How to write a comment or discussion

Preface

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.

Definitions

  • 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:

  1. Will you have to give a personal judgement?
  2. Discuss: No, not necessarily! A personal judgement is not required!
  3. Comment on / Reflect on / State your view on: Yes! Present your personal judgement!
  4. Assess / Evaluate: Yes, in the end! Give arguments for and against the issue.
  5. If you have to give a personal verdict, will you have to offer counter arguments?
  6. Assess / Evaluate: Yes! After a balanced discussion, state your opinion!
  7. 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.

  1. Write down the topic;
  2. add context: Where does the quote come from? What does it aim it? Which topics are related to it? Then,
  3. find aspects derived from the quote or statement;
  4. make a table of three columns;
  5. fill the first column with aspects;
  6. collect arguments (claims) and fill the second column;
  7. add evidence (reasons, examples);
  8. collect counter arguments (in a discussion: provide evidence; in a comment: refute the counter arguments right away);
  9. write down a final conclusion (in a discussion: find a compromise, in a comment: justify your decision and explain why you are right).

Start writing!

The introduction

The introduction should contain these five elements:

  1. a headingin capitals (genre: Argumentative essay / Comment);
  2. 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 …”);
  3. a reference to the statement you will discuss - usually quoting from it;
  4. an explanation providing your audience with background information (source details, important facts) and context;
  5. a problem question which can be answered with yes or no;
  6. 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 …”).
  7. In a comment, voice your opinion (“In my opinion, …” / “I strongly disagree with this concept of …”).

The first paragraph

  1. will usually presents the number of arguments you want to discuss (“Three aspects matter most in this discussion: …”);
  2. will outline the arguments (“Firstly, the author points out …”);
  3. will explain the aspects you want to discuss and how they are connected (“He justifies his opinion by …”).

The main body

  1. As for structure, make use of signposting (“There are three reasons why this argument is invalid. Firstly…”);
  2. you should also use structuring phrases suitable for argumentation (“In contrast to that…” / “Above that …”);
  3. each paragraph should deal with only one aspect;
  4. start with a topic sentence that presents the aspect relevant in this paragraph;
  5. Then, focus on argumentation:
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Paragraphs should end with a valid conclusion;
  9. in a comment, make a personal conclusion and restate your opinion.
  10. in a discussion, make an objective conclusion.

The conclusion

A conclusion should consist of these four elements:

  1. Give a summary of the discussion, showing what the main problems were in answering the question;
  2. at any rate, do not come up with further arguments.
  3. 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.
  4. In a comment, illustrate your opinion and explain why you are right.
  5. Offer solutions to the problem;
  6. illustrate which effects are likely to occur if the problem is solved in such a way.