Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay

Where no five-paragraph essay has gone
(© DBU University Writing Center)
by Mark J. Boone; edited by UWC staff:
Lisa Crawford, Lead Editor
Review of the Five Paragraph
Essay………...……………………………...slides 3-5
Go Beyond the Five-Paragraph
Essay………………………………………..slides 6-7
Break the Letter of the Law; Obey the
Spirit……….……………………………...slides 8-10
 The
five-paragraph essay has a very rigid structure.
 There
is a thesis statement that presents a
contention, or argument, with three reasons why the
reader should consider agreeing with the contention.
Each body paragraph deals with one of those three reasons.
 The
thesis statement usually appears at the end of
the introductory paragraph.
 Each body paragraph has a topic sentence.
• Topic sentences present the contention dealt with in that paragraph and
sums up the coming paragraph.
• The topic sentence is like a mini-thesis statement for the paragraph, but it
also relates back to the thesis statement.
 The
five-paragraph essay is usually inappropriate for
some writing assignments, such as:
• Composing poetry
• Free writing
• Composing fiction
• Journaling
• Writing letters
The five-paragraph essay has advantages both for its
writer and its readers ...
• Unity. Because the thesis statement and the paper talk about
the same thing, the paper is always getting its point across
and never changes topics.
• Clarity. Because the topic sentences summarize a section of
the paper and connect that section back to the thesis, the
readers are constantly being reminded how the details fit into
the general idea of the paper.
• Organization. Both the writer and the reader know how each
part of the paper falls into the paper’s overall structure.
• The five-paragraph essay is brief and concise.
 The
five-paragraph essay basically exists so that it can
be transcended.
 Writers
are not supposed to ignore the rules of the
five-paragraph essay for their entire writing career,
but they should not always be governed by its
elementary principles.
 Especially
as one moves into papers that are a little bit
longer than just five short paragraphs, the rules of the
five-paragraph essay will have to be bent a little bit ...
The first rule to stop following is the one about the number of
• For instance, there might be a need to spend two paragraphs on one of
the three points, or the introduction might consist of two short
The next rule that does not retain its importance is the one
about three main points.
• Just two reasons to support the thesis are not usually enough, but four or
more reasons are often useful.
A guideline that does not need to be followed is that the thesis
statement occurs at the end of your first paragraph.
• It could occur in the middle or even at the beginning; it could even be in
a different paragraph--just as long as it is still clear which is the thesis
 But
even in leaving behind the legalistic rigidity of
the five-paragraph essay, one should still follow its
general rules.
 It
is recommend that several of the general rules of
the five-paragraph essay be followed in extended
research projects of at least 8 pages.
• The thesis statement still introduces the main points of the
 In some longer papers the “thesis statement” may take up one or two whole
paragraphs and may or may not appear at the end of the introductory
section of your paper.
 The thesis will still introduce the main points of the paper and give the
reader a feel for what comes next.
• Another rule writers should keep is a modified version of the
rule about topic sentences.
 Instead of having a sentence at the beginning of each main point, simply
make an effort to always explicitly connect the main point of your paper
back to your thesis statement.
 Following
these rules help to keep the paper
organized and clear.
• There will be fewer things that are not very important to the
• There will also be more things that actually support the
 Communication
is enhanced. Readers know what is
going on in the paper.

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