Although it is rarely used by professional writers
, the five paragraph essay format is popular in secondary schools because it helps teach students how to organize and develop their ideas in writing. From middle school to high school, the average student is assigned dozens of these essays
before they are introduced to more complicated and challenging formats, such as the research paper.
Why does it work?
Like many things, simplicity is the key. A student who struggles with basic composition, and many do, can always remember the elementary structure of the five paragraph essay
. If he is taking a test or an exam and encounters an essay question, he should be able to recall that the five paragraphs consist of an introduction, three main body paragraphs, and a conclusion. This simple structure should allow him to adequately answer the question in a clear and concise way.
In this article, we will discuss each of the five paragraphs, the thesis, and transitions, which are the glue that holds the paper together. As simple as this format may be, all of the ingredients must be included to achieve the desired result. If a single component is left out, the essay will mostly likely be clunky, jagged, and unfocused. With that in mind, let us review each of the five paragraphs individually.
Grabbing a reader's attention from the outset is a rare and sought-after skill few writers possess
. We might think of Charles Dickens, who had more than a few memorable opening lines, including, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Of course, no one expects you to match Mr. Dickens, but giving a reader a reason to peruse your paper is imperative.
The introductory paragraph of your essay should begin with a general discussion of your topic and narrow its focus to a more specific principal point, or thesis, when it ends. On occasion, these essays commence with what are commonly called "grabbers," which are challenging claims or brief anecdotes designed to pique the reader's interest.
The thesis is the most important sentence in the entire paper, and it typically appears at the end of the introductory paragraph. It should be no more than one or two sentences long, since its purpose it to briefly and concisely tell the reader what the rest of your paper will be about.
For example, let's say that your essay is about the importance of smoking bans in public places to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. Your essay might begin with a few basic numbers and facts that demonstrate how insidious secondhand smoke actually is. You might also include a grabber, which might take the form of a personal story where an innocent victim was injured or killed by secondhand smoke. Finally, you would end the paragraph with a thesis sentence (or two) that would state your reasons for recommending that smoking bans in public places be upheld and promoted. Each of these three reasons would then be discussed in the body of your essay.
Main body paragraphs
All three body paragraphs must focus on a single idea that supports your thesis sentence. They should begin with a succinct topic sentence, which is a mini thesis of sorts, since it states the main gist or gravamen of the paragraph. Using our earlier example, your first paragraph might discuss the many health problems that secondhand smoking causes.
As far as length is concerned, each paragraph should be roughly the same. But the main consideration should always be explaining and making your point. If it takes a little longer in one paragraph than the rest, so be it. Just make certain that you use specific examples that can be understood by the average reader.
Your conclusion should always start with a reiteration of your thesis sentence, but do not repeat the sentence verbatim. Instead, put it in different words or simply paraphrase it. Next, you will want to summarize the points you made in each of your three main body paragraphs. You can include a few more sentences, but do not add any new or extraneous information. All of the sentences in your conclusion should essentially summarize what you said in your paper. Lastly, you will want to go out on a high note with a memorable closing line. It need not be as specific or succinct as your thesis statement, but it should express your feelings and opinions on the subject.
One last word on this concluding or final statement-in certain essays, especially in persuasive papers, you can include a "call to action." In our previous example, you might want to ask readers to contact their congressmen to make certain that these smoking bans stay in place and are expanded to all public areas.
Now that you have completed your paper, you must make sure that it reads well or flows. As simple as the five paragraph format may be, most inexperienced writers pen each paragraph individually, so that they often read like unconnected sections. This can have a jarring effect on the reader, since the essay simply jumps from one idea to the next. What you need to correct this common problem are transitions, which are used to connect each paragraph to the next.
What are they?
Just as in fiction, you must use the end of one paragraph to show some sort of relationship with the next one. Theses transitions can be included in either the last sentence of the earlier paragraph or the topic sentence of the next one. There are several simple ways to use them.
Probably the most popular and effective transition is when the next paragraph explains something of greater significance. Since it is often advisable to move from weaker points to stronger ones, you might begin that second paragraph with the adverb, "More importantly." That is a fairly simple link that connects the two paragraphs and demonstrates that you are moving from weaker to stronger points.