Maybe we should agree that the five paragraph essay format is a bit too popular as there are too many people who don’t want to read more. “Spell it out in five paragraphs” - that is what a busy boss might ask you to do if he needs a brief or an office memo. And that would be quite an awkward moment to ask the question: “What is a 5 paragraph essay, boss”?
It is just a common writing task often assigned to students, given at different exams, tests, and job interviews. Even more, it is a very popular text format for web pages, online news, and various kinds of blogs as it is fast to read and suitable to deliver a message or two.
Once you get your first 5 paragraph essay assignment, the first question you might have in mind is “How many words should a 5 paragraph essay be?” There are no strict limitations for the word count. Normally it is from 500 to 800 words. Try to stay within these limits and make sure your paragraphs are of the same size, more or less.
Neither there is an exact number of sentences. It can be 25, five sentences each paragraph, of 35 (seven sentences each), or something around it. Everything depends on your writing and on your task. Just remember that writing is rather an art than a craft, and you cannot rely too much on the measurements, so you’d better stop asking “How long should a 5 paragraph essay be?”.
You should consider writing a 5 paragraph essay as a useful creative task, and not as a burden. The habit you are going to acquire with it is very useful in life. It disciplines your mind and thoroughly primes it for being able to deliver your message in a clear, plain and easy to comprehend form. With this much-longer-than-five-paragraph article, we give you some useful tips and advice on how to quickly learn the art of writing such essays.
For academic essays, there are six basic types:
Persuasive essays are usually based on your opinion. Convince your reader about your ideas and views with a clear argument.
Argumentative essays are needed to check your ability to think critically and analytically. Be critical to provide either positive or negative opinion on the issue.
Expository essays explain or describe a topic, providing more information and facts. They are often used as an exam task assignment, for standard testing etc.
Narrative essays stay a bit aside as they are focused on a plot and therefore are arranged chronologically. Use them for story-telling, writing a synopsis and so on.
Cause and Effect essays explore casual chains, often (but not always) arranged in chronological order. They require strong logic and clear, exhaustive explanations.
Compare and Contrast essays are written on the basis of comparisons and analogies, highlighting similarities and differences.
There are other types of essays - dialectic, economic, descriptive etc. Do not confuse with different kinds as they are often transitional. Economic essays can be of argumentative or expository or other types as the economic matters might require approaches depending on the task. One day you might find yourself writing a five paragraph essay in a ‘hybrid’ persuasive and cause and effect style as your assignment might require precisely this approach.
But in general you should be careful with mixing and combining different types in one essay, especially with your first works. Stick to the type chosen or given.
Being limited to the given 5 paragraph essay format, you should follow the following structure of your written work:
§1: The Introduction. How long should an introduction be for a 5 paragraph essay?
Your introduction can be 5-7 sentences long. It must be an eye-catching, curiosity-rising piece of writing to introduce your reader to the topic and to pre-determine the whole structure of your essay.
Don’t hesitate to broadly outline the problematics, to further specify your focus, and to briefly explain why you think the topic is important. In the introduction, you set the tone and the direction. Which means that you should balance: show your understanding of the problem in more general contexts and narratives, but don’t beat around the bush - you have neither time nor space for it.
Remember that your first sentence is the one that hooks. You can tell a joke, refer to a real-life story or to a striking fact. You can also start with a rhetoric question - but don’t try to answer it. Or begin the essay with a good quote to further develop your narrative from. Alternatively, you may use an interesting statistic or a challenging question.
Any of the above will do, provided that your first sentence really gives your reader a curiosity impulse and encourages him to read your essay through with due interest. In other words, your first sentence is your first chord to quieten the hall and to make the audience listen.
After that, you may want to introduce your arguments - up to three of them, keeping in mind that in the main body you will have three paragraphs to further develop your standpoint. You don’t need to stretch your writing here. Three arguments you put in the introduction only mark the direction and give your reader an idea about your approach to the subject, your text structure and the way you are going to take your reader through the topic.
You should tell your reader what your essay is about already in your introduction. The last sentence of your intro is where you state your thesis - your strongest point, your cornerstone to build the essay on. Remember: your thesis is the last sentence of the intro, and not the first one. It is the best way to bridge the intro with the main body.
It happens quite often, that working on your main body paragraphs you find out that you have deviated from the thesis stated in the intro, actually writing about something else. Some essays may require a small deviation of this kind - for example, if you set to knock the bottom out of the arguments put in your intro, and to turn the whole thing upside down in your conclusion paragraph. But be careful with it: even in such cases, it is strongly advised not to go too far from your thesis. If you do have this cunning plan, formulate your thesis accordingly. Or just rethink your thesis statement if your writing takes you away from it.
In general, a good tip for writing a good intro is to pretend that you are writing a film trailer. This is exactly the style you need - but be wise in it.
§§ 2,3,4: The Main Body
Here you get more specific, narrowing your outline to the arguments. It is strongly recommended that every separate paragraph of the essay is dedicated to a specific point or an argument to defend your thesis. You should try to write from five to seven sentences for each of the body paragraphs, structured the following way:
The next paragraphs should be structured in the same way. Just don’t forget to use your strongest argument or evidence in the first paragraph of the body of your essay. Your weakest argument should go in the second paragraph, and your second strongest argument - in the third one.
Don’t ask why - it is a separate topic related to more complicated issues of text perceptibility. Just remember that the argument/evidence order better works the way we just stated: strongest-weakest-medium. Arrange your main body paragraphs accordingly.
You may also try to expand your argument base using additional consideration points. Bonne chance. But it is better to have your additional points related to the main ones anyway - just in order to never exceed the recommended sentence count: 5-7 for a paragraph, and to follow the recommendation of having only one argument per main body paragraph.
Do not cut your argument/evidence sentences too short. Feel free to present the main idea of every paragraph in this section of your essay in as many words as needed. You need to explain your point here, so explain. Be convincing, use details and specific examples. If you leave your arguments without properly supporting them with explanations and evidence, your writing may leave an impression of a sweeping allegation. This could ruin your work as the readers hate to read mere-assertion essays. They need to see your grip on the issue and your ability to prove and explain your points.
Since each of the three main body paragraphs presents one idea or argument to support your thesis, there is another trap to avoid. The paragraphs might be sliding sideward and not holding together as the issues and ideas they examine are too different. It can be a result of a nice try to view your key issue from different angles. The readers appreciate the integrated all-around analysis, but you should remember to link your paragraphs. The best way to avoid jumping from one to another is to logically bridge them. The ending sentence of the previous paragraph or the opening sentence of the next one should be the bridge, showing the relation between the points under consideration.
Linking words like ‘for this reason’, ‘by comparison’, ‘as a result’ etc. are also useful. Just make sure the logical transition from one paragraph to another is still there. Remember that no linking words can link the paragraphs if they are not connected with the inner logic of your essay.
§ 5: The Conclusion
The readers tend to remember your conclusion much better than the previous parts of your essay. But trying to write the best possible conclusion you might be tempted to start a new topic. Don’t do that. You only need to wrap up all that was put in the previous paragraphs, summarizing your previous statements and arguments. This part is again somewhat broader in style compared to the body paragraphs. Avoid specific examples and other details - there is no need to write about it.
It is not recommended to write a lengthy conclusion as the meaning might erode or dissolve in too many words. You should also avoid citations in this part of your essay - even good students make this mistake too often. The best way to structure your conclusion is the following:
The latter point needs more attention. It is a good idea to write your concluding sentence just as another hook placed symmetrically to the first hook in the very beginning of your essay. While it is not obligatory, it always works in your favor if you finish your essay in this way. Make your ending somewhat unexpected for the reader, surprise him with a little known fact, or with a tricky question. It is your last chord, and it must resound.
There are many five paragraph essay topics suggested for your high-school written work. You could search the web and find the best one matching your interests and knowledge. If you are given an option to come up with your own topic, make sure it would be interesting for you and not just the one representing a subject you could say something about. Your interest is what actually matters, because it is, in a way, infectious: your work will arouse your reader’s curiosity and attention in case you are truly interested in the subject matter.
Such topics usually cover a variety of social issues, popular culture, high education, racial and gender problematics, cultural diversity, morals and ethics, environmental issues and other agendas in the focus of broad public attention.
Make sure all parts of your essay hold together. Here is a trap for good students who know the subject well and have trouble with attempts to sardine several theses and many arguments in one essay. Don’t mix apples and oranges even if you are good in both. Use one thesis and support it with three arguments - that is what writing a five-paragraph essay is about.
Mind the logic and avoid deviations from your main thesis-argument line. Such deviations might develop when you use extended vocabulary. It is okay to enrich your writing with synonyms and more complicated grammar, but it should look natural. But don’t use synonyms when it comes to the core terminology of your 5 paragraph essay topic. If you write about a spade, then call a spade a spade, otherwise, you risk to mislead your reader.
This is the best possible answer to the question “How to start a 5 paragraph essay?” - just because disorganized people cannot write in a properly structured way. A five paragraph essay format leaves no place for confusing ideas. It requires a disciplined mind. But don’t despair if you think that your mind is not organized enough. You could well be wrong with this judgment. Or, even if you are right, this lack of ‘mental discipline’ can be doctored, at least for this particular task.
Start with reading your assignment several times before you begin to write a "To Kill a Mockingbird" 5 paragraph essay - just in order to make sure you understand what you are expected to do. Underline the keywords in the assignment page - they might be giving you the right image of your thesis and even provide you with a workable idea for the arguments. Don’t overlook the verbs as they give you the direct indications, like ‘summarize’, ‘argue’, ‘discuss’ or ‘give an account for’’. Try to follow what the verbs in the imperative mood are telling you.
Follow the recommendations of the structure we have listed for you above. You may find it somewhat difficult if you have never written five-paragraph essays. Then write one or two, just for yourself. Pick up one five paragraph essay topic you could easily find on the Internet, and go ahead with the structure and tips we have given you. You could be favorably impressed with the result, as well as with how easy it was.
Make Sure Your Writing Is Good Enough
There are several simple tips to help you in keeping up with the limitations and requirements of the genre of academic writing:
The Last Things To Do Before You Hand in Your Essay
Once you have finished your writing, put it aside for a day or two, and then come back to it with a fresh eye. Read it through pretending you are the reader and ask yourself a couple of questions, beginning with ‘does the intro hook enough?’. Check whether your thesis stated in the intro is relevantly and logically supported in the main body of your essay.
Make sure your conclusive statement in the last paragraph works exactly the way it is supposed to. Check the final sentence. Does it sound like a good final chord to ding in your reader’s ears for some more time?
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