The dialectical essay: 8 key points

  1. Definition: dialectic
    1. the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions.
  2. The overall idea. This is an essay which deals with thesis (argument) and antithesis (counter-argument), which leads to synthesis (a point which synthesizes the essence of the argument and the counter-argument).
  3. Planning. Let’s imagine for a moment that the essay title is: “Examine the representation of jealousy in Othello.” This type of essay is good to write because it is relatively easy to plan.
  4. FOR. There are always arguments for: Othello is represented primarily as a jealous husband (FIND EVIDENCE FOR THIS POINT).
  5. AGAINST. Arguments against: Othello’s jealousy is secondary compared to his obsession with loss of status (FIND EVIDENCE FOR THIS POINT).
  6. SYNTHESIS. The synthesis is where you bring both arguments for and against together and draw out larger points which synthesis (or bring together) both opposing points of view. For example with the above example, a synthesising point might be that Othello’s jealousy is fuelled by his insecurity over his position in Venetian society; Shakespeare paints a picture of a society which fundamentally views Othello as the “Other”.
  7. Different viewpoints. The “dialectical” essay is excellent at dealing with different viewpoints. Problems can occur when student veer away from the question which can happen if you’re not vigilant.
  8. Non-stop arguing! The diagram below shows how the dialectical essay (and dialectic) works: it constantly moves from point to point by forming an argument (thesis), having an opposing argument (antithesis), then synthesizing both points of view into one larger point (synthesis). The dialectic then begins again with an opposing view (antithesis) to the synthesis etc.



About @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.
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