A reader commented on Talking To Yourself, In Which You Get Organized, requesting some pointers for a discussion essay.
Discussion essays are short essays in which you express an opinion or a point-of-view on a particular topic. They’re very common in ESL tests, and are easy filler for English tests. Often, the writer is given a short passage to read and asked to comment on it (e.g. “Do you agree or disagree with it”; “Is this topic relevant or irrelevant”), but sometimes a simple question or subject is provided (e.g. “Write about your thoughts on global warming”; “Discuss teen pregnancy”).
There are usually only 4 paragraphs in a discussion essay:
Introduction – introduce the topic and state your thesis
Supporting Point #1 – make and explain the first point to support your thesis. Don’t forget to use examples.
Supporting Point #2 – make and explain the second supporting point. Use examples.
Conclusion – wrap everything up by restating your thesis and points, and summarizing the essay.
The format, however, isn’t written in stone: you could do something like introduction, perspective #1, perspective #2, perspective #3, conclusion. The main thing is to keep it clear and concise.
Remember to choose an effective title. The essay is short, so use the title to convey information to the reader. For example, “Capital Punishment” is… well, lame; “In Defense of Capital Punishment” is better; “Capital Punishment: An Effective Weapon Against Immorality” is much, much better.
Here are some common pitfalls in found in a discussion essay:
1 – the thesis doesn’t answer the question posed, or it doesn’t relate well to the topic.
2 – the supporting points are not strong enough to clearly support the thesis.
3 – the supporting points aren’t explained clearly, or examples aren’t provided.
4 – wordiness: because the essay is short, it must be to-the-point.
5 – the essay isn’t interesting, nor does it show any creative thought. The reader gets bored.
Remember that the best things can come in small packages. Try to choose an unusual topic or position which will keep your reader’s attention. Dust off your best vocabulary and punctuation, and put it all to good use. Conclude the discussion essay with a question or idea which will keep the reader thinking about the topic, perhaps even inspiring them to read more about it.