The five paragraph essay is often the standard taught essay for students in middle and high school. In many cases, schools are teaching the five paragraph essay format even earlier, in the upper grades of grade school. The principle behind this type of essay is that it helps to logically organize the thoughts and leads to a well-supported thesis.
The five paragraph essay is organized into three sections: introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction must include a thesis statement, which is the main theme or main argument one wishes the essay to pursue. A strong thesis statement is far easier to support, and a missing thesis statement will mean the essay does not have a defined direction. One should be able to reduce the theme of the essay to one coherent sentence.
This can actually be easily done when one gets assigned topics in question form. Generally the thesis can simply be rearranging the question into a declarative form. For example, the question before you might be: Was Mark Twain opposed to slavery? This could translate to a statement: Mark Twain was opposed to slavery, or Mark Twain supported slavery.
The first paragraph also lists the three points that will serve as examples, or further your theme. So for our essay on Mark Twain, a thesis statement might be followed with: Huck Finn shows the injustice of slavery, the fear of the slave having to go south, and the ignorance in which most slaves were held.
The three body paragraphs would then follow, and each would take up one of these three statements with appropriate cited examples. Each body paragraph should ideally be about five to seven sentences long, and should work on one subject only. This is often confusing for students when they find they have more that they want to say, on “the injustice of slavery,” perhaps. If a person requiring the essay wants the student to remain rigidly in five paragraph form, one may have to merely take the bare essentials to prove the thesis, and forget using other examples.
The fifth paragraph in the essay ends with a conclusion. The conclusion briefly restates the thesis, may touch a little bit more on the examples, and then perhaps makes a statement about how the thesis might affect the world now, or you personally. It might end with a question, which is meant to provoke further thought on the thesis. The conclusion should not include the words “In conclusion,” as these are considered tired beyond use, and the writer should recognize that most people will note their fifth paragraph is their conclusion.
Certain standardized tests rely on the five paragraph essay. These include many high school exit examinations, the SAT essay portion, the CBEST, and the Writing English Proficiency Test (WEPT), which many junior or sophomores in college take.
However, most colleges are going to expect that students have progressed past the five paragraph essay format. The essay format of introduction, body and conclusion will remain, but it will not be limited to a five paragraph format. This can cause confusion for students who have mastered the five paragraph essay, but have not learned how to write a longer essay. “A” students in high school can find themselves writing “C” papers in college because they have not gone beyond the format. Gaining an instructor’s help to move into writing longer papers can soon have one writing just as well in college, with more emphasis on the body of the essay which could include far more than three paragraphs.