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
- Subtopic One: the reason it was given
- Subtopic Two: a description of it
- Subtopic Three: how you felt when you got it
First Supporting Paragraph
- Restate Subtopic One
- Supporting Details or Examples
Second Supporting Paragraph
- Restate Subtopic Two
- Supporting Details or Examples
Third Supporting Paragraph
- Restate Subtopic Three
- Supporting Details or Examples
Closing or Summary Paragraph
- Synthesis and conclusion of the thesis
- 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.
- 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 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
The five-paragraph essay is a format of essay having five paragraphs: one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs with support and development, and one concluding paragraph. Because of this structure, it is also known as a hamburger essay, one three one, or a three-tier essay.
The five-paragraph essay is a form of essay having five paragraphs:
- one introductory paragraph,
- three body paragraphs with support and development, and
- one concluding paragraph.
The introduction serves to inform the reader of the basic premises, and then to state the author's thesis, or central idea. A thesis can also be used to point out the subject of each body paragraph. When a thesis essay is applied to this format, the first paragraph typically consists of a narrative hook, followed by a sentence that introduces the general theme, then another sentence narrowing the focus of the one previous. (If the author is using this format for a text-based thesis, then a sentence quoting the text, supporting the essay-writer's claim, would typically go here, along with the name of the text and the name of the author. Example: "In the book Night, Elie Wiesel says..."). After this, the author narrows the discussion of the topic by stating or identifying a problem. Often, an organizational sentence is used here to describe the layout of the paper. Finally, the last sentence of the first paragraph of such an essay would state the thesis the author is trying to prove. The thesis is often linked to a "road map" for the essay, which is basically an embedded outline stating precisely what the three body paragraphs will address and giving the items in the order of the presentation. Not to be confused with an organizational sentence, a thesis merely states "The book Night follows Elie Wiesel's journey from innocence to experience," while an organizational sentence directly states the structure and order of the essay. Basically, the thesis statement should be proven throughout the essay. In each of the three body paragraphs one idea (evidence/fact/etc.) that supports thesis statement is discussed. And in the conclusion everything is analyzed and summed up.
Sections of the five-part essay
The five-part essay is a step up from the five-paragraph essay. Often called the "persuasive" or "argumentative" essay, the five-part essay is more complex and accomplished, and its roots are in classical rhetoric. The main difference is the refinement of the "body" of the simpler five-paragraph essay. The five parts, whose names vary from source to source, are typically represented as:
- a thematic overview of the topic, and introduction of the thesis;
- a review of the background literature to orient the reader to the topic; also, a structural overview of the essay;
- the evidence and arguments in favor of the thesis;
- the evidence and arguments against the thesis; these also require either "refutation" or "concession";
- summary of the argument, and association of the thesis and argument with larger, connected issues.
In the five-paragraph essay, the "body" is all "affirmation"; the "narration" and "negation" (and its "refutation" or "concession") make the five-part essay less "thesis-driven" and more balanced and fair. Rhetorically, the transition from affirmation to negation (and refutation or concession) is typically indicated by contrastive terms such as "but", "however", and "on the other hand".
The five parts are purely formal and can be created and repeated at any length, from a sentence (though it would be a highly complex one), to the standard paragraphs of a regular essay, to the chapters of a book, and even to separate books themselves (though each book would, of necessity, include the other parts while emphasizing the particular part).
Another form of the 5 part essay consists of
- Introduction: Introducing a topic. An important part of this is the three-pronged thesis. This information should be factual, especially for a history paper. Somewhere in the middle of introduction, one presents the 3 main points of the 5 paragraph essay. The introductory paragraph should end with a strong thesis statement that tells readers exactly what an author aims to prove.
- Body paragraph 1: Explaining the first part of the three-pronged thesis. The first sentence should transition from the introductory paragraph to the current one. The sentences that follow should provide examples and support, or evidence, for the topic.
- Body paragraph 2: Explaining the second part of the three-pronged thesis. As the previous paragraph, it should begin with a transition and a description of the topic you’re about to discuss. Any examples or support provided should be related to the topic at hand.
- Body paragraph 3: Explaining the third part of the three-pronged thesis. Like any paragraph, it should have a transition and a topic sentence, and any examples or support should be related and interesting.
- Conclusion: Summing up points and restating thesis. It should not present new information, but it should always wrap up the discussion.
In essence, the above method can be seen as following the colloquialism "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, tell 'em what you told 'em" with the first part referring to the introduction, the second part referring to the body, and the third part referring to the conclusion. The first sentence of every paragraph should be a topic sentence.
The main point of the five-part essay is to demonstrate the opposition and give-and-take of true argument. Dialectic, with its formula of "thesis + antithesis = synthesis", is the foundation of the five-part essay.
One could also use:Introduction: Hook (3 sentences), Connector (3 sentences), Thesis Body 1: Topic sentence, Evidence, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Transition, Evidence 2, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Concluding sentence Body 2: Topic sentence, Evidence, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Transition, Evidence 2, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Concluding sentence Body 3: Topic sentence, Evidence, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Transition, Evidence 2, Analysis (1), Analysis (2), Analysis (3), Concluding sentence
Introduction, Hook Statement, Background Information, Thesis Statement, Body Paragraph 1, Topic Sentence, Claim, Evidence, Concluding Statement, Body Paragraph 2, Topic Sentence 2, Claim #2, Evidence, Concluding Statement, Body Paragraph 3, Topic Sentence 3, Claim #3, Evidence, Concluding statement, Conclusion, Restatement of Thesis, Summarization of Main Points, Overall Concluding Statement, Conclusion: Sum up all elements, and make the essay sound finished. (Use about seven sentences similar to the Introduction)
Another type of 5-paragraph essay outline:
According to Thomas E. Nunnally and Kimberley Wesley, most teachers and professors consider the five-paragraph form ultimately restricting for fully developing an idea. Wesley argues that the form is never appropriate. Nunnally states that the form can be good for developing analytical skills that should then be expanded. Similarly, American educator David F. Labaree claims that "The Rule of Five" is "dysfunctional... off-putting, infantilising and intellectually arid" because demands for the essay's form often obscure its meaning and, therefore, largely automatize creating and reading five-paragraph essays.
- Corbett, Edward P.J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 4th ed. Oxford UP, 1999.
- Hodges, John C. et al. Harbrace Handbook. 14th ed.