How To Organize a Paper: The Five Paragraph Essay

Five Paragraph Essay

What is the Five Paragraph Essay?

The five paragraph essay is one of the most common ways to organize a paper. It is a style of argumentative essay that allows the author to make a claim then provide several examples in support of it. It is a common organizational structure for essays and papers in high school and in many undergraduate college courses. As the most fundamental of argumentative structures, the five-paragraph essay is important to master before attempting more complex argumentative structures.

The five paragraph essay is an effective way to organize a paper where you need to show multiple examples to support an argument or claim. Using this format, you have a main idea (often called a thesis statement or, simply, an opinion) with evidence that supports that idea. The five paragraph essay format is for an argument that has supportive evidence, but doesn’t necessarily require a consideration of other conflicting claims.

When Do I Use the Five Paragraph Essay?

The five paragraph essay is most useful when making a brief argument or when exploring an interpretation of something at a relatively superficial level. Five-paragraph essays, by virtue of their name, are typically only about five paragraphs (they don’t have to be, though) and, as such, don’t tend to offer much supporting evidence.

The five paragraph essay is great for basic essays where you just need to make sure you’re staying on point and organized. They’re often easy to write and they’re easy for readers to follow. If you’re new at essay writing or you don’t feel strong in writing essays, this format is a surefire way to make your writing still sound strong, even if it’s simple.

The Five Paragraph essay allows room for the author to present reasoning for the claims made in the essay, but does not usually guarantee room for rebuttals or much explanation of complex claims made within the essay. With that in mind, it is best used when the paper or information needs to be brief, or if there is not enough time to really delve into a topic.

How Does the Five Paragraph Essay Work?

When writing in the five paragraph format, you must focus on the topic and your argument. The goal is to clearly state and explain your side of the argument through use of clear evidence. The five paragraph essay may be formatted something like this:

  1. Introduction: The introduction states a topic and an argument about that topic, which would be labeled the thesis statement. (The thesis statement is the central argument, upon which all evidence should support.) The introduction will then state three or more main ideas that support the thesis statement. These three main ideas are the crux of the next three paragraphs/sections in the essay.
  2. Body Paragraph #1: The first body paragraph should explain the strongest idea that supports your thesis. The paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that introduces the idea, then show the key evidence that supports the idea of the paragraph and explain why the evidence is relevant to the idea of the paragraph and to the main claim (thesis statement) of the essay.
  3. Body Paragraph #2: The second body paragraph provides the second piece of evidence or support that you mentioned in the introduction. Like the first body paragraph, the second body paragraph should include a topic sentence to introduce the idea, followed by evidence and interpretation as support for it.
  4. Body Paragraph #3: The third body paragraph should explain the third piece of evidence or support of your thesis statement. This paragraph should be formatted like the previous two body paragraphs.
  5. Conclusion: The conclusion is expands upon the main idea of the thesis statement by combining the ideas from your paragraphs to find meaning in the paper. The conclusion includes a brief summary of the ideas in the paper and how they support your thesis and a cohesive ending to the essay.

As for length, the introduction and conclusion should be shorter than the body paragraphs, and the body paragraphs should generally be around the same length. While the document is called a “five-paragraph” essay, it can be longer than five paragraphs. The idea is that you have an intro, three supporting pieces of evidence, and a conclusion, making it essentially five components. If each section of the body requires more than one paragraph, that’s okay.

You can have a bit of leeway in how you organize the body paragraphs and the support that they provide, as well as exactly what is included in each of the paragraphs.

Example of the Five Paragraph Essay

Imagine you are writing an essay about how it is important for children to read books at an early age. Your goal here would be to provide strong evidence about the importance for children to read books.

Introduction: In the intro, you would state the topic, your argument, and your three supporting ideas. It would read something like this:

As society increasingly encourages children to view television shows and play on tablets, it is important that they still maintain the age-old practice of learning to read books. While not all children will learn to read at the same pace or even enjoy reading at the same level, it’s important to encourage reading frequent and often. In this essay, I will show how reading teaches children to be more inquisitive; how it helps them develop other skills like math and memorization; and how it helps them to be more social as they grow older.

Body Paragraph #1: This paragraph then explains how reading teaches children to be inquisitive, citing sources and evidence that this is the case.

Body Paragraph #2: This paragraph then moves into the second supporting argument named in the intro, using evidence to suggest how reading at a young age helps children to be more inquisitive.

Body Paragraph #3: This paragraph then moves in the final supporting argument named in the intro, providing evidence and sources about how reading at a young age helps children to learn other skills.

Conclusion: The conclusion pulls all three arguments together, equally supporting your overarching thesis that children need to be taught to read at a young age.