The five paragraph essay is often used to get a sense of your writing skills. It’s quite straightforward: An intro paragraph, three supporting paragraphs in the middle, and a conclusion paragraph. This is also the typical format for timed writing exercises.
For example, you might be given a writing prompt like this:
“You have a song that means a lot to you. It could be a song you discovered yourself or which was first played for you by someone else. It could make you feel happy, excited, amused, contemplative, nostalgic, or some other emotion. Write about the song and why it means something to you. Include what you like about it, how you first found it, how you it makes you feel.”
The introductory paragraph contains the thesis or main idea which is stated clearly and forcefully. The next three paragraphs, or body of the essay, provide details in support of the thesis. The concluding paragraph restates the main idea and ties together the major points of essay.
Although english and literature teachers use them on a regular basis, essay writing activities can pop up in many classes as an assignment or even a testing tool. A mastery of this basic form can be invaluable, especially for timed essays.
Understanding the five paragraphs
The five paragraph essay has the following standardized structure. Let’s take a closer look at each part:
Paragraph 1: The Introduction
The primary purpose of the introduction is to present your position on a given topic. You will clearly state that idea – also known as the “thesis” or “argument” – by the end of the introduction paragraph. But before getting to that sentence, your thesis statement, it can extremely effective to provide some kind of hook that will grab the interest of the reader and compel them to keep reading and learn more.
For your hook, you might play off a quotation (“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. So do I…”) or note an interesting statistic (“Only one out of five dentists believes…”).
“The thesis is a straightforward, single-sentence explanation of your position.”
With your hook in place, you can move on to your thesis, which is a straightforward, single-sentence explanation of your position. It should be clear, but simply stated, leaving no room for confusion as to where you stand on a given topic. (“John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is the saddest song in the world.”) With that established, you should provide a broad overview of the kinds of supporting information you will provide in the rest of your essay. This is like a little preview, giving the reader a sense of what is to come and expanding their understanding of what your essay is about. This sentence also provides a nice transition, setting up the next three paragraphs to come. You may only need three or four sentences to create an effective introduction. If so, you are in good shape and can move forward.
Paragraph 2, 3, 4: The Body Paragraphs
The body of the essay will include three paragraphs (if this is a five-paragraph essay), each limited to one main idea that supports your thesis. You should state your idea, then back it up with two or three sentences of evidence or examples. The middle paragraphs of the essay are collectively known as the body paragraphs and, as alluded to above, the main purpose of a body paragraph is to spell out in detail the examples that support your thesis. As you add supporting details or examples, make sure you are not just filling up space, but are directly addressing the supporting argument for each supporting paragraph.
“You should state your idea, then back it up with two or three sentences of evidence or examples.”
Paragraph 5: The Conclusion
The fifth and final paragraph of your five-paragraph essay will confidently restate the claim made in your thesis sentence. You have made your case now, and want to end on a strong, assertive note. Don’t just rephrase your opening in different words. It should also reference the points made in your supporting paragraphs, but should not repeat specific examples.
Effective conclusions open with a concluding transition (“in conclusion,” “in the end,” etc.) and an allusion to the “hook” used in the introductory paragraph. After that you should immediately provide a restatement of your thesis statement. This may be the fourth or fifth time you have repeated some version of your thesis. In the body paragraphs, you will want to make sure you vary your language to avoid becoming repetitious, but in this instance, since it’s the last time, you have leeway to use language similar to, or even the same, you did in your initial thesis statement back in the first paragraph.
Example Five Paragraph Essays
Now that you’ve learned how to write an effective essay, check out our Sample Essays so you can see how they are done in practice.