What Is In A 5 Paragraph Essay

Writing assignment series

The Five Paragraph Essay

The five paragraph essay measures a student's basic writing skills,
and is often a timed exercise.

Use this Guide to help you practice and succeed at this form of writing.

Getting started means getting organized:
Analyze the assignment
; determine what is required.
With a highlighter, note important words that define the topic.
Then organize your plan

For example, you have been given this writing prompt:

You have a present that was really memorable. It could have been given for an important occasion or just for no reason at all. Tell us about the present and why it was memorable. Include the reason it was given, a description of it, and how you felt when you got it.

The objective is to write a narrative essay about this present you were given

The subject is a memorable present
The three main subtopics are:

  • the reason it was given
  • a description of it
  • and how you felt when you got it

Outline your five paragraph essay; include these elements:

Introductory Paragraph

General Topic Sentence: memorable present

  1. Subtopic One: the reason it was given
  2. Subtopic Two: a description of it
  3. Subtopic Three: how you felt when you got it
  4. (Transition)

First Supporting Paragraph

  1. Restate Subtopic One
  2. Supporting Details or Examples
  3. (Transition)

Second Supporting Paragraph

  1. Restate Subtopic Two
  2. Supporting Details or Examples
  3. (Transition)

Third Supporting Paragraph

  1. Restate Subtopic Three
  2. Supporting Details or Examples
  3. (Transition)

Closing or Summary Paragraph

  1. Synthesis and conclusion of the thesis
  2. Rephrasing main topic and subtopics.

Write the essay!

Think small; build the full essay gradually.
Divide your essay into sections and develop each piece separately and incrementally.

The Introductory Paragraph

  • The opening paragraph sets the tone
    It not only introduces the topic, but where you are going with it (the thesis). If you do a good job in the opening, you will draw your reader into your "experience." Put effort up front, and you will reap rewards.
  • Write in the active voice
    It is much more powerful. Do that for each sentence in the introductory essay. Unless you are writing a personal narrative, do not use the pronoun "I."
  • Varying sentence structure
    Review to avoid the same dull pattern of always starting with the subject of the sentence.
  • Brainstorm to find the best supporting ideas
    The best supporting ideas are the ones about which you have some knowledge. If you do not know about them, you cannot do a good job writing about them. Don't weaken the essay with ineffective argument.
  • Practice writing introductory paragraphs on various topics
    Even if you do not use them, they can be compared with the type of writing you are doing now. It is rewarding to see a pattern of progress.

Supporting Paragraphs

  • Write a transition to establish the sub-topic
    Each paragraph has to flow, one to the next.
  • Write the topic sentence
    The transition can be included in the topic sentence.
  • Supporting ideas, examples, details must be specific to the sub-topic
    The tendency in supporting paragraphs is to put in just about anything.
    Avoid this: the work you have made above with details and examples will help you keep focused.
  • Vary sentence structure
    Avoid repetitious pronouns and lists
    Avoid beginning sentences the same way (subject + verb + direct object).

The Ending or Summary Paragraph
This is a difficult paragraph to write effectively.
You cannot assume that the reader sees your point

  • Restate the introductory thesis/paragraph with originality
    Do not simply copy the first paragraph
  • Summarize your argument with some degree of authority
    this paragraph should leave your reader with no doubt as to your position or conclusion of logic
  • Be powerful as this is the last thought that you are leaving with the reader.

Edit and revise your essay

Check your spelling and grammar
Subjects and verbs agree, and verb tenses are consistent

Examine your whole essay for logic
Thought builds and flows?
Avoid gaps in logic, or too much detail.

Review individual sentences

  • Use active verbs to be more descriptive
    Avoid passive constructions and the verb "to be"
  • Use transitional words and phrases
    Avoid sentences beginning with pronouns, constructions as "There are....,"
    Example: "There is a need to proofread all works" becomes "Proofreading is a must."
  • Be concise
    though vary the length and structure of sentences

Ask a knowledgeable friend to review and comment on your essay
and to repeat back what you are trying to say. You may be surprised.

Seven stages of writing assignments:

Index | Develop your topic (1) | Identify your audience (2) |
Research (3) | Research with notecards | Summarizing research |
Prewrite (4) | Draft/write (5) | Revise (6) | Proofread (7)

Writing assignments

Writing for the "Web" | The five-paragraph essay | Essays for a literature class |
Expository essays | Persuasive essays | Position papers | Open book exams |
Essay Exams | White papers | Lab reports/scientific papers | Research proposals

 
Elizabeth Guzik

Basic College Writing Tips

Welcome to College: Say Goodbye to the Five-Paragraph Essay

Many students learned in high school to write what is commonly known as the five paragraph essay.  This handout is designed to help you see the weaknesses of that syle of essay and to help you learn to write something more complex that that formulaic essay.  The Five Paragraph Essay consists of (surprise!) five paragraphs that follow a very structured format.  The first paragraph contains a one sentence (or maybe a two sentence) thesis statement, which is followed by three sentences that briefly describe what will be discussed in the three body paragraphs.  These three sentences are sometimes referred to as the pathway, since they show where the paper will go.  There may then be a transitional sentence to the next paragraph, which discusses the topic of the first pathway sentence.  The next two body paragraphs develop and detail the next two pathway sentences.  The conclusion, the fifth paragraph, restates and summarizes the arguments of the essay, sometimes beginning with the phrase, “In conclusion.”

The strength of the five paragraph essay is that it is highly structured, and fairly easy to teach.  It provides a very formulaic style of writing that many students find helpful.  However, once you reach the college level, the weaknesses outweigh the strengths.  The five paragraph essay encourages students to engage only on the surface level without attaining the level of cogency demanded by college writing.  In its broad, overarching style, it has a tendency to encourage overly general thesis statements that lead to poorly developed and unfocused papers.  And its formulaic nature makes it prone to produce papers with stilted organization.  Not to mention that it is next to impossible to write five pages of one without repeating yourself.  The only time the five paragraph essay may be useful in college is when you are writing answers to brief essay questions on exams.  In timed situations that do not allow you to come up with a complex organization, the five pragraph essay format can be helpful to structure your ideas if you are easily overwhelmed by the number of points you have to make.

So, if you're not allowed to write the kind of essay your high school teachers taught you, what exactly else are you supposed to write?  The easiest thing to remember is that with a few sentence level changes, each pathway sentence from a traditional five paragraph essay would make a great working thesis for the kind of argumentative, thesis-driven paper that you are asked to write in  college.  Here’s an example in answer to the prompt, “What fundamental change would improve high school education ?”.

High school education has several problems which must be solved to prepare America’s youth for the challenges of the 21st century.  Overcrowded classrooms mean that students do not receive the individualized attention that they need to succeed.  Increasing rates of crime are making students afraid to come to school, and preventing students from concentrating while they are there.  In addition, the lack of technological resources like state of the art computers is preventing students from being competitive in the workplace after graduation.  These problems all mean that some students are falling behind.
When students fall behind, they need the attention of an instructor one on one to catch up.  Because classrooms are so crowded, teachers are overworked.  As a result.  .  .

OR

High schools across the country are bulging at the seams.  As increasing numbers of Americans realize that education is necessary to attaining the American dream, our schools grow more crowded.   At the same time, budget cuts have caused schools to cut back on the number of teachers.    As the number of teachers has dropped, and classrooms have become more crowded, the quality of education in our public schools has declined.  With a higher workload, burnout among even the best teachers has increased, and fewer people see teaching as the desirable profession they once did.  Solving the problem of overcrowding by strictly limiting class size to 20 students would allow more students to get the instruction they need to become productive members of society, which is the most important goal of high school education in America today.

Can you see the difference between the two parargraphs?  Let's take a closer look:


 

5  Para EssayCollege Essay
High school education has several problems which  Solving theproblem of overcrowding would allow more
must be solved to prepare America’s youth for the  students toget the instruction they need to become
challenges of the 21st century.productive members of society whichis the most
important goal of high school education in America today.
This thesis states the obvious.  It is so general thatThis statement narrows the topic down to a specific problem:
just about anything you threw into the essay could be used overcrowding. It also states why overcrowding is a problem.
to support it – but you would end up with a very unfocusedThe sentence implies that overcrowding is preventing at least some students
essay.  Also note the use of vague wording – from getting the education they need to
“several problems.”  Finally, a college paper must take a “become productive members of society,” which the thesis
position that a rational person would disagree with.  itself identifies as a primary goal of high school education.
What rational person would not agree with this sentence?There are lots of rational people who would choose another
problem as the worst obstacle facing high school education.
There are also lots of rational people who would argue for a
 different primary goal of high school education.

Many students when transitioning from the 5 paragraph essay to the college essay express concern about what else to put in the introductory paragraph.  Certainly, the five paragraph essay gives you a clear formula for what else to include in the introduction.  However, to excel at college writing, students need to think about the function of the introductory paragraph.  Introductory pararaphs are designed to give readers a preview of the essay topic and introduce the writer's point of view on the subject.  You do not need to have one sentence in the introduction for each paragraph in the paper.  You simply need to give enough of an overview of where you are going to give readers a sense of the overall arc of your argument.  An introduction is kind of like a movie preview--it tells the reader enough that he or she knows what to expect, but it does not give a scene by scene breakdown of the movie.

Even though a more complex essay will not have a one to one correspondance of setences to paragraphs, readers can still make a good guess about what will be included in that kind of essay.  Here is what an outline for the essays that follow each of those thesis statements and introductory pararaphs might look like:
 

5 Para EssayCollege Essay
1.  Overcrowding interferes with instruction.1.The primary goal of a high school education is to make all students, not just a certain select few, 
2.  Increasing crime makes students afraid/unable to work.into productive members of society.
3.  No tech resources means not prepared for work force.2. As jobs become more competitive, more people need and are seeking an education.
4.  Conclusion3. Budget cuts mean fewer teachers in schools, which reduces the quality of classroom instruction.
 4. Teachers get burned out when classes are overcrowded.
 5. In overcrowded classrooms, too many students get lost or slip through the cracks.
6. Conclusion suggesting what the result of solving the problems might be for society.

Obviously, the second essay is going to come out longer and more complex than the first.  This seems counterintuitive to many students at first glance.  You would think that an essay with three main points would be longer than one with one main point.  The difference is that the college essay asks you to ask more probing questions--to examine the hows and whys behind each point and push your analysis further.
 
 

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