In recent posts, I’ve referred to the five-paragraph essay. If you’re not familiar with this way of writing, I highly recommend that you polish it before jumping into TOEFL-style writing, which requires you to fit as much information into a smaller space.
What are the advantages of the five-paragraph essay?
If you play a musical instrument, you’re probably familiar with etudes. An etude is a piece of music that’s written not to be beautiful, but to practice a particular skill. They’re not as exciting to play as a Beethoven sonata or a Brahms variation, but they help you to learn the physical demands that such pieces require without having to worry about anything else. If you’re an athlete, then think of doing sit-ups, push-ups, and laps. Even though these exact activities aren’t required to play soccer, for example, they allow you to kick, and run that much better—and that’s essential.
Similarly, a five-paragraph essay gives you a clear structure to follow so you can focus on getting your ideas in order without worrying as much about how the pieces of your essay should fit together.
Why don’t we use the five-paragraph essay more often?
Would you pay money to watch David Beckham do sit-ups or push-ups? Well, maybe. But it’s a lot more fun to watch him play soccer. Similarly, a five-paragraph essay simply isn’t much fun for the reader or the writer. It’s predictable; it’s unadventurous; unless expertly written, it often feels choppy. So if you open a book of essays, you’re unlikely to see anyone using this exact format; 99% of the time, we use it for practice only.
Planning your five-paragraph essay
The great thing about five-paragraph essays is that they’re ridiculously easy to plan. First, think of your thesis statement. If you don’t have a thesis statement, then brainstorm some situations or ideas that relate to the topic, then think of a thesis statement that makes sense given these examples. After you’ve established your thesis, think of the three examples that best illustrate it.Think about how each one relates to the thesis and how they relate to each other. Think of some transitional words or phrases that may help you to demonstrate these relationships. Now your structure should look like this:
- Thesis Statement
- Example 1
- Example 2
- Example 3
Once I have these four bullet points, I usually start writing, dedicating one paragraph to each bullet point. Keep in mind, though, that you want to start and end at basically the same place. So as you work through each point, be sure to keep an eye towards how it will lead you back to your thesis statement in the conclusion.