What Is a Discursive Essay, and How Do You Write a Good One?

You’ve completed at least a few writing courses in your day and have written your share of essays. But just when you think you’ve written every possible type of paper, BAM! You’re hit with a new type of essay: the discursive essay.

With the word “curse” seemingly smack dab in the middle of the name, cursing might be exactly what you feel like doing when you think about learning how to write a whole new type of essay.

I get it. There are tons of different types of essays, and you feel like you’ve written every one of them. Learning yet another writing style may not be how you want to spend your time. But trust me, learning how to write a discursive essay isn’t that bad. Really.

Before we move on, though, just in case you’re feeling a little stressed, take a deep breath, and if you need to, get the cursing out of the way now.

what is a discursive essay

Ready? Let’s get to work learning how to write a good discursive essay. We’ll start with diving into the question you need to know the answer to before getting started: what is a discursive essay?

What Is a Discursive Essay?

A discursive essay has a pretty simple definition and one goal–to be balanced and objective. Two key elements it’s important to get right are the tone and organization. Let’s get into those, and answer the question that brought you here: what is a discursive essay?

A one-sentence definition

A discursive essay presents both sides of an argument, then states your stance.

The goal

The goal of a discursive essay is to present a balanced and objective analysis of both sides of the argument. (Keep in mind that, in some cases, you may need to examine three or more positions as topics may be more nuanced than basic for-or-against arguments.)


The discursive essay is a formal essay that requires a formal tone. This means that you’ll write in third person point of view to evaluate arguments and express your opinion.

You’ll also need to use formal word choices to keep the tone of your essay in check.

In other words, don’t write this:

Back in the day, they did a bunch of studies about this kind of stuff.

Instead, do write this:

In 2002, Harvard researchers completed five studies on the psychological effects of professors using red ink when providing student feedback on essays.

In a discursive essay, a balanced tone is crucial. Don’t include positive, leading statements for one side of the argument, while including snarky, sarcastic comments for the other side.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you feel that professors’ comments written in red ink cause stress for students.

Don’t try to slant your comments in favor of your opinion by writing something like this:

Though some ill-informed people might believe that ink color doesn’t affect students, it’s obvious to anyone with common sense that students are affected by seeing comments in red ink throughout their papers.

This sentence clearly tries to slant readers’ opinion by using the phrases “ill-informed” and “anyone with common sense.” (These phrases not only try to slant opinion but also may very well offend readers, which is certainly not a goal of the essay.)

An objective statement written in a formal tone might look like this:

Even though some studies indicate that red ink doesn’t affect students, other studies have demonstrated that students are negatively affected by professor comments written in red.

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A discursive essay is organized like most essays, with a clear introduction and concise thesis statement, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

As in any essay, there are specific strategies you should use to develop these components. Here are a few tips for writing your discursive essay.

  • Thesis statement: The thesis statement in a discursive essay should not take a stance on the argument. The goal is to present both sides of the argument equally.

Here’s what a discursive essay thesis statement might look like:

Even though some studies indicate that professor comments written in red have no effect on students’ emotions, other studies suggest that seeing red ink on papers can cause students unnecessary stress.

  • Body paragraphs: A discursive essay should develop both sides of the argument equally and provide just as much evidence to support one side as it does to support the other. (Don’t try to slip in more evidence for one side just because it happens to be the side you agree with.)
  • Conclusion: The concluding paragraph of a discursive essay is your chance to explain your conclusions based on the evidence you’ve presented. Your conclusion won’t express a definitive answer. But it will leave room for your audience to consider both sides of the argument and your tentative conclusions.

Here’s what the opening line of your conclusion might look like:

Based on the evidence, it seems fair to conclude that professors who use red ink to grade papers do not cause their students unnecessary psychological stress.

what is a discursive essay

See? The answer to, “What is a discursive essay?” is pretty straightforward. It’s mainly about making sure you get all the components right and staying objective.

But it’s also important to understand why and how it’s different from an argumentative essay.

How Is a Discursive Essay Different From an Argumentative Essay?

The goal of an argumentative essay is to take a stance on a topic and convince your audience that your arguments are valid.

Sure, you include a discussion of the counterargument and rebuttal to the counterargument in an argumentative essay. But the whole purpose in doing so is to further convince your readers that your arguments are stronger—essentially that you’re right, and they’re wrong.

The goal of discursive essay is to present both sides of an argument equally and then draw some tentative conclusions based on the evidence.

Though some readers may be convinced by your arguments and conclusions, the goal isn’t to convince anyone. Your goal is to objectively evaluate the topic.

Can You Show Me How It’s Done?

what is a discursive essay

If you’re trying to wrap your mind around the idea of presenting both sides of an argument equally but can’t figure out how to do so without your paper turning into an argumentative essay, here’s a quick prewriting outline to show you how it’s done.

Discursive essay prewriting outline

NOTE: I haven’t used a formal outline in this example. Unless your prof specifically requires a formal outline, you can use any number of methods to organize information. Check out these prewriting, outlining, and graphic organizer posts for ideas.

Discursive essay topic: Potential psychological effects of using red ink to provide feedback on students’ papers

Thesis statement: Even though some studies indicate that comments written in red ink have no effect on students’ emotions, other studies suggest that seeing red ink on papers can cause students unnecessary stress.

Side A: Red ink has no effect on students’ emotions

Supporting Evidence

  • Red signals attention, which indicates that students need to stop and pay attention to the comments. Students will notice the error but not feel emotional about the comment.
  • Seeing a comment in a bold color, such as red, can motivate students.
  • Positive comments are also written in red, so red comments shouldn’t always be associated with negative feedback.
  • If students receive feedback and/or corrections in only blue or green ink, would they then feel poorly about themselves because all corrections appear in blue or green?
  • Students don’t feel stressed or demoralized because of the ink color. They feel this way if teachers write harsh, demeaning comments.
  • Red isn’t always associated with negative emotions. Red can be associated with love and warm fuzzies.

Side B: Red ink causes unnecessary stress to students

Supporting Evidence

  • Students feel embarrassed because they feel their classmates can see the red ink on their papers.
  • Red is associated with anger and being wrong, causing students to feel attacked by professor comments.
  • Students can feel demoralized because they are overwhelmed with marks that indicate errors.
  • Comments in red ink can cause students to feel anxious about their grades.
  • Students often feel judged when seeing a paper covered in red.
  • Comments in red can cause test anxiety.


Based on the evidence presented, it seems that, even though professor feedback written in red has often been associated with negative emotions, it doesn’t truly cause any measurable stress for students.

what is a discursive essay

A few words about the outline above

In the prewriting outline above, I’ve included six pieces of evidence to support each side of the argument. This balance is important in order to effectively analyze the argument and present an objective overview of the topic.

Also, notice that the conclusion isn’t an absolute claim. It allows for some indecisiveness as the discursive essay is more about a conversation and exploring ideas than it is about arguing for or against a topic.

Two final tips to help you write a good discursive essay

  1. The number of points you include to support each side of your argument will depend on the length of your paper and on assignment guidelines. Often, two or three points will be sufficient to support each side. However, there may be times when your prof requires a longer, more in-depth discussion of the topic.
  1. The type of evidence you include will depend on your assignment. Some assignments may allow you to use your own opinions as evidence. Others will require you to use credible research sources to support your arguments.

If this outline gives you a sense of how to develop a discursive essay but you’d like to see an example of a finished paper, read There Should Be Limits on the Medical Research on Animals.

Curse No More!

what is a discursive essay

See, after getting a little bit of grumbling out of the way early on, learning how to write a discursive essay really wasn’t so bad, was it?

All set to start writing your paper but are fresh out of topic ideas? Check out this post for inspiration.

Have a completed draft but aren’t sure whether it seems more like an argumentative essay than a discursive essay? Get some advice from a Kibin editor.

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.