The Academic Writing Guide (AWG) is designed to familiarise you with the process of writing a discursive essay. A discursive essay is a genre of writing that requires you to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner. Once you have decided on your position your writing will be an attempt to persuade your reader that it is a reasonable one to take.
The pages in this guide will present information and activities designed to help you develop the skill of argumentation, which as well as being the main feature of discursive writing, underpins every aspect of university study.
Before you begin working through the AWG and using the examples and activities to help you research and write your own discursive essay watch the interview with James, one of our former Foundation Year students, who worked through the AWG and is reflecting on his progress. Some of what James says may not make sense to you yet, but come back to it occasionally as your own research skills develop and see if your experience resembles his.
As you listen, notice what James says about how his perspective on the learning process changed during the course of the Foundation Year.
Sue Robbins is a Senior Teaching Fellow in the Sussex Centre for Language Studies, and James Bartoli-Edwardsis a former Foundation Year student, now studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at University of Sussex. Access the pdf transcript here.
Discursive Essay Writing
Academic writing does not aim simply to describe (although describing will be part of the process). An essay that is too descriptive will receive a very low mark at university level. Similarly, an essay that takes a ‘balanced’ view and does little more that weigh up the pros and cons of each side of an argument is rarely appropriate for university-level study.
Your aim in writing a discursive essay is to persuade your reader that your position (your argument) is a valid one. It makes a claim about a topic and defends this claim with evidence. A discursive essay must therefore begin with a thesis or claim that is debatable. In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade your reader of its merits.
A discursive essay is a genre of writing that requires you to investigate a topic;
collect, generate, and evaluate evidence;
and establish a position on the topic
in a concise manner.
Look at the two statements below and decide which one is a debatable claim, and why, and which one is not a debatable claim, and why. Click on each to reveal the answer.
This thesis statement is not debatable.
Nobody would disagree with this statement as John le Carré’s background is public knowledge
This is an example of a debatable thesis because reasonable people could disagree with it.
Some people might think that his fictionalised settings and characters are not based in reality. Others might think that he is drawing heavily on his own experience when writing his novels.
The Pre-Writing Stage
There is a lot of pre-writing work to do for a discursive essay. Before you can begin writing you need to:
decide on your purpose in writing
make evidence-based decisions
develop a thesis/argument based on what you have discovered
re-read/find further evidence to support your argument
You will be carrying out these pre-writing tasks in Stage 1 and 2 of the Academic Writing Guide (AWG),
and in stage 3 you will be writing the first draft of your essay.
Your Assessed Essay Title
Over the course of the two Academic Development modules (Autumn and Spring terms) you will be working on the production of a discursive essay. You will apply the information and skills that you gain from the AWG to the title that you will be given in your Academic Development seminar by your Academic Development tutor. You can find this title and a range of useful resources for the essay that you will write on your Canvas site, and you will discuss it regularly in your AD seminars with your tutor.
Throughout the research and writing process you will submit a series of assessed tasks relating to this title. Each of the tasks is designed to support your writing development, and help you produce a well-argued discursive essay supported with appropriate academic evidence. Each submission carries a percentage of the overall marks for the portfolio, making it essential that you complete each one. The portfolio accounts for a large percentage of the overall marks for the two Academic Development modules (see module handbook).
At the start of each of the 3 Stages in the AWG you will be told what the aims and objectives are, as well as the different assessments you will have to complete for that Stage. You will also be told where to submit these assessments in Canvas (find details below and in the module handbook on your class Canvas site).
Support For You
Drop-in Sessions – Personalised support
These voluntary, drop-in sessions offer you personalised support for your work with the Academic Writing Guide and all aspects of the Academic Development Module.
You don’t need an appointment for these sessions, just show up with any questions you have about the module or the AWG and the tutor will help you on a one-to-one basis. You are welcome to use the drop-in service as often as you like.
You can find information about the drop-in sessions on your Canvas site.
Welcome to the University of Sussex Skills Hub
This resource will help you to develop your Academic Skills whilst at Sussex. It brings together all of the web resources, workshops and support that are available to you as a Sussex student. Academic Skills are essential to successful study; from time management and note making, all the way through to reference management and exam writing techniques. These skills will help you to fully engage with, and excel, in your studies. Use the navigation on the left side of the page to find the section you are after or use the search box in the header.
Free software and storage space
As you work through the Academic Writing Guide (AWG) you will create a range of documents that need to be saved as you go and then uploaded to an assessment point at the end of each stage.
As a Sussex student you can download Microsoft Office 365.
With Office 365 you can get Microsoft Office for your personally-owned computer and mobile device(s) at no cost, as well as access to online versions of Office products and 1TB of free cloud storage in OneDrive.
Remember you are not expected to have all these skills already - you will develop them throughout your time at Sussex.
Academic Development Seminars
Your Academic Development tutor will support all of the activities that form part of the writing process by discussing and extending the work that you do independently with the Academic Writing Guide in your AD seminars. You'll discuss your interpretations of the title, present some of the secondary sources you have found to support your position, consider ways to effectively apply the information and skills that you gain from the AWG to your own essay title, and receive both peer and tutor feedback on your work at regular intervals.
There are 3 interlinked Stages in the Academic Writing Guide (AWG):
Part 1. Analysing Your Essay Title and Part 2. Beginning the Research Process
Part 1. Reading and Planning and Part 2. Producing a Sentence Outline
Part 1. Writing a Draft and Part 2. Preparing for the final submission
Each Stage requires several hours of self-study to complete, and each Stage is assessed. You will have plenty of time to work through the 3 Stages, and at regular intervals will submit formal assessments that will be included in your assessed portfolio for the Academic Development module at the end of the year. After each submission your Academic Development tutor will give you feedback, which you will use to inform the process of developing your discursive essay further. Each assessed task carries a percentage of the overall marks for the portfolio, making it essential that you complete each one. The portfolio itself carries a large percentage of the overall marks for the Academic Development module.
You will find details about each of the assessments at relevant points in this Guide, and will need to pay close attention to them. Your Academic Development tutor will also be introducing and supporting the process in your Academic Development seminars.
The following is an overview:
Submitted in week 5 of semester 1
After completing all of the sections in this stage you will be assessed on your ability to:
• Apply the PQRS strategy to your subject specific essay question
• Create a mind-map that shows how you intend to decode the essay question to support your continued research.
• Produce a table with at least 5 sources with annotations showing the relevance of the sources to help inform the development of your essay. These sources will be written using either the MLA or Chicago referencing systems.
• Write a short reflection on what you have learned about academic writing from completing this stage of the guide and how you can continue developing relevant academic skills to suit your context.
You will receive feedback on this assessment from your Academic Development tutor which will inform the way you approach Stage 2.
Submitted in week 11 of semester 1
After completing all of the sections in this stage you will be assessed on your ability to:
• Produce a thesis statement for your essay question, detailing the argument you are going to make in your essay.
• Produce an annotated bibliography for the 5 sources you will use in your essay (in addition to the core texts) that includes:
- a summary of the main line of argument of each source
- critical evaluation of the content
- accurate bibliographic reference list entries for all sources.
• Produce a sentence outline/plan for your essay that includes:
- approximate word count plans for different sections
- links to supporting source material
- an introduction and conclusion
- an argument(s) showing a different perspective(s) or counter-argument(s)
• Write a short reflection on what you have learned about academic writing from completing this stage of the Guide and how you can continue developing relevant academic skills to suit your context.
You will receive feedback on this assessment from your Academic Development tutor at the start of semester 2.
This feedback will allow you to engage successfully with Stage 3.
Submitted in week 5 of semester 2
• Produce a draft essay of at least 1000 words, but up to 1500 words
• Provide a Turnitin report of your draft
• Write a short reflection on what you have learned about academic writing from completing this stage of the guide and how you can continue developing relevant academic skills to suit your context
You will receive feedback on this assessment from your Academic Development tutor which will allow you to edit your essay ready for final submission (in your assessed portfolio) during the University's Assessment Period 2.
For Further Information, Access the Following PDF's
More Assessment Criteria
Now you have read and understood what is required and what resources are available to you move on to Stage 1 Part 1