This is my seventh post on discursive writing. For my first post, please click here.
For this post, we will delve into the inner mechanics of the body text of discursive essays. While introductory paragraph serves as a hook to engage the reader, the body text of discursive essays (or, in fact, most types of writings), when well written, enables the readers to stream through the content in such a smooth manner that reader often do not feel that they are connecting the dots. It’s more 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 great read) when reading, with no disruptive or disjointed moments. This experience can be experienced by the readers as much as by the writers. A similar experience can be observed too when one watches a great movie when the narrative drives the plot, turning the viewing experience into one seamless flow.
For this to work, each paragraph should be seen as a team member, with one building their content on the foundations of the previous ones. And for these paragraphs to work, grammatical fluency is as important as using the precise terms and expressions to bring a point across to the readers. There are no 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 the way for the journey. What sustains the journey and makes it interesting and insightful are the 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 order 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 order works in a persuasive manner.
“Persuasion is an important factor in argumentative essays but it also plays a pivotal role in discursive essays, especially when authors are attempting to put their points 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 an in-depth understanding of human nature.
“This is the reason why young writers are often less convincing than their more mature counterparts. This is due to the former’s lack of understanding of human nature, which in turn 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). It merely means that the young has to have the opportunity in their early years to learn experientially through teamwork and interacts with others of varied personality in their early years, as doing so will expedite their understanding of human nature and hence, increases their ability to engage their readers through their writings.
Besides an in-depth understanding of human nature, writers have to be aware of two important factors:
i. Audience: Writers have to identify their potential readers early as this will provide an edge in engaging their readers – in the same way that ad 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 to be 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 audience, writers have to understand the reasons why their readers are reading this piece of writing. For typical readers or researchers, the former is merely looking for enrichment materials to increase their knowledge or to pique their curiosity, while the latter is searching for relevant materials to use in their research or for use in the publication of their research papers. For these two types of reader, the order of the factors do not matter as much as the rest of the readers mentioned above, since typical readers and researchers are both reading for information and/or 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 engaged, preferable through the use of logos and ethos. And this can only be achieved through the use of the flow of paragraphs.
There is no hard and fast rules to “creating the flow”. A possibly rational and logical order is as follows:
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 living 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 following 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 next point).
iv. Increased possibility of engaging in criminal activities (This is an important factor. However, while the other three factors are consequences, this is simply a possibility. Hence, this factor is considered last.
It is important to note that this is not the only or best combination (after all, the order of the factors above do not adhere strictly to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as well). Different writers would combine them differently. The most important thing is to be able to create the flow between the paragraphs such that one point builds on another both logically and/or emotionally for the points that you have chosen.
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. More than that, the adverse effects are often progressive and accumulative. Bills mount. Personal family time is lost. Debts increase. Happiness levels decline. Children are denied parental love. When gambling habits turn obsessive, family relationships are 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, coupled 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. Pawning belongings for cash and mortgaging houses almost become a typical practice and soon, gambling addicts will suffer a loss in personal belongings and eventually properties. With no roof over their heads, they may began to be socially stigmatised, with the first consequences being socially isolated in society – due to the negative perception associated with gambling addicts.
Being sidelined by society often lowers one’s self-esteem and confidence levels over time. Depression often sets in and some gambling addicts, in a bid to secure a sense of security over their finances, might resort to criminal undertakings such as robbery or theft. This often lands them in prison and while this is often an opportunity for gambling addicts to enter the recovery phase, some become repeat offenders instead, and the vicious cycle continues.
To conclude, penning the body paragraph is not merely a matter of stringing word or sentences together. It is more of a connection of logic and emotions, rationality and feelings, hearts and the minds. It is about relating to readers in the right way such that they can’t help but follow the thread of thoughts behind the expressions, understanding, assimilating and synthesising the ideas behind the words with their own life experiences.
The best and most persuasive writers, ultimately seek to relate and engage the readers. And in some circumstances, rouse them to action. Such persuasion art attests to the adage that the pen is almost always mightier than the sword, for steel merely cuts through metal – but emotionally and rationally resonating written expressions often glide through the hearts and minds of a mortal, thrusting them into truth and realisation.
Author’s background: Patrick Tay is an English Writing Specialist who lectures in various polytechnics in Singapore, and coaches students in English as a private tutor. His professional services can be found here.