So you’re preparing for the discursive essay, the C2 writing task 1.
Imagine you are having drinks with your fellow language students. Everyone is talking, and having a great time.
Two of your friends are having a discussion. Your first friend likes his car, because it saves him time and gives him freedom. Your other friend prefers to take public transport, because it saves money and it is better for the environment. They argue back and forth, each defending their own opinion.
Then, a new student joins the table, and asks you what your friends are talking about, and then asks for your opinion on the matter.
Ta-da! You’ve just imagined a C2 writing task 1.
For the discursive essay, you need to summarise the key points of two short texts of around 100 words, and then give your opinion on the topic.
Your essay needs to be a well-organised, coherent whole.
And you have to show that you can communicate complex ideas in an effective and convincing way, and hold the reader’s attention with ease.
Now, the best way to write the perfect discursive essay, is to follow a solid structure, and to keep the reader in mind at all times. In this case, the reader is the examiner.
And how do you achieve all that?
Think of the two texts as your two friends having a discussion.
Think of the examiner as the new student who joins the table, asking for an explanation, and for your opinion.
Do you get the idea? Great.
To make it clear and easy, I am going to give you ten steps to constructing the perfect discursive essay that will simply blow the examiner away.
Step 1: Identify the key points in the texts.
Read the two texts carefully and think of them as your friends who are giving their opinion on a certain topic.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What are they talking about?
This is the overall topic. At our drinks table, it is modes of transport.
What is their opinion?
These are the key points. In our example, they are:
Friend 1: Owning a car is better than using public transport.
Friend 2: Using public transport is better than owning a car.
What are their reasons? Do they give any facts, or examples?
These are the arguments and supporting details. In our scenario, they are:
Friend 1: it saves time and it gives me freedom.
Friend 2: it saves money and it is better for the environment.
Do they agree or disagree with each other?
Clearly, your two friends have opposing opinions. Hey, it happens.
After reading the two texts, circle the key points, and underline the supporting arguments, so that you can see them clearly. This will help you plan and write your essay.
Step 2: Generate ideas.
At the drinks table, you’d only have a second to come up with a witty response to entertain your friends.
But at your C2 writing exam, you have time to plan and formulate an answer that is balanced and well thought-out.
So, take a short time to let your ideas and feelings come to you.
Do you agree with one of your friends, or do you take a different stance?
Support your opinion with arguments, facts, and examples. Note them down. Something like this:
I prefer driving my own car. (opinion)
Driving my own car gives me freedom. (argument)
Public transport is slow and uncomfortable. (argument)
I also want to save the environment. (opinion)
Most cars are bad for the environment. (fact)
New technology makes cars cleaner and more efficient. (fact)
Bio-fuel, electric cars, and fuel-efficient cars. (examples)
Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes. It will speed up the rest of the writing process.
Step 3: Plan your essay.
With your notes from the first two steps, you can start planning your essay. It will look like this:
Paragraph 1: Introduction
What are they talking about?
Paragraph 2: Point 1 + support
This is your first friend’s opinion, and his arguments.
Paragraph 3: Point 2 + support
This is your other friend’s opinion, and his arguments.
Paragraph 4: Point 3 + support
This is your own opinion, and your arguments.
Paragraph 5: Conclusion
This is where you wrap up the discussion and come to a conclusion.
Make sure to leave enough white space between the paragraphs and start each new paragraph with a cohesive device such as:
Some might say …
On the other hand …
Planning your essay doesn’t take long, and it drastically improves your writing.
Step 4: Write a compelling introduction.
So now we begin the actual writing.
Introducing the topic is like answering the question: ‘What are they talking about?’ Like you’d do when someone joins the table.
The simple answer is: ‘Different people prefer different types of transportation.’
This is a correct, but utterly boring answer. That new student would likely turn right back around and find someone else to talk to.
Maybe this would tickle their fancy:
‘Who will come out on top in the contest for best mode of transport, privately owned cars or public transport?‘
For the introduction of your essay, grab the examiner’s attention with an unexpected analogy, a metaphor, or a tantalising question.
Step 5: Paraphrase the key points of text 1.
Write paragraph 2 by paraphrasing your first friend’s opinion and arguments.
Imagine that the student who just joined the table didn’t quite catch what your friends said. So, you explain it in a different way.
You can paraphrase an idea in several ways. Let’s take this sentence as an example.
Taking public transport saves a lot of money.
Taking trains and buses saves much cash.
Change the word order, or the grammar structure:
You can save a lot of cash when you take trains and buses.
You don’t spend much money when you take trains and buses.
You can also brainstorm related vocabulary (cheap, getting around) and construct new sentences:
It’s very cheap to get around by public transport.
See? Same meaning, different words.
Step 6: Paraphrase the key points of text 2.
Write paragraph 3 by paraphrasing your other friend’s opinion and arguments, just like the previous step.
Remember, you are not just copying what your friends said. You are trying to explain it in the most logical way, even if it is a complex matter.
Step 7: Put your own opinion into words.
Start with phrases such as:
In my opinion, …
I believe …
I prefer …
Take the ideas that you noted down in step 2 and string them together with conjunctions (because, besides, however, although, such as).
I prefer driving my own car because it gives me freedom. Besides, public transport is slow and uncomfortable.
However, I also want to save the environment. Although most cars are bad for the environment, new technology makes cars cleaner and more efficient, such as bio-fuel, electric cars, and fuel-efficient cars.
Your writing doesn’t have to be fantastic yet at this point. That’s the next step.
Also, remember that nobody is going to mark your opinion as correct or incorrect. It is just an opportunity to show that you can express an opinion and support it with arguments.
Step 8: Edit your writing.
Now this is where you make your writing fantastic.
It has to be entertaining, remember? Or else everyone at the table will quickly lose interest and start checking their phone.
Go over each sentence and find ways to improve your writing. Make sure to use a wide range of vocabulary, throw in some idioms here and there, and use a mixture of simple and complex grammar structures.
Let’s see if we can improve that last paragraph.
Personally, I prefer driving my own car, as the freedom it provides is invaluable. I can come and go as I please, without having to wait around. Besides, public transport is slow and uncomfortable.
However, I also aspire to protect the environment. Although most cars emit toxic exhaust fumes, cars are becoming cleaner with new technologies such as bio-fuel, electric cars, and fuel-efficient cars.
Step 9: Write a conclusion.
At the drinks table, you want your friends to be impressed with your ability to communicate complex ideas and say: ‘Wow, it was really nice to talk with you.’
For your conclusion, you want leave the reader with a great and memorable concluding statement.
Summarise the whole discussion into one or two lines. Use your best and most impressive vocabulary and idioms for those last few lines.
So, with money, freedom, and the environment at stake, there is still no clear winner in the never-ending battle between cars and public transport.
Step 10: Proofread.
When you are done writing, go over each sentence and each word, to check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. These little details all count towards a good grade.
You can use UK spelling or USA spelling. So, colour or color, organise or organize, it really doesn’t matter. You just have to stay consistent with one type of spelling.
So, are you ready to write a perfect discursive essay?
There may be lots of writing tips out there, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to tackle a discursive essay.
But, it does get easier the more you do it. I promise.
With the information from this post, you know what is expected of you, and you know how to achieve that.
Once you got these 10 steps down, you can write a fantastic discursive essay about any topic.
All that’s left to do, is for you to put these 10 steps into practice.
So, are you ready to take on task 1 of the C2 writing exam?
Then let’s do it.
Let’s blow the examiner away with your perfect discursive essay.