9 5¶E – What is the 5 Paragraph Essay?

You may not know what I mean when I say 5 Paragraph Essay, but even if the name is unfamiliar, the concepts of it are probably something you recall doing often in your prior education.  In short, it is an essay where the following format was used:

  1. Intro Paragraph (with a thesis statement in the last sentence or two…sometimes underlined)
  2. Body #1 (the first point of the larger subject that you will address and likely mentioned in the thesis)
  3. Body #2 (the second point of the larger subject that you will address and likely mentioned in the thesis)
  4. Body #3 (the third point of the larger subject that you will address and likely mentioned in the thesis)
  5. Conclusion (reiterate what you have already written and restate the thesis)

Does this look familiar now?  Most of you probably used it extensively throughout high school (if that was your last educational experience) regardless of the subject/class you were in.  It was likely a catch-all and worked for any and all subject matters from history to social studies.  The question is whether this same format will work in college.  The following are notes to consider as to the merits and/or downfalls of this familiar essay format:

5¶E (Five Paragraph Essay)


Pros Cons
    • Helps you stay organized
    • Easy/familiar
    • Helps create proficiency
    • Good format for timed tests since it’s structured and formulaic
    • Aids in student survival because it’s familiar and often utilized in prior education
    • Helps teachers move through papers with efficiency
    • Too short in length and thinking
    • Only offers limited information/thinking on even the most difficult of topics
    • Extremely predictable and leads to a set of thoughts that are obvious and cliché
    • Because it’s formulaic in nature, student’s grade is dependent upon filling in the blanks correctly and teacher’s adherence to this structure


Two missing, most important factors which are integral and necessary in all good writing:



To whom are you writing?



Why are you writing?

The Five Paragraph Essay is devoid of any consideration of AUDIENCE and PURPOSE since the audience is always the teacher and the purpose largely revolves around getting a good grade by pleasing the teacher.  The idea that you are writing to a teacher for a grade is not realistic in real world writing and will not likely work for all of your paper assignments in college.  That said, you need not abandon ship on it all together, but there is a real likelihood that it will not work in all instances, even in academic settings.  AUDIENCE and PURPOSE are key in all quality writing and the Five Paragraph Essay does not account for these.  If one considers these two factors, it can help shape how you approach writing and how the structure will unfold.  To demonstrate, consider the following:

1) You’re writing an email to a friend asking him/her to come visit this weekend.

2) You got pulled over recently and you’re writing a letter to the judge to ask for clemency.

What would both of these writing instances sound/look like?  Would the tone and structure be the same for each of these instances?  The Five Paragraph Essay assumes they would, and thus you should be able to switch out the writing in each situation.  Do you think you’d write a formal email to your friend or an informal letter to the judge?  This is why AUDIENCE and PURPOSE are so important to succeeding in writing.




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