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How to Write a Five-Paragraph Essay

Many students find it challenging to write a good essay. Often, the main challenge is to organise and develop the ideas and arguments in a clear and coherent way. Sometimes a step-by-step description can help students on their way and make essay writing a more manageable task.

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A hamburger in free fall, showing all its ingredients and the different layers. Photo.

The five-paragraph essay is often assigned to students to help them in this process. A good five-paragraph essay is a lot like a triple-decker burger, and it is therefore often called the hamburger essay. It requires a clear introduction and conclusion (the top and bottom bun) that hold the main body of the essay (the burger and all the juicy stuff) in place.

Before you start writing an essay, you need to get organised. Read through the task you are given several times, underlining important words that tell you what you are expected to do. Pay special attention to the verbs in the task you are given ('discuss', 'summarise', 'give an account of', 'argue'…). Make sure you do what you are asked and that you answer the whole question, not just parts of it.

Structure

Introduction

The introduction to a text is extremely important. A good introduction should accomplish three things:

  • Firstly, try to capture the reader’s interest and create a desire to read on and learn more. There are many ways to achieve this. For example, you can start with a relevant quotation from a famous person or a short anecdote. You could also present some interesting statistics, state a startling fact, or simply pose a challenging question.
  • Secondly, provide the reader with the necessary information to understand the main body of the text. Explain what the paper is about and why this topic is important. What is the specific focus of this paper? Include background information about your topic to establish its context.
  • Thirdly, present your approach to the topic and your thesis statement. The thesis statement is the main idea of the essay expressed in a single sentence. Make sure your thesis statement comes out clearly in your introduction.

Body

The body of the essay consists of three paragraphs, each limited to one idea that supports your thesis. Each paragraph should have a clear topic sentence: a sentence that presents the main idea of the paragraph. The first paragraph should contain the strongest argument and the most significant examples, while the third paragraph should contain the weakest arguments and examples. Include as much explanation and discussion as is necessary to explain the main point of the paragraph. You should try to use details and specific examples to make your ideas clear and convincing.

In order to create a coherent text, you must avoid jumping from one idea to the next. Always remember: one idea per paragraph. A good essay needs good transitions between the different paragraphs. Use the end of one paragraph and/or the beginning of the next to show the relationship between the two ideas. This transition can be built into the topic sentence of the next paragraph, or it can be the concluding sentence of the first.

You can also use linking words to introduce the next paragraph. Examples of linking words are: in fact, on the whole, furthermore, as a result, simply put, for this reason, similarly, likewise, it follows that, naturally, by comparison, surely, yet, firstly, secondly, thirdly …

Conclusion

This is your fifth and final paragraph. The conclusion is what the reader will read last and remember best. Therefore, it is important that it is well written. In the conclusion, you should summarise your main points and re-assert your main claim. The conclusion should wrap up all that is said before, without starting off on a new topic. Avoid repeating specific examples.

There are several ways to end an essay. You need to find a way to leave your reader with a sense of closure. The easiest way to do this is simply to repeat the main points of the body of your text in the conclusion, but try to do this in a way that sums up rather than repeats. Another way to do it is to answer a question that you posed in the introduction. You may also want to include a relevant quotation that throws light on your message.

A few notes before you hand in your essay

After you have finished, read through your essay with a critical eye. Does your thesis statement in the introduction match the discussion in the main body and the conclusive statements in the final paragraph? It is important that you build your text logically, so that each part of the essay supports, proves, and reflects your thesis.

You should also remember that a good writer of formal essays:

  • does not use abbreviations or contractions.
  • does not use first-person pronouns, such as 'I', 'me' and 'my'. It is better to make your statements more general, using 'it is commonly believed that', 'we tend to think', 'scientists argue that'…
  • does not engage in personal stories. Stories about your own life experiences, or the experiences of your friends or families do not belong in academic writing.
  • does not use a language which is too casual, such as sentences that begin with words like 'well', 'sure', 'now', 'yes', 'no' ...
  • does not use slang. Words like 'gonna' and 'wanna' are not accepted in formal essays.
  • does not start sentences with conjunctions: 'but', 'and', 'or', 'because'…”.
  • uses linking words. This creates better logic and coherence in your text. Here is a link to a list of linking words that you can use: List of Commonly Used Linking Words

Task:

Below we have structured three short essays for you and given you the topic sentences for each paragraph. Choose one of them and write it as a full text. Add facts and reflections under each paragraph. Make sure there are good transitions between the paragraphs.

The importance of learning English

  1. Introduction: the importance of learning English

  2. Living in a multicultural world

  3. International job market

  4. A better travelling experience

  5. Conclusion


The importance of a good education

  1. Introduction: the importance of a good education

  2. Competitive job market

  3. Independence

  4. Personal growth

  5. Conclusion


Living in a digital world

  1. Introduction: living in a digital world

  2. Important for working life

  3. Important in communication

  4. Part of our everyday lives

  5. Conclusion





Last updated 04/27/2021
Text: Karin Søvik (CC BY-SA)

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