The Five Paragraph Essay

The five paragraph essay is used as a test for writing proficiency, and is often a timed exercise.

Getting started means getting organized: practice is a vital part of writing effectively.

Analyze the assignment
    and determine what is required. With a highlighter, note important words that define the topic, then organize your plan

For example, you have been given this writing prompt:

You have a present that was really memorable. It could have been given for an important occasion or just for no reason at all. Tell us about the present and why it was memorable. Include the reason it was given, a description of it, and how you felt when you got it.

The objective is to write a narrative essay about a present you were given

The subject is a memorable present.   The three main subtopics are:

  • the reason it was given
  • a description of it
  • and how you felt when you got it

For assistance on organizing your writing, see our bibliography.

Outline the five paragraph essay

Your essay will include these elements:

Introductory Paragraph

General Topic Sentence:   memorable present

  1. Subtopic One: the reason it was given
  2. Subtopic Two: a description of it
  3. Subtopic Three: how you felt when you got it


First Supporting Paragraph

Restate Subtopic One

Supporting Details or Examples


Second Supporting Paragraph

Restate Subtopic Two

Supporting Details or Examples


Third Supporting Paragraph or Anticipate antithesis

Restate Subtopic Three or state antithesis

Supporting Details or Examples of why thesis is better


Closing or Summary Paragraph

Synthesis and conclusion of the thesis rephrasing main topic and subtopics is the usual conclusion.  Often when submitting work for a grade it is advisable to use your best comment here.

Write the essay!
Think small, then build the full essay gradually.  Divide your essay  into sections and develop each separately and incrementally.

The Introductory Paragraph

  • The opening paragraph sets the tone
    It not only introduces the topic, but where you are going with it (the thesis).  If you do a good job in the opening,  you will draw your reader into your "experience." Put effort up front, and you will reap rewards.
  • Write in the active voice
    It is much more powerful. Do that for each sentence in the introductory essay. Unless you are writing a personal narrative, do not use the pronoun "I."
  • Varying sentence structure
    Review to avoid the same dull pattern of always starting with the subject of the sentence.
  • Brainstorm to find the best supporting ideas
    The best supporting ideas are the ones about which you have some knowledge. If you do not know about them, you cannot do a good job writing about them. Don't weaken the essay with ineffective argument. Before writing, spend some time being creative with the possible thesis and supporting arguments.  Put them down as they occur to you and then try and develop a flow or pattern to the ideas.  See "How to Brainstorm".
  • Practice writing introductory paragraphs on various topics
    Even if you do not use them, they can be compared with the type of writing you are doing now. It is rewarding to see a pattern of progress.

Supporting Paragraphs

  • Write a transition to establish the sub-topic
    Each paragraph has to flow, one to the next.
  • Write the topic sentence
    The transition can be included in the topic sentence.
  • Supporting ideas, examples, details must be specific to the sub-topic
    The tendency in supporting paragraphs is to put in just about anything --avoid this.   The work you have made above with details and examples will help you keep focused.
  • Vary sentence structure
    Avoid repetitious pronouns and lists. Avoid  beginning sentences the same way (subject + verb + direct object).

The Ending or Summary Paragraph

This is a difficult paragraph to write effectively. You cannot assume that the reader sees your point

  • Restate the introductory thesis/paragraph with originality
    Do not simply copy the first paragraph
  • Summarize your argument with some degree of authority
    this paragraph should leave your reader with no doubt as to your position or conclusion of logic
  • Be powerful as this is the last thought that you are leaving with the reader.
  • If possible use your best sentence here as it is the last thought that will be left with the grader.  Often a B can be lifted to a B+ etc.

Edit and revise your essay

  • Check your spelling and grammar
    Subjects and verbs agree, and verb tenses are consistent
  • Examine your whole essay for logic
    Thought builds and flows? 
    Avoid gaps in logic, or too much detail.

Review individual sentences

  • Use active verbs
    Avoid passive constructions and the verb "to be"
  • Use transitional words and phrases
    Avoid sentences beginning with pronouns, constructions as "There are....,"
    Example: "There is a need to proofread all works" becomes "Proofreading is a must."
  • Be concise
    though vary the length and structure of sentences

Ask a knowledgeable friend to review and comment on your essay and to repeat back what you are trying to say.  You may be surprised.  Their comments should reflect your ideas.