A discursive essay has four choices for the writing process -- to argue, explain, define or describe the topic. You may end up doing more than one of these things, depending on your subject matter. These four possible angles require technical, straightforward writing that presents facts and backs up those facts with evidence. There is little room for humour or creativity in discursive writing, as this can discredit or weaken the points you are trying to make.
Most discursive essay -- whether arguing, defining, describing or explaining -- present a topic with two opposing sides. For example, if you are writing a discursive essay about a health care bill, you will have to present facts and examples from the side that supports the bill and from the side that opposes it. Discursive essays give you the freedom to, and even require you to, form and articulate a personal opinion. Before doing so, however, you must equally represent both sides of the argument.
You will accomplish neutrality by employing legitimate sources for both sides of your topic matter. Quotes and examples from journals, newspapers, books, films and television will be useful in your discursive essay. Reading through multiple sources will also help you form your own opinion about the topic matter and achieve an understanding for what side you will argue for and against and exactly why you will do so. This will give credibility to your paper and make it more interesting to read.
Discursive essays are technically informal, although they do require a straightforward writing style and legitimate sources. These essays are informal because they allow the reader to have an opinion and portray this opinion with "I" statements in the first person. Your opinion should be introduced in the first paragraph briefly -- this paragraph is called the "lede" and should make the reader want to continue reading the essay. This opinion is justified in the third body paragraph and the conclusion after both sides of the argument are equally represented in the first and second body paragraphs.
Discursive essays take a formal structure although they have informal subject matter. An introduction, or "lede" paragraph, begins the essay. An indefinite amount of body paragraphs present both sides of the argument and then justify your opinion on the matter. One conclusion paragraph wraps up the essay. Formatting discursive essays is done in a standard APA or MLA style. Choose black, 10- to 12-point font, and double-space the essay with 1-in. margins. Provide a title if you wish and your name in the top left corner, and insert page numbers. These rules are not set in stone, so ask your teacher for her specific requirements when writing a discursive essay.