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Constructing A Typical Five-Paragraph Essay

Although this handoutís aim is to enable students to have a guide for writing a five-paragraph essay, it goes without saying that larger essays are written in the same fashion, and so this guide is a useful tool for all essay writing.

Always begin with prewriting.

To begin writing:

1) You need to choose a topic that you are fairly knowledgeable about, and one in which you have some interest (interest is most important -- one can always do research).

2) The topic needs to be narrowed into one that can be managed easily for the size of the essay that you are doing.  (if you are writing a five-paragraph essay, a thesis statement such as "Asthma is receiving much media attention recently due to the rapid increase of persons diagnosed with the disease; it is an ailment which has many causes and many treatments and whose sufferers exhibit varied symptoms." will be too wide-ranging.)

3) Stay with the point that you are trying to make; do not meander and try to show how much you know about the subject.

4) Use a lot of details, but remain specific.

  Finding A Topic

When choosing a topic, it is fine to start out with something general that you are interested in, such as movies. Then you need to break it down into components, such as the history of movies, how they are made, the various jobs associated with movies, etc. Choose one of these, and narrow it into a topic.

Once you have come up with a topic broad enough to write a paper on, but narrow enough to be contained into the length of the paper you are writing, then you need to have a workable thesis statement (t.s.).

There are two main types of thesis statements: argumentative and informative.


Argumentative Thesis

Next, you need an arguable point, or one that you can fully develop. Let's say that you have chosen the example "Are movies worth what they cost?" First, ask yourself whether you want to argue that they are or they are not. Next you must decide at least three ways to back up your argument.

EX. Going to the theater is worth the price of the ticket because movies cost a great deal to make today, the tickets are actually cheap compared to some other forms of entertainment, and involving ourselves in the movie allows us to escape from our own problems for a couple of hours.

(Notice: the above example has 3 points, each of which will be elaborated on in the next three successive paragraphs.)

Informative Thesis

If you are most interested in the jobs that are available in the movie industry, you may want to write about a certain job, or three obscure jobs. If you chose the last example, then you only need to inform, not argue.

EX. There are several jobs in the movie industry that are not well known; three of these are the gaffer, the best boy, and the gopher.

(In this case, the next three paragraphs will focus on telling about each of the jobs, in turn.)


"Workable Thesis''

We have touched on this already, but I feel as though I need to stress the point that your workable thesis statement (t.s.) is not written in stone, and once you have finished researching for your essay, you may feel as though you want to change your t.s.

Let's say that you want to tell about the jobs, then you need to know something about the jobs, i.e., their average pay, what do they do, how common the job is, how hard the job is to get, what kind of education do you need, and so on. List what you want to say, and find out the same information for each job. When you go on to write your essay, you will want to tell the same information about each job, preferably in order in each paragraph. You may discover that you will not be able to obtain enough information to write a five-page essay, and so you will need to choose another topic. An outline of some sort will help you decide if you will be able to tackle the topic you have chosen.

Often, students will begin research on a topic with a working thesis, and during the course of researching discover they have changed their mind on their argument.  For example, students may begin writing a paper on why there should be a death penalty, but after researching their topic, they decide the death penalty is wrong.  This is perfectly fine; a working thesis is just that:  something to work with.  There is no law stating that you must keep the thesis you began with; in fact, you may rewrite it several times.  (Of course, if your thesis statement was assigned by your teacher, it is advisable that you not change it.)

It is often best to get well underway with the writing of your essay before you focus on the introduction.  Spending too much time on your intro can be frustrating and can cause a loss in the overall paper.  Plus, once you know what you are going to say, it will be easier to introduce it.


Begin to Write Your Introduction

If you were able to find enough information on your topic and you are still happy to work with your thesis statement, then you may begin to write your introduction. As a rule of thumb, an introductory paragraph should be at least a half-page long. In this paragraph, you need to introduce your topic, grab your reader's attention, have a strong thesis statement, and forecast what you are going to talk about. The thesis statement should be stated clearly. Your paper's goal should be obvious. A forecasting statement gives your reader an initial sense of a composition's meaning and organization. It previews what lies ahead. They are used in the supporting paragraphs as well as the introductory paragraph. It is an effective way to tell your reader in advance about the arrangement of the composition that follows. For instance, in the basic five-paragraph essay it is customary to develop three points in the three supporting paragraphs. These three points should be stated specifically in the forecasting statement.

One way to become acquainted with smooth, clear introductions is to look at how the professionals do it -- notice the introductions in your everyday reading, such as magazines. When you get ready to write your own introduction, begin with a few general remarks about your topic.

EX: Inflation is a fact of life; prices seem to always go up, but never down. It may often appear that every time we go to a store we discover what was $1.25 last week is now $1.35. Even when we go out to the movies to relax and forget our woes, we are often asked to spend more than what we had expected.

The above example also has a hook in it to grab the reader's attention. Everyone knows about inflation; we are all affected by rising costs. So, when the reader gets down to the thesis statement, he or she is ready to see what kind of argument you are going to put forth in favor of the ridiculous price of movie tickets.


The forecasting is included in the thesis statement above, although it can occur before the thesis statement. Forecasting's purpose is to let the reader know what you are going to be talking about. No one wants to waste their time reading something that they have no idea, or a very vague idea, what it is going to be about. This is the reason that novels have a short summary of the story on the back cover, and, from a reader's perspective, that is why we read the back cover. We do not want to read a book that is about something we are not interested in.

Supporting Paragraphs

When you have settled on a working thesis statement and have the three points that you wish to make (for a five paragraph essay) then you are ready to work on your supporting paragraphs.  In a five-paragraph essay there will be three supporting paragraphs, one for each point.  (see outline)  Each paragraph will have a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.  (A paragraph is basically a mini-essay in that way.)  The topic sentence acts like a thesis statement for the paragraph.  It sets forth specifically what the paragraph is all about.  Again, like the thesis statement, you want your topic sentence to be interesting so that your reader's attention is piqued.

Once you have your topic sentence you need to develop your paragraph with support sentences.  The support sentences must relate to the topic sentence.  They should elaborate on the topic sentence by giving details, stating facts, using illustrations, giving definitions, citing reasons, or using contrasts and comparisons.  Your support sentences should contain specific, concrete details and examples rather than vague or generalized statements.

Your paragraph should finish with a concluding statement.  You do not want to end the paragraph without a conclusion.  Just like your essay needs closure, so does your paragraph.  A good conclusion leaves your reader satisfied.

Supporting paragraphs should do just that: support your thesis statement. By the time your reader has gone through your supporting paragraphs, there should have been sufficient validation of your thesis statement so that s/he can easily agree you have proven the point you set out to make.

Transitions are necessary for a smooth flow throughout your paper.  To become a strong writer, it is necessary to familiarize yourself with the various means of transition.

A word of warning: leave yourself out of your academic paper. In other words, do not use "I think" or "In my opinion." You are writing the paper; the reader will automatically assume it is your thoughts and opinions unless otherwise stated. Do not use "I" at all in your work.



  Concluding Paragraph

The conclusion should leave your reader with a feeling of satisfaction.  It should give a sense of closure.

You should not introduce any new material in your conclusion.  The conclusion should be a wrapping-up of sorts.  It should tie your essay up in a nice, neat bow.  It should also answer the reader's question of 'So what?'  Tell the reader why you wrote this essay.  (NO!  Not "I wrote this essay because it was assigned to me in my English class.")

Some ways in which you could answer "So what?"

1. Tell why the story, etc., is valuable to you as a person.

2. Tell why the story, etc., is valuable to our society.

3. Tell what we can learn from this.

4. What does it reveal about the character(s), etc.?

5. What does it reveal about the writer's attitude toward her/his subject?

6. How has the story, etc., changed your feelings toward a particular subject?

Example from a concluding paragraph in an essay My Kinsman Major Molineux: A Study in Morality:
    "Robin fulfilled his prophecy; he has grown "wiser in time" (1062) to discover that morality is a nebulous concept, and even though he may return home, he will never be the young innocent that he was on his arrival in Boston."

If the reader had asked the author 'so what?' the author could have responded by reading this final statement.

Although your essay may not answer all the reader's questions, it should at least do what it said it would in your thesis statement.  After writing your conclusion, go back through your essay and see if you accomplished what you stated you would in your introduction.


Now you are ready to revise and edit.


After revision and editing, and then you will have your final product, ready to turn in.

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