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The term "discourse" comes from the Latin word discursus, which means "conversational speech." Today, discourse is commonly defined as a form of speaking or writing that expresses an organized, complete thought. Traditionally, the four types of discourse are argument, narration, description and exposition
Argument is a type of discourse in which the writer or speaker attempts to convince an audience that his or her opinion is correct through logic. Argumentative discourse includes essays, lectures, sermons and political speeches. In an argument, the writer or speaker begins with a thesis, which is a clear, explicit statement of beliefs or opinions. The writer or speaker must then present evidence to support the thesis. If a listener accepts the evidence, he or she should agree with the thesis.
An argument is not the same as persuasion. In an argument, the writer or speaker presents evidence to get the audience to logically agree with his or her point of view. Persuasion, however, is designed to get an audience to both accept a particular point of view and act on that belief. For example, a successful argument might make the audience like a particular political candidate, but successful persuasion should make the audience vote for that candidate.
With narrative discourse, an audience is told a story. The story is designed to make the audience feel differently about a certain topic. Narrative discourse might take the form of a play, novel, folk tale, personal narrative or myth.
In description, something is described based on the five senses. As discourse, description is designed help the audience visualize people and places, but it also can put the audience in a particular mood or create a certain type of atmosphere. The writer or speaker uses nouns and adjectives to give the audience a sense of what something is like materially. Description might be found in a descriptive part of a novel or in a descriptive essay.
Exposition is designed to inform the audience about a topic. There are several different types of exposition, including definition, analysis, compare-and-contrast, problem-and-solution and cause-and-effect. There are many strengths and weaknesses associated with each type of exposition, and each type has a completely different purpose. For example, giving someone the definition of a word provides one type of information, whereas comparing and contrasting two differing opinions provides an entirely different type of information.
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