How to write a comment or discussion
Interestingly, there is no collection of detailed instructions or sample essays online – despite the fact that German students are expected to write argumentative essays in their final exams. Clearly, a toolkit alone will not be helpful. The following guidelines may serve as a roadmap to write argumentative essays in an advanced EFL classroom.
- A comment is an argumentative essay that offers the author’s opinion on a topical issue or statement (in German: “Kommentar”).
- A discussion is an argumentative essay which offers a rather balanced view on a general problem or statement (in German: “Erörterung”).
First, check the task description!
Here, we’ll focus on two options:
- Will you have to give a personal judgement?
- Discuss: No, not necessarily! A personal judgement is not required!
- Comment on / Reflect on / State your view on: Yes! Present your personal judgement!
- Assess / Evaluate: Yes, in the end! Give arguments for and against the issue.
- If you have to give a personal verdict, will you have to offer counter arguments?
- Assess / Evaluate: Yes! After a balanced discussion, state your opinion!
- Comment: No! It’s good if you can refute counter arguments, but you don’t have to give a balanced account of pros and cons.
Then, make a draft!
It is essential to make a draft. Make short sentences rather than just offering key words. The time you spend on structure and argumentation is well invested and saves you a lot of trouble.
- Write down the topic;
- add context: Where does the quote come from? What does it aim it? Which topics are related to it? Then,
- find aspects derived from the quote or statement;
- make a table of three columns;
- fill the first column with aspects;
- collect arguments (claims) and fill the second column;
- add evidence (reasons, examples);
- collect counter arguments (in a discussion: provide evidence; in a comment: refute the counter arguments right away);
- write down a final conclusion (in a discussion: find a compromise, in a comment: justify your decision and explain why you are right).
The introduction should contain these five elements:
- a headingin capitals (genre: Argumentative essay / Comment);
- an ear-opener or lead-in which explains why the topic is relevant; usually, a common superstition or wide-spread belief is a good way to start a comment (“Many people seem to think that…”, “It has often been said that …”, “It is a common notion that …”);
- a reference to the statement you will discuss - usually quoting from it;
- an explanation providing your audience with background information (source details, important facts) and context;
- a problem question which can be answered with yes or no;
- In a discussion, present two positions on the subject matter (“While some people believe it is essential to … , others seem to think it is absolutely necessary to …”).
- In a comment, voice your opinion (“In my opinion, …” / “I strongly disagree with this concept of …”).
The first paragraph
- will usually presents the number of arguments you want to discuss (“Three aspects matter most in this discussion: …”);
- will outline the arguments (“Firstly, the author points out …”);
- will explain the aspects you want to discuss and how they are connected (“He justifies his opinion by …”).
The main body
- As for structure, make use of signposting (“There are three reasons why this argument is invalid. Firstly…”);
- you should also use structuring phrases suitable for argumentation (“In contrast to that…” / “Above that …”);
- each paragraph should deal with only one aspect;
- start with a topic sentence that presents the aspect relevant in this paragraph;
- Then, focus on argumentation:
- In a discussion, present pros and always connect them to cons, adding background information and reasoning; use connecting and contrasting phrases; arrange the arguments according to their weight in the discussion, start with minor aspects; some recommend a structure with two paragraphs, first, pros; second, cons – it is evident this will only work with a yes-no question, not with a statement that comprises three aspects.
- In a comment, present your opinion, but give reasons (with reference to the text) – if possible, refute counter arguments; start with your weakest argument and move on to the strongest argument.
- Paragraphs should end with a valid conclusion;
- in a comment, make a personal conclusion and restate your opinion.
- in a discussion, make an objective conclusion.
A conclusion should consist of these four elements:
- Give a summary of the discussion, showing what the main problems were in answering the question;
- at any rate, do not come up with further arguments.
- In a discussion, show how both sides are right; suggest a compromise; according to a liberal definition of the term, students are encouraged to voice their opinion in the end.
- In a comment, illustrate your opinion and explain why you are right.
- Offer solutions to the problem;
- illustrate which effects are likely to occur if the problem is solved in such a way.