37 Composition: Discussion Strategies

Two hands on a blue keyboard of a laptop on a table

What is a discussion essay?

A discussion essay presents and discusses issues surrounding a particular topic. The topic is usually one that is debatable and open to argument. Security for students on campus is probably not an appropriate topic because probably everyone would agree that students should feel safe on campus. The use of guns on campus, however, could be an appropriate topic because some people might think guns make the campus safer while others argue that guns make the campus more dangerous.

Regardless of your personal opinion, a good discussion essay must begin with a thorough discussion of both sides of the topic. It should provide a well-rounded understanding of the issue before the writer presents their personal opinions and conclusions. The discussion essay’s quality relies primarily on your ability to provide your readers with solid research and evidence. The conclusion to your discussion essay may propose “next steps” rather than a direct solution or decision. Alternatively, the conclusion can include your opinion, but it should be based upon the information presented in the body of the essay.

When writing a discussion essay, it is important that facts and opinions are clearly separated. Often the writer will examine what other people have already said on the same subject. The author will include this information using paraphrasing and summarizing skills, as well as correct citations. A balanced view is essential. The writer’s opinion usually comes only after both sides are considered. This makes discussion essays different from persuasion or argument essays in which a writer asserts their opinion in their thesis and then provides evidence to support their position. Therefore, the writer’s position is more of an observation than persuasion.


Argument essay = states the writer’s opinion at the beginning (thesis) and then tries to prove it with evidence, but sometimes the evidence is from only one side

Discussion essay = explores the opinions of others on both sides of an issue and then states the writer’s opinion at the end as a logical result of the information


Why do you write discussion essays?

A discussion essay is a helpful way to present an issue for discussion or debate. It is not as formal and objective as a research paper, and it is not as informal and subjective as a persuasive or argumentative essay. It’s somewhere in between. Here are some examples of when a discussion essay is a useful writing strategy:

Purpose Example
To decide how to vote on a ballot measure issue Examine the arguments for and against capital punishment.
To design a curriculum and class schedule for a school Schools should teach children not only academic subjects but also important life skills. Discuss.
To determine if a school should invest in new computers for classrooms What are the advantages and disadvantages of technology in the classroom?
To make a choice between a foreign university and a local university An increasing number of students are going to college in another country. What are the rewards and challenges of such a situation?

How do you organize a discussion paragraph or essay?

In many ways, a discussion paragraph essay resembles a compare/contrast essay. You group the details of each side of the argument: rewards and challenges, advantages and disadvantages, choice A and choice B. In other words, introduce the issue; present one side of the issue; present the other side of the issue; conclude with your opinion or some other observation or comment.

You can begin your work by first making some notes. Graphic organizers can help. For example, you might use a Venn diagram (two overlapping circles). Or you can use a simple table like the one in the following example.

Topic: An increasing number of students are going to college in another country. What are the rewards and challenges of such a situation?

Rewards Challenges
language immersion: Students who use a foreign language all the time — at school and outside of school — learn the language faster

cultural immersion: Students who have experience adapting to a foreign culture make good candidates for desirable jobs with multinational corporations

expensive: Tuition for foreign students is usually higher than for domestic students
My opinion

If you have the money, it’s definitely worthwhile.


But which side comes first?

Which position comes first? You have some choices here. Consider these options and decide which works best for your particular essay:

  • Often, the position you do not agree with comes first and the position you agree with comes second. That’s because it flows better into your opinion and conclusion.
  • Another common option is to put the “for” position first and then the “against” position second. This “feels” objective in the same way that alphabetical order “feels” objective (because it is arbitrary).
  • If your sides are not very balanced, you can start with the weaker position and end with the stronger position.

Example discussion paragraph

          Have you ever thought about studying in another country? As the world becomes more and more connected, an increasing number of college students study abroad for a semester or academic year. Some might even complete a degree in another country. However, there are several important things to consider when thinking about studying abroad. First of all, it’s fun, and many language students say the immersion experience helps them to acquire communication skills faster. They also develop an appreciation and understanding of another culture which gives them an advantage when looking for jobs after graduation, especially international jobs. While these are significant benefits, an overseas education — even for one term — isn’t cheap. As a foreigner, tuition can be prohibitive. Furthermore, overseas students often have living expenses that they wouldn’t have if they stayed at home with their parents. So there are many things to consider. However, for those who can afford the expense, the experience can be worthwhile.


INSTRUCTIONS: Use the example discussion paragraph above to answer the questions below.

Example discussion essay

Look closely now at this example discussion essay. Read closely and notice how it mirrors the discussion paragraph above. Then answer the questions that follow.

George Spelvin
ESOL 252 Level 7 Writing
February 15, 2023

Finding the Best Place to Study

        “There’s no place like home” goes the familiar mantra from the famous book and movie The Wizard of Oz. It celebrates the virtues of the familiar while at the same time making a case for exploring the unknown. The same could be said for choices in education. 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 the university level. 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 they 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 globalization 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 and familiarity with a foreign culture. 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 — an immersion in foreign language and culture that leads to increased chances of employment — in addition to the main drawback of heavy financial burden. International students in London, for example, pay more than $14,000 a year for tuition alone. This experience can be worthwhile for those students whose families can readily afford the expense. Students without such strong financial support, however, should consider carefully whether the high cost outweighs the benefits to be gained. For them, there truly may be no place like home.


INSTRUCTIONS: Use the example discussion essay above to answer the questions below.

  1. What is the issue that is discussed in this essay?
  2. Read the introduction again. Which sentence is not needed and could be omitted?
  3. Read the conclusion again. What could the writer do to improve this paragraph?
  4. Look at the text again. Does the author use any modal verbs? Identify them and their purpose.
  5. Here are three pieces of information from outside sources. Where would be the best place to add them? Paragraph 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5?
    • A. 2018 survey from Big Business Company says 95% of corporate executives prefer to hire foreign exchange students for overseas jobs.
    • B. As linguist Dan Samuels says, “It’s no surprise that the person who uses a language learns it faster than a person who only studies it in a classroom.”
    • C. “There’s no doubt the study abroad experience builds character and responsibility,” says Ishanee DeVas, author of A Student of Life. “But it takes a long time — maybe a year or more — and that makes it too expensive for most people unless they move there.”


INSTRUCTIONS: Use the information above to answer the questions below.

1. A discussion essay needs an introduction, body, and conclusion, just like other essays. True or false?

2. Which of the following research questions is suitable for a discussion essay?

  • A. Why are protesters demonstrating in downtown Portland?
  • B. What does the word “queer” mean today?
  • C. How are community colleges and 4-year universities different?
  • D. What are the advantages and disadvantages of buying organic food?

3. In our discussion essay, we should … (choose all that apply)

  • A. Choose a topic that is debatable
  • B. Separate your opinion from the discussion; present only information about each side in the body
  • C. Support the information with evidence or proof from outside sources of information
  • D. Present both sides of the argument equally (even if you disagree with one of the sides)
  • E. Use formal tone (academic vocabulary; no contractions; write in third person)

4. A discussion essay chooses one side of a two-sided argument. It explores only the pros or the cons — not both — in order to give a clear opinion and persuade the reader. True or false?

5. What is the best way to organize the body of a discussion essay?

  • A. Group the details of each side of the argument or debate; start with the weaker one and end with the stronger one, which is usually the one that you agree with.
  • B. Start with your opinion and then explain what others think.
  • C. Write whatever comes to mind; it’s more organic and natural when it sounds like you are talking informally with a friend.
  • D. Focus on only one side of the argument in an essay; if you want to write both sides of the argument, then write two different essays.

6. A discussion essay always presents the disadvantages, or cons, first. True or false?

7. A discussion essay must always be exactly four paragraphs. True or false?

8. Which of the following would NOT be a purpose for a discussion paragraph or essay?

  • A. The pros and cons of the COVID vaccine
  • B. The most effective methods for solving the problem of homelessness
  • C. College education should be free
  • D. How to change a flat tire on your bike or car

9. The discussion essay’s quality relies primarily on our ability to provide our readers with ____________.

  • A. solid research and evidence
  • B. subjective opinions without proof
  • C. fake data and statistics
  • D. a good story with a funny plot

10. “Three reasons why you should get an electric car” is not the best choice for a discussion essay. Why not? Explain.




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