Remember when you were in middle school and you had to learn to write a five-paragraph essay?
Remember learning about thesis statements, opening paragraphs, conclusions and proving your point?
You remember? Good. Because now it’s time to learn how to do it all in German.
But don’t close this tab in panic! Although essays in many foreign languages are structured differently than in English, German essays are actually quite similar to their English equivalents. (Phew!)
And it’s very important to learn how to write and structure an argument in German if you’re planning to study there someday, or even if you’re simply interested in taking a class at the Goethe Institute or another German-language school at some point.
So read on to discover everything you need to know about writing essays auf Deutsch.
What Are German Essays Like?
- They are structured similarly to English essays. Remember above when I mentioned the five-paragraph English essay with a beginning, middle and end? Good news: German essays contain those same parts. When you’re writing a German essay, you’ll want to include an opening paragraph with your argument, three supporting paragraphs that further your argument, and a conclusion. German and English are often surprisingly similar, and essay structure is no exception.
- German essays are more to the point. Although German essays and English essays are structured similarly, German essays—just like German speakers—tend to be more blunt and to the point. You won’t need to dance around your conclusions or obfuscate in German: just say what you mean.
- German punctuation is different. Germans have different rules for punctuation than English speakers. For example, Germans introduce a direct quote with a colon instead of a comma. They use quotes instead of italics for the names of books, movies and newspapers. And they set off relative clauses beginning with dass (that) with a comma, unlike in American English. Understanding these differences between English and German punctuation will ensure you don’t give yourself away as a non-native speaker through punctuation marks alone!
4 Successful Strategies for Writing an Essay in German
Are you ready to start writing? Use these four strategies to wow your teachers and write the perfect German essay.
1. Write down a list of words that you want to incorporate.
When you’re getting ready to write your essay, make sure to make a list of words that you want to incorporate.
You should look at any new activity as an opportunity to learn and master new vocabulary. Instead of using the same words that you use in your everyday German speech, use this essay as an opportunity to introduce new words into your German lexicon.
Besides, incorporating academic words that help you craft and shape your argument can make your essay sound more professional and polished.
Here are some examples of words that might help you craft and shape your argument:
- einerseits (on the one hand)
- Am Anfang(at the beginning)
- schließlich (in conclusion)
Find more good words to use in your essay here.
2. Do your research.
After you’ve chosen your words for the essay, it’s important to spend some time doing research on your essay topic.
As with everything else, you should look at the research portion of the essay-writing process as an opportunity to learn more about Germany—this time, about German culture, history, politics or travel. Chances are if you’re writing your essay for a language-learning class, you’ll be assigned a topic pertaining to one of these aspects of German life, so use this as a chance to learn more about Deutschland.
Deutsche Welle offers information and resources about German history, while news magazine Der Spiegeloffers a look at German culture and politics, and other newspapers such as Berliner Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung offer another perspective on politics and daily life in Germany.
3. Make an outline using transition words.
After you’ve completed your research, make an outline of your major points, making sure to incorporate transition words.
There’s nothing clunkier than an essay that doesn’t flow naturally from one point to the next. Besides, thinking about how your arguments and points interact with each other will help you organize your essay and make sure you get your point across. (Do they support each other? Counter each other? How exactly do they function to further your argument?)
Examples of transition words:
- zur gleichen Zeit (at the same time)
4. Don’t write it in English and then translate into German.
When you’re writing your essay, make sure you avoid the oh-so-tempting practice of writing it in your native language and then translating it into German.
This is a bad idea on several levels. Writing an essay in English and then translating it into German often results in stilted, poorly formed sentences and unnatural constructions. For example, remember that German word order is different from English. If you write “He didn’t read the book,” a one-to-one literal translation would be Er hat gelesen nicht das Buch. But the correct translation is actually Er hat nicht das Buch gelesen. In this example, translating word for word leads to errors.
There’s another, less tangible reason why it’s not a good idea to write in English and translate to German. Sure, in the example above, you could just remember that you need to change the word order when translating into German. But isn’t it better to adapt your brain so that German word order seems fluid and natural? Learning to think and write off-the-cuff in German is an essential step towards fluency, and devising sentences in German, instead of sentences in translation, will help you learn to do that.
So, simply start writing the essay in German. Look up any words you’re not sure of and double-check any grammatical constructions that you’re not familiar with. After you finish writing, ask a German-speaking friend to look over the essay to make sure it sounds natural.
An Example of a German Essay
Now that we’ve explored four strategies for writing top-notch German essays, let’s take a look at an example. A popular topic in Europe right now is World War I, since the war was taking place a hundred years ago. World War I doesn’t get very much play in the States, but for Europe, World War I was a devastating example of the dangers of modern technological warfare and the horrors of violence.
Let’s take a look at an example opening paragraph and outline of an essay about the effect of World War I on German government and life.
Der Erste Weltkrieg war ein totaler Krieg, der Deutschland völlig veränderte. Dieser Krieg hat 1914 angefangen, und 1918, als der Krieg zu Ende kam, waren die deutsche Gesellschaft, Regierung und Kultur nicht mehr erkennbar. Am Anfang hat der Erste Weltkrieg altväterliche Ideen und Systeme verstärkt. Am Ende hat dieser Krieg dagegen diese altväterlichen Dinge zerstört.
(The First World War was a total war that completely changed Germany. This war began in 1914 and in 1918, when the war came to an end, German society, government and culture were no longer recognizable. At the beginning, the First World War strengthened old-fashioned ideas and systems. However by the end, this war destroyed these old-fashioned things.)
Notice that this opening paragraph is not very different at all from the first paragraph of an English essay. You can use the same structure you’ve always used to write your German essay, leaving you free to focus on grammar and vocabulary. Notice also the use of phrases such as Am Anfang (at the beginning) and Dagegen (however). Words like these can help you make a point and counterpoint in your opening paragraph (or anywhere in your essay, for that matter).
I. Am Anfang (at the beginning):
– Dieser Krieg hat Deutschland vereint. (This war united Germany)
– Menschen hatten ein patriotisches Gefühle. (People had a patriotic feeling)
– Menschen dachten, dass der Krieg bald zu Ende kommen würde. (People thought that the war would soon come to an end).
Notice that these points employ words like dachten (thought). Written German often relies on Präteritum, a form of the past tense that’s rarely used in spoken Deutsch. It’s often called “literary past tense” for this reason. Check out this guide to the Präteritum to include this tense in your essay.
II. Andrerseits (on the other hand):
– Bald gab es kein mehr Essen. (Soon there was no more food)
– Menschen wurden krank und desillusioniert. (People became sick and disillusioned)
– Es gab Proteste und Unruhen (There was protest and unrest).
Like in an English essay, your second and third paragraphs can include supporting points or counterpoints that contribute to the overall theme of your piece. The word Andrerseits (on the other hand) is an ideal transition word to show that you’re moving into another section of your essay.
Also notice that this essay will rely on vocabulary words that the average language learner might not have come across in his or her learning. After all, who learns the words for “disillusioned” and “unrest” in their intermediate German class? But don’t be daunted by the fact that your essay might include eclectic vocabulary. Instead, use this as an opportunity for more learning.
III. zum Schluss (in conclusion):
– Der Kaiser hat abgedankt. (The Emperor abdicated)
– Eine Republik wurde geboren (A Republic was born)
– Die alten Werte waren weg. (The old values were gone)
Once again, abgedankt (abdicated) is an example of the literary past tense (and an example of a word that you probably haven’t come across in your previous German studies!)
IV. Schließlich (finally)
– Der Erste Weltkrieg hat Deutschland verändert. (the First World War completely changed Germany)
Again, like in an English essay, you should use this paragraph to summarize your main point.
Writing an essay in a foreign language might seem like a daunting task, but follow these four strategies and you’ll be well on your way to arguing your point auf Deutsch.
And One More Thing…
If you like learning authentic German, then you’ll love FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into German learning experiences.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the German language and culture over time. You’ll learn German as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU brings native videos within reach using interactive transcripts.
Just tap on any subtitled word to see an in-context definition, usage examples and a helpful illustration.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s Learn Mode. Simply swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store. The Android app is coming soon!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn German with real-world videos.
Experience German immersion online!
The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.