Writing discursive compositions (Secondary Level) (Part 7): Body text of discursive essays

By Patrick Tay

(To read part 6, please visit HERE.)

For this post, we will delve into the inner mechanics of the body text of discursive essays. While a good introductory paragraph serves as a hook to draw the reader into the plot, the body text of discursive essays (or, in fact, most types of writings), when well written, enables the readers to stroll through the content in a manner so smooth that they often do not feel that conscious need to connect the dots. It’s as if they are “in the flow” (a psychological term first coined by Hungarian pscyhology professor Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi. More details can be found in his renowned book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, which is a very fascinating piece of work by the way) when reading, without having to endure disruptive or disjointed moments. This can be experienced by the readers as much as the writers. Similarly, when one watches a great movie in which the narrative drives the plot, the moviegoer gets to experience the wonderfully seamless flow of things.

For this to work, each paragraph should be seen as an essential cog within a larger complex, with the current one building its content on the foundations of previous parts. And for these paragraphs to work, grammatical fluency is as important as using precise terms and expressions to bring a point accurately across to the readers. In this regard, there are no actual rules. What is important is what works, and what works depends on the context of the writing. Rhetorical devices, visual imagery, metaphors, analogies are all tools employed by skilled writers to their advantage.

Hence, the introductory paragraph engages the readers and paves way for the journey. Sustaining the journey and keeping it consistently interesting as well as insightful would then be the job of ensuing body paragraphs.

So, having said that, how does it all come together for these paragraphs? Now, the most important and determining factor here is the ordering of the points.

Consider the following:

What are the issues of gambling addiction?

Some possible issues:

1. Financial problems (e.g. recurring debts due to gambling losses and borrowing)

2. Family problems (spousal conflicts, neglected children etc.)

3. Increased possibility of engaging in other forms of criminal activity (in a bid to recover gambling losses)

4. Loss of personal properties (such as homes, cars etc.)

5. Increased chances of societal isolation

Now, let’s brainstorm and consider which ordering of points works is most persuasive.

“Persuasion is an important factor in argumentative essays but it also plays a pivotal role in discursive essays, especially when authors are attempting to get their messages across through reason rather than intuition.”

To effectively determine the order of the factors mentioned above to increase one’s persuasiveness in one’s writings, one has to have a somewhat in-depth understanding of human nature.

“This is the reason why young writers are often less convincing than their more mature counterparts. This is likely due to the former’s lack of understanding of human nature as they have accumulated lesser life experiences, which in turn might adversely impedes the flow of the argument. “

However, this does not mean that the young cannot be schooled in the art and science of persuasive writing (which includes both discursive and argumentative writings). This is because the young can always learn experientially through teamwork and interaction with others of varied personalites in their early formative years - doing so will expedite their understanding of human nature and thus enhance their ability to engage their readers through their writings which are suitably conditioned by realities of life.

Besides having an in-depth understanding of human nature, writers have to be aware of two other important factors:

i. Audience: Writers have to identify their potential readers at the onset as this will enable them to better plan for ways in drawing attention to their work – in the same way that advertising agencies identify potential market segments to increase the likelihood of sales through advertising. So, who are the likely readers for a piece of writing on gambling addiction? They are most likely current gambling addicts, ex-gambling addicts, individuals whose loved ones may be gambling addicts, counsellors, researchers or a typical, curious reader.

ii. Purpose:After identifying the target audience, writers have to understand the reasons why their readers are reading this piece of writing. For typical readers and researchers, we can safely assume the former is seeking enrichment material to increase their general knowledge or perhaps pique their curiosity, while the latter is possibly searching for relevant material to use in their research or publication of upcoming research papers. For these two types of readers, the order of the factors do not matter as much as the rest of the readers mentioned in the above paragraph, since typical readers and researchers are both reading for information and/or desire to be educated.

For counsellors ,current and past gambling addicts as well as individuals whose loved ones have gambling addiction problems, it is quite different. Such individuals are reading not for information but for a rationale to explain, understand and/or prevent problem gambling. Hence, the readers’ concerns and emotions must be thoroughly attended to, preferably through the use of logos and ethos. And this can only be achieved through the use of properly flowing paragraphs.

i. Family problems (As most individuals value loved ones and prioritise them, this should rank among the first few argument points being put across)

ii. Financial problems +Loss of personal properties (Not being able to a financially-free or debt-free life is almost everyone’s concern but as most individuals value family over finances, this is proposed to be the follow-up point)

iii. Increased chances of societal isolation (Social contact is important to one’s physical and mental well-being but this is often a secondary consideration over the first two factors. Thus, this becomes the third most important point).

iv. Increased possibility of engaging in criminal activities (This is without doubt an important factor. However, while the other three factors are narrations of factually unavoidable consequences, this one is more of a prediction . As such, this factor is placed last.

It is important to note that this is not the only optimal sequence (after all, the ordering of the factors above need not adhere strictly to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as well). Different writers would be inclined to attempt different combinations. The most important thing lies in being able to create the seamless flow between adjacent paragraphs such that one point ultimately builds on another both logically and/or emotionally.

Let’s have a look at how the body paragraphs flow as one using the order of the abovementioned factors, engaging the viewers both emotionally and logically:

When gambling habits turn addictive, the gamblers’ families are the first to suffer. Not to forget, the adverse effects suffered are often progressive and cumulative. Bills stack up. Personal family time is lost. Debts increase. Happiness levels decline. Children are denied parental love. When gambling habits go down the obsessive path, family relationships are often the first “collateral damage”. For singles, gambling addiction often prevents gamblers from accepting advice and help from their parents and siblings. For the married, spousal abuse and divorces are common. In a nutshell, gambling addiction often dooms a family to endless despair.

When addicted gamblers isolate themselves from their families or get ostracised by their families, their finances take a hit since it is very challenging for them to live an independent life without proper financial planning, not to mention being saddled with mounting debts. This is made worse when gambling addiction denies them from getting a job – which means a loss of income or rather, a lack of income. Subsequently, gamblers resort to pawning their belongings and mortgaging houses for cash. In the end, they stand to lose every bit of property they once owned. Add to the fact that they may no longer have a roof over their heads, they could become socially stigmatised, and looked down upon by those around them.

Being sidelined by society often lowers one’s self-esteem and confidence levels over time. Depression could therefore set in. Also, in a bid to live from one day to the next, some gambling addicts might even partake in criminal activities such as robbery or theft. Prison beckons to the unfortunate ones being caught, and while some become rehabilitated on the inside, others never learn the errors of their ways and become repeat offenders who go in and out of jail frequently.

To conclude, penning the body paragraph is not merely a matter of stringing words or sentences together. It is more of a connection of logic and emotions, rationality and feelings, hearts and minds. It is about relating to readers in such a way that they are largely enticed to follow the thread of thoughts behind the expressions, in so doing therefore coming to understand, assimilate and synthesize connections with the ideas behind written words using their own set of personal life experiences.

The best and most persuasive writers, ultimately seek to relate to and engage their readers. And in some circumstances, rouse them into action. The art of persuasion thus attests to the adage that the pen is almost always mightier than the sword, for steel merely penetrates the physical, however emotionally potent and rationally resonating written expressions often glide through the hearts and minds of a mortal, thrusting them into the deep reaches of truth and realization.

In my final post of the series, we shall proceed to discuss how to provide proper conclusion to discursive essays.

The above post was published with the permission of English writing specialist Mr Patrick Tay. This first appeared on his BLOG.