The Five-Paragraph Essay Method

Since time immemorial, students have always been required to come up with good logical essays that have a flowing continuity and provide a comprehensible flow to anyone reading it, be it just a reader, instructor, or an examiner. This has always been the most basic requirement. However, as there has been writing from students, teachers have had different styles of essays from which to choose from and teach them, but through the years one type of essays has been outstanding and stood the test of time to provide students with a simple way to understand the method, yet an extremely organized way to write essays. This method is what has come to be fondly referred to as the five-paragraph method of essay writing. In this type of essay, the writer is required to format the essay into five paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs that are organized in a way to have development and support, and lastly a concluding paragraph to sum up everything that has been discussed. Campbell (2014) elaborates that this type of essay has an introductory paragraph that forms the start of the essay with a thesis statement as a concluding sentence, which is then followed by three paragraphs with the evidence and a conclusion paragraph that builds from a repeat of the thesis.

However, Campbell (2014) points out problems of this method, which include: “Reliance on the method keeps students from developing the thinking and organizational skills they need to support their writing.” She notes that the method emphasizes on organization rather than the content, which in fact restricts students from critiquing their thoughts and interpretations on a topic of interest. It does not ensure success on standardized tests or in college. Campbell (2014) argues that even though relying on this method earns students a passing score, it does not earn them high scores due to bland, but planned essays. According to Sorcinelli and Elbow (2010), it enforces a deficit model on education, which happens to be the most troubling effect, whereby, certain students with limited writing skills are too dependent on this method. These objections notwithstanding, the five-paragraph method remains the most organized way to write projects in academia; the more organized one’s work is, the more comprehensible it becomes; and students who write their essays following this style score better depending on other factors like content, topic, and subject.

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Why Use the Five-Paragraph Method?

There are a number of reasons why people employ this method. For starters, this method has made the body the most important part of the essay after the introduction as it is here that the thesis statement comes to life. It is here that the student gets the opportunity to explain further three arguments that have been raised in the thesis statement by using three supportive evidences that are usually well explained with the help of facts, quotes, and/or examples. The five-paragraph method remains the most organized way to write projects in academia as it provides a formulaic approach that offers guidance to students in a reliable way on the process of composing an article that has its main point clearly identified with broken supportive paragraphs to help explain it further before wrapping it up in a good conclusion. This structure helps students comprehend rhetorical concepts such as coherence, unity, transitions, and development, thus helping students to organize their thoughts before laying them down in a plan to convey an organized thought process to their readers, usually their teacher (Wheeler & Carrales, 2012). This method is easy to follow through its well-structured template as students without much formal writing instructions or strugglers when it comes to writing see it as a reliable and stable method (Mahaffey, 2014). She further highlights the fact that this method makes it easier for students to organize their ideas into logical progressions focusing more on the substance, while developing sophisticated arguments without having to worry about organizing their thoughts as the method is already structured in itself.

Brown (2012) points out that due to the five-paragraph nature the method helps students to acquire the knowhow on how to build paragraphs, which have to be organized in such a way that they do connect with each other, while at the same time discussing its own idea built from a thesis statement. According to the Purdue University (n.d.), the five-paragraph method remains the best method for students to use in order to write their essays due to several aspects like:

  1. Having a clear, concise, and defined thesis statement in the first paragraph; it is very important to narrow this thesis statement to conform to the assignment, which helps the student to write an effective essay.
  2. It has clear and logical transitions between introduction, body, and conclusion; the importance of this is that it holds the essay together through logically thought out presentation that wraps up a previous idea, while presenting a new idea in a smooth sequence to help the reader keep up with the essay.
  3. It has body paragraphs with evidential support; this method proposes each paragraph to have a limit of one idea, allowing the essay to have a sense of direction and clarity, while remaining within the context of the thesis statement. The idea for having one idea in a paragraph is to focus primarily on it and to enable the student to exhaustibly explain their point to the reader.
  4. A conclusion that synthesizes information in the body of the essay while restating the importance of the topic. The reason behind this is to remind the reader what the student has come up with as a thesis and how the student has explained it in the body of the essay.

Due to this well-planned organization, the flow of the essay becomes easy, helping the reader to keep up with the student, as well as helping one appreciate the essay’s ease of comprehension.

Creating an Essay that Is Comprehensible and Easy to Follow

It is very important for an essay to be comprehensible to the reader and this is where the five-paragraph method of writing essays comes in handy. With its organization and five-paragraph organization, the reader expects the student to have a clear topic identified, which is typically always given by the instructor. Once this is sorted out, the reader or instructor expects the student to come up with a good thesis statement that is in line with the topic in order to help give a clearer picture of the required essay. With this flow of organization, the student is expected to come up with three arguments that will help to underscore the thesis statement and to help the instructor or reader to follow and understand more about it. Three supportive evidences are to be developed for each of the arguments raised, which include facts, quotes, and data that substantiate the thesis. Finally, there should be a good conclusion, which in a way restates the thesis. This organization helps the reader to know what to expect as they read through the essay; understanding it is also further simplified through transitioning of paragraphs that help connect pieces of the essay together.

Once the student understands this organization, the essay manifests itself to the reader in three broad facets: Introduction that forms the first essay paragraph and serves to draw the instructor’s attention, develop an ideological overview of what the essay will cover, and lastly an outline of the thesis, which provides three arguments of the essay; Body that contains three argument topic sentences that complement the thesis, while transitioning each other to help the reader understand more about the topic; and, finally, Conclusion that brings the reader to a close and reminds the reader of the basic points in the essay, while restating the thesis statement (The Writing Centre, 2014). This formulistic organization is aimed at making the essay comprehensible to the reader or instructor.

Student Score Better As Compared to When Using Other Methods

Another important point to note about the five paragraph essay is that students who write their essays following this style score better depending on other factors like content, topic, and subject. The American Council on Education (ACE) lists down five major standards that are used to evaluate essays, which are:

  1. Response to prompt – on how well the topic was responded to by the student and how focus on the topic was maintained or not. This is where the five-paragraph method excels in as the student has to come up with a proper working thesis that is relevant to the topic given, of which understanding the prompt is key to coming up with the thesis statement.
  2. Organization – looks at whether the student showed any evidence or not and whether there was evidence that the student had a planned out structure for writing the essay. Thanks to the formulistic organization of the five-paragraph method, the evidence with respect to planning out a structure is well-recognized from the structure of the essay, spanning from the point the introduction paragraph is written, complete with its thesis statement, down to the body with its three arguments and supportive evidences, to the conclusion paragraph having a synthesis of what is in the essay, and a reminder of the thesis.
  3. Development and details – whether the student could expand on the statement using examples rather than just repetition of the same ideas. This is also evidenced through the transition of paragraphs in the body of the essay and examples used as supportive evidence towards explaining the three raised arguments emanating from the thesis statement.
  4. Conventions of edited American English – whether the student has grammar command on sentence construction and appropriate edited written English. This will be clearly observed by instructors as they go through the essay from the introduction, how well the student transitions between arguments and evidence in paragraphs through to the conclusion. Format should be grammatically correct with a good command of sentence construction to sustain the flow of the essay.
  5. Word choice – whether the student can express an idea appropriately. This too will be plain to see for the instructor thanks to a clear organizational format of the essay chosen by the student in a way that it is easy to understand and sustain.

Due to its structure, the five-paragraph method offers students the most ideal scenario to score better in exams as its organizational requirement conforms to primary standards that are stipulated in the ACE.

However, other writers like Salazar (2012) point out that the five-paragraph essay is rudimentary, not engaging, and useless due to the fact that it uses an introduction with three reasons that make one know what the student intends to write without having to read through the essay in its entirety. He also points out the fact that this format fails to encourage thoughtful persuasion and instead promotes a low level summary that nobody cares about because it makes writing boring and predictable. Salazar (2012) argues that the thesis argument in this format fails to lend itself to any debate as using the three part argument. He claims that a student would fail to demonstrate any success in the analysis essay as they have been trapped into writing about three aspects.

Salazar (2012) also puts through an argument that format will not help students succeed outside the classroom, pointing out the fact that effective cover letters do not follow this format, offering instead the SOAP (Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose) format, which is being promoted by The College Board that he supposes it helps students. He says that moving away from the formulistic format would help students think for themselves and challenge people through their writing.

These thoughts are a common feature that continues to be discussed all over on how best essay can be written or the method that offers students the best guide to write their essays. This topic continues to divide many writers along the spheres of scrapping away the five-paragraph method with proponents offering that it indeed provides a basis for students learning how to write an organized essay and that it helps students who are weak when it comes to writing essays as it provides them with a basis and clear format to lay down and write their essays. At the same time, opponents point out the fact that this format is in itself a limiting factor to students as it limits them structurally, makes their essays all the same, and limits them to three aspects of arguments, while blocking them in as far as expressing their ideas freely through locking themselves in thesis statements. They also point to the fact that this method tends to be boring due to the fact that one only needs to read through the first paragraph to understand the whole essay without having to read through the whole essay.

Students Write in an Effective and Organized Manner

However, all these arguments agree on one simple fact that the five-paragraph method is indeed an important form of writing that has helped students and still continues to help students write their essays in an effective and organized manner. According to the Writing Centre (2014), the five paragraph method provides a good way to learn how to write academic essays, which requires the student to state an idea and support it with evidence. Through its limit of five paragraphs, it forces students to master organizational basics and helps them to score well in exams like SAT II for having followed this format. This notion supports the idea that the five-paragraph method is the most organized method of writing academic essays due to its straightforward structure that focuses on a well-written introduction that has a thesis sentence and a good concluding paragraph with three argumentative and supportive evidence in between organized in a logical and flowing format.

It also moves to support the notion that this format makes the essay comprehensible to readers as it allows the student to have a clear flow of ideas that transition each other neatly through the essay from the introduction, through to the body, and concluding with a good conclusion directed at maintaining a chronological order of the thinking process towards responding to a prompt from either the instructor or the examiner.

Through this order, it suffices to point out that the standards of the ACE are well conformed to, thanks to the organizational format, ability to clearly show the evidence towards an argument raised through a thesis that is as a result of understanding a topic, and ability to maintain a constructive flow of sentences thanks to the transitioning element that is attached to this format of essay writing. With the entire conformance to standards that are set out by the ACE, it assists the student to score highly in exams as compared to students who fail to follow this format of writing.

Conclusion

By far still being an outstanding method when essay writing is concerned, the five-paragraph method remains the best method for writing and should not be abolished at all as it helps students be organized, maintain a command of logical flow that is comprehensible for the reader, as well as score highly in their SAT II exams. Hence, instead of being castigated by its opponents as being boring and lacking any captivating ability on the reader, it should be further supported and taught at school thanks to its usefulness as elaborated in the essay.