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The Difference Between Discursive & Argumentative Essays


Writers try to accomplish different things in different articles. The goal of an essay dictates the format and style of that piece. There are different forms and many of them are quite similar. However, each has unique requirements that make it different from the others. Two such similar styles are the discursive essay and the argumentative essay. The difference between the two lies in the purpose and structure of the piece.

Discursive Purpose

The goal of a discursive essay is to present a balanced and objective examination of a subject. Like an argumentative essay, the topic may be controversial, but the discursive essay attempts to present a much more balanced discussion of the issue. It does not, however, have to be expressly neutral. The essay should present both sides of the discussion, supported by facts and research. The author may draw tentative conclusions about the subject and suggest them to the reader.

Discursive Style

The discursive style is written in a more formal and impersonal style than other essays. It begins with a introduction to the topic. Each issue should be discussed in a separate paragraph and each paragraph should begin with a strong topic sentence. The essay will typically alternate a paragraph of point followed by a paragraph of counterpoint. Discursive essays often have transitional wording leading into the next paragraph. The writer may choose to either express a low-key opinion in the final paragraph or leave readers to draw their own conclusions.

Argumentative Purpose

The writer of an argumentative essay attempts to clearly present a strong position on a particular topic. Its purpose is to both educate and persuade the reader on a particular point of view. In this regard it is similar to a persuasive essay, but generally presents its view in a stronger, perhaps more controversial, way. It may target an audience that is more resistant to its viewpoint or message.

Argumentative Style

Argumentative essays follow a general format. The writer states an initial thesis that contains the point of view for which the author is arguing. The body generally presents both sides of the argument, although each con is refuted in turn. The author may first present the pros of the argument, then offer the cons and refutation later in one paragraph. Or, each con may be both presented and refuted in an individual paragraph. The author presents the desired conclusion in the final paragraph.

About the Author

An attorney and database programmer in Nashville, Randall Pierce has been writing about sports, legal matters and tech issues for local and regional publications since 1998. Pierce holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., and earned his J.D. from the Nashville School of Law.

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