The Five-Paragraph Essay: Basic Essay Organization
Writing assignments vary widely in terms of content, length, and rhetorical strategy, but nearly all stem from the basic building block of essay writing: the five-paragraph essay. If a paper has an unclear purpose, vague or disorganized points, or a murky introduction and conclusion, a review of the five-paragraph essay may be just what the writer needs to clarify and organize ideas.
- Introduction (First Paragraph)
Start with an attention-getter to introduce readers to the topic and allow them to become interested in it. Some popular attention-getters are: a question; a quotation; an idea that is opposite to the one the paper will develop; a brief anecdote; a general statement that narrows to the specific topic; or a startling fact or a statistic.
- Thesis Statement
The thesis statement is one sentence (sometimes two) that expresses the main idea of the essay. Following is a helpful formula: thesis statement = topic + point.
- Optional Plan of Development (or Signposts)
Many writers follow the thesis with a brief introduction to the main points of the essay. Either in a separate sentence or as part of the thesis statement, these “signposts” help readers know what lies ahead. Signposts should be presented in the order in which the points appear in the body of the essay.
- Body (Second, Third and Fourth Paragraphs)
Since many essays contain three main points, the five-paragraph essay is based on this number, although this is certainly not mandatory.
- Elements of a Body Paragraph
1) Topic Sentence
This mini-thesis statement introduces the topic and point of the paragraph.
2) Supporting Sentences
A well-developed paragraph will support the topic sentence with explanation, concrete details, and examples.
Transitions are words or phrases that build bridges between sentences and paragraphs to help an essay flow smoothly. Some examples of common transitions: first; next; in addition; finally; consequently; however; and nonetheless.
- Organizational Strategies for Body Paragraphs
Some assignments may give students specific guidelines for organizing essay sections, but often this is up to the student. The following basic patterns can be used to organize main points in an essay or supporting ideas in a paragraph. These patterns are designed for essay writing; a newspaper or magazine article, for example, would follow a different pattern designed for that distinct audience.
1) Chronological Order
Arrange points in time order: first, second, third, etc.
2) Spatial Order
Arrange points as they are seen from a specific location. If one were describing the office of the future, for example, one could start with the entrance, then discuss the reception area, and finally describe the individual offices.
3) Emphatic Order
Arrange points from least to most: least to most complex, least to most important, least to most developed, etc. Readers will remember the last point most clearly, and an essay that builds up to this point ends on a strong note.
- Conclusion (Fifth Paragraph)
1) Final Statement of Main Idea
Return to the main idea, but avoid simply restating it. Since the audience has now read the essay, the writer can tie main points together in a more meaningful and complex way than in the introduction.
2) Optional Final Thoughts
Just as the attention-getter creatively opened the essay, final thoughts can artfully close it. This is where a writer can emphasize the relevance, importance, or impact of the topic or study, or perhaps motivate readers to action. Such food for thought can help the essay’s ideas linger on in the mind of the reader, even after the act of reading is finished.