How to Write a Five Paragraph Essay

Writing a five paragraph essay
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Why Write a Five Paragraph Essay 

When you're assigned an essay in class, it's tough to wax eloquent if you don't have a good starting point. Sure, there are lots of ways to write better in high school, but if you can't master a basic outline, you're not going to improve. The five-paragraph essay format, although basic (definitely not what you're using for the Enhanced ACT Writing Test, for example), is a good way to get started if you don't have a lot of essay writing experience.

Read on for the details!

Paragraph One: The Introduction

This first paragraph, made up of approximately 5 sentences, has two purposes

  1. Grabbing the reader's attention,
  2. Providing the main point (thesis) of the whole essay.

To get the reader's attention, your first few sentences are key. Use descriptive words, an anecdote, a striking question or an interesting fact related to your topic to draw the reader in. Practice your creativity with creative writing prompts to get some ideas for interesting ways to start an essay.

To state your main point, your last sentence in the first paragraph is key. The last sentence of the introduction tells the reader what you think about the assigned topic and lists the points that you're going to write about in the essay.

Here's an example of a good introductory paragraph given the topic, "Do you think teenagers should have jobs in high school?":

I've had a job ever since I was twelve. As a teenager, I cleaned houses for my family members, made banana splits at an ice cream parlor, and waited tables at various restaurants. I did it all while carrying a pretty good grade point average in school, too. Teenagers should definitely have jobs in high school because jobs teach them discipline, earn them cash for school, and keep them out of trouble.

  1. Attention Grabber: I've had a job ever since I was twelve. Kind of a bold statement, right?
  2. Thesis: Teenagers should definitely have jobs in high school because jobs teach them discipline, earn them cash for school, and keep them out of trouble. Demonstrates the writer's opinion, and provides the points going to be made in the essay.

    Paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 (The Body): Explaining Your Points

    Once you've stated your thesis, you have to explain yourself. The job of the next three paragraphs is to explain the points of your thesis using statistics, facts, examples, anecdotes and examples from your life, literature, the news or other places. 

    The thesis in the example introduction was "Teenagers should definitely have jobs in high school because jobs teach them discipline, earn them cash for school, and keep them out of trouble".

    1. Paragraph 2: Explains the first point from your thesis: Teenagers should have jobs while in high school because jobs teach them discipline.
    2. Paragraph 3: Explains the second point from your thesis: Teenagers should have jobs in high school because jobs earn them cash for school.
    3. Paragraph 4: Explains the third point from your thesis: Teenagers should have jobs in high school because jobs keep them out of trouble.

    In each of the three paragraphs, your first sentence, called the topic sentence, will be the point you're explaining from your thesis. After the topic sentence, you'll write 3-4 more sentences explaining why this fact is true. The last sentence should transition you to the next topic.

    Here's an example of what paragraph 2 could look like:

    Teenagers should have jobs in high school because jobs teach discipline. I know that firsthand. When I was working at the ice cream store, I had to show up every day on time or I would have gotten fired. That taught me how to keep a schedule, the first step in maintaining discipline. As a housekeeper cleaning the floors and washing the windows of my family members' homes, I learned another facet of discipline, which is thoroughness. I knew my aunts would be checking up on me, so I learned how to stick with a task until it was completely perfect. That requires a ton of discipline from a young teenager, especially when she'd rather be reading a book. In both jobs, I also had to manage my time and stay on task until it was complete. I learned this kind of discipline from holding down a job, but strict self-control is not the only lesson I learned. 

    Paragraph 5: The Conclusion

    Once you've written the introduction, explained your main points in the body of the essay, transitioning nicely between each paragraph, your final step is to conclude the essay. The conclusion, made up of 3-5 sentences, has two purposes:

    1. To recap what you've stated in the essay
    2. To leave a lasting impression on the reader

    To recap, your first few sentences are key. Restate the three major points of your essay in different words, so you know the reader has understood where you stand.

    To leave a lasting impression, your last sentences are key. Leave the reader with something to think about before ending the paragraph. You could try a quote, a question, an anecdote, or simply a descriptive sentence. Here's an example of a conclusion:

    I can't speak for anyone else, but my experience has taught me that having a job while being a student is a very good idea. Not only does it teach people to maintain self-control in their lives, it can give them the tools they need to succeed like money for college tuition or a good recommendation letter from a boss. Sure, it's hard to be a teenager without the added pressure of a job, but with all the benefits of having one, it's too important not to make the sacrifice. 

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