disadvantages of car use. You will be given the various arguments both in favour of, and against, car use. Your first task will be to organise these arguments.
Read the following notes.
Identify all the points in favour of car use and mark them with the symbol ü . Identify all the points against car use and mark them with the symbol û . Not restricted by schedules as you are with public transport Comfortable (spacious, cool, radio/CD etc.)
They cause air pollution (e.g. exhaust emissions contribute to global warming) Roads deface the natural landscape and destroy/disturb wildlife habitats Fast, less time-consuming than public transport
Car parks take up valuable space in city centres (could be used for public gardens instead?) Fairly cheap to run?
Car accidents result in many deaths and injuries
Modern fuels are lead-free and getting “cleaner”
Traffic jams lead to stress and “road rage” (angry drivers attacking others) Car use contributes to a faster, less natural pace of life that often results in high blood pressure and heart disease TASK 2
Now that you have sorted your points into two groups, you will be able to divide the body of your essay into two sections: advantages and disadvantages (or possibly the other way round). However, each of these two sections still needs to be divided further – into topics. Each topic will then become a paragraph in the essay.
Take the advantages above and arrange them under the topic headings of “Convenient” and “Efficient”. Take the disadvantages and arrange them under the topic headings of “Bad for the environment”, “Dangerous” and “Stressful”. TASK 3
A well-made paragraph usually starts with a topic sentence. This contains the main idea or argument of the paragraph. It is followed by a few illustrations or examples that support it. In the case of your essay on car use, the topic sentences in the body of the essay will cover the points in TASK 2 (above).
Write topic sentences based on each of the headings in Task 2 (i.e. “Convenient”, “Efficient” etc.). Here is an example: Cars are extremely popular because they are so convenient.
Do not be satisfied with the first thing you write. Rewrite it; share it with a classmate or your teacher; aim for a more effective sentence.
The structure of your essay is going to be as follows:
Paragraph 1 (INTRODUCTION)
Paragraph 2 (Convenient …) ü
Paragraph 3 (Efficient …) ü
Paragraph 4 (Bad for the environment …) û
Paragraph 5 (Dangerous …) û
Paragraph 6 (Stressful …) û
Paragraph 7 (CONCLUSION)
Unless, of course, you decide to deal with the disadvantages first …
You still need to plan an introduction. Basically, this will state that there are both advantages and disadvantages to car use. However, it will sound rather weak if you simply write: “There are both advantages and disadvantages to car use”. It will make a stronger impact if you start with a bold or surprising statement, or perhaps a striking statistic. For example:
We have become extremely dependent on cars: there were 580 million worldwide in 1990 and it is estimated that this figure will grow to 816 million by 2010. You can follow this with a summary of the main arguments contained in the body of the essay. You should present these in the order they will appear later.
Continue this opening paragraph by adding sentences from the jumbled list below. Present them in the same order as the plan above. We have become extremely dependent on cars: there were 580 million worldwide in 1990 and it is estimated that this figure will grow to 816 million by 2010. Thirdly, some people argue that they contribute to the frantic, unhealthy pace of modern life. On the other hand, there are powerful arguments against car use. Firstly, they damage the environment.
Clearly cars are so popular because they are both convenient and efficient. Secondly, they kill and maim large numbers of people.
Let us save the conclusion for later. (Basically, it will sum up the main arguments again and evaluate them – in other words, you will say whether you think car use should be limited or even banned.)
First, you will try to write the body paragraphs – paragraphs 2-6 in the plan above. Each paragraph already has a topic sentence. The challenge now is to support it with illustrations or examples. For example (paragraph 2):
Cars are extremely popular because they are so convenient. They allow us far more freedom than public transport which is often unreliable, slow or even unavailable. Given a choice between walking in the rain to join a bus queue or stepping straight into a car and driving directly to one’s destination, who would prefer the latter? Furthermore, cars are more comfortable than buses or trains since they are less cramped and have luxuries such as an air-conditioner and a sound system.
Now use the points below to complete paragraphs 3-6. (Start each sentence with your topic sentence from TASK 3.) Fast, less time-consuming than public transport Fairly cheap to run, especially if you use a small model Modern fuels are lead-free and do not cause a lot of pollution They cause air pollution (exhaust emissions contribute to global warming and health problems such as asthma)
Roads spoil the natural landscape and disturb wildlife habitats Car parks take up valuable space in cities that could otherwise be used for recreation Car accidents result in many deaths and injuries (e.g. approx. 125,000 people were killed in road crashes in the OECD’s 29 member countries in 1999, enough to fill 300 jumbo jets)
Traffic jams lead to stress and “road rage” (angry drivers attacking others) Car use contributes to a faster, less natural pace of life that often results in high blood pressure and heart disease You do not need to change the language much. However, you certainly will need to use some linking words/phrases, such as the following: For example, …
For instance, …
… also …
In addition, …
What is more, …
Another argument against car use is that …
Another disadvantage of car use is that …
Finally, you need a conclusion. Avoid a weak “sitting on the fence” conclusion such as this: “There are some strong points both for and against car use and it all depends on what your opinion is.” Instead you should sum up the arguments you have already covered and state whether, on balance, you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages or vice-versa. It may be effective to present the arguments in reverse order this time. For example:
In conclusion, car ownership has several negative effects, including stress, road accidents and destruction of the natural environment. Nevertheless, we have become very dependent on cars because of the comfort and freedom they offer. A total ban seems out of the question, but for the sake of our own health and the health of the planet, we must aim to reduce car use – for example, by improving public transport systems and introducing car pooling schemes.
Now try a discursive essay on a different topic. You could try the one about
handguns (see notes above). Other possible topics include: Computer use by children
You may have a better idea yourself, but please check it first with your teacher. Whichever topic you choose, you will need to do some research first and then draw up an essay plan. Without a plan, you will almost certainly produce a disorganised, ineffective essay!