A handout from the Online Information Series
Copyright (c) 2009, Jolene M. Morris, All Rights Reserved


The Five Paragraph Essay

What is a five-paragraph essay?

An essay with five paragraphs.

The five-paragraph essay is a technique to help students write better. It is usually taught in high school or even junior high school, but the concepts of a five-paragraph essay will help everyone who wants to improve their writing skills.

The first paragraph is called the INTRODUCTORY paragraph. The middle three paragraphs are called the THESIS or BODY paragraphs, and the final paragraph is called the CONCLUSION or SUMMARY paragraph.

STEP 1: Begin with a List of Three Ideas

To write a five-paragraph essay, make a list of 3 ideas or concepts about the assigned topic. Let's suppose the topic is "Why Do Cats Make Good Pets?" You might list:

STEP 2: Write a Thesis Statement for Each Idea

For each idea, write a full sentence. Choose your words carefully. Use precisely the right words and be concise. Spend time writing your thesis statements because they will set the tone for your essay.

STEP 3: Write a Paragraph to Expand Each Thesis Statement

Expand each thesis sentence into a paragraph of roughly 75-100 words. Use the thesis statement as one of the sentences in your paragraph. All other sentences must be about the same idea--be careful not to bring in extraneous (unrelated) information. At this point, do NOT take the time to check for spelling errors, grammar errors, or word usage. Simply write the first thoughts that come to you about each thesis statement -- if you stop to correct errors and edit your words, you will disrupt your flow of thought.

The thesis statement can start or end your paragraph. In fact, the thesis statement can be anywhere in the paragraph; however, the thesis statement is usually placed at the first of each paragraph:

STEP 4: Set Your Essay Aside

As soon as you have the three paragraphs written, set them aside to "get cold." Don't proofread at this point; in fact, don't even print it out to paper. Simply save your document to a file and leave it alone for at least a half hour--the longer, the better.

STEP 5: Proofread Your Work

After leaving your three paragraphs alone for a while, now proofread your work. Check for spelling and punctuation errors. Check against the 25 writing skills handout. Evaluate every single word: Is this the best word in this place? Does this word specify the exact meaning I want to convey? Use a thesaurus where necessary, but be careful in using a thesaurus so you don't use words that are out of place in the sentence. Be sure you understand the exact use of the words you take out of a thesaurus:

        The average cat will sleep a phenomenal 18 hours every day. These 18 hours are not consecutive; as cats will only sleep like a few minutes at a time--hence the term, a "cat nap." Although cats have been known to snore, they do not sleep very soundly. It is virtually impossible to sneak up on a cat when it is sleeping. I have two cats, and they will usually sleep stretched out on their side or curled into a ball.

        Unlike dogs who have to be bathed by their owners, cats groom themselves and rarely need to be bathed. In fact, most cats do not even like water at all. I am often amazed to see the agility of my cats as they are grooming themselves. They lick their paws and can reach every part of their body. In the process of grooming themselves, cats will often swallow some of their hair. They can tolerate some hair in their stomachs but they cannot digest too much at a time. It is important to let cats eat grass to aid their digestion. It is also important to give cats special treats of hairball treatment.

        Cats are extremely independent. Although cats enjoy being petted and scratched, they only like this attention when it suits them. One of my cats likes to sleep, groom, and play near me. He doesn't want a great deal of attention from me, but he likes to be near me. My other cat is more independent. He seldom asks to me for attention. He would rather be by himself so he can explore his environment. Unlike dogs, you do not need to take cats do not need to be taken for walks or take them let outside to do their business. They can amuse themselves and are very easily trained to use a litter box.

STEP 6: Paragraph Number Five

The next step is to write the fifth paragraph. This conclusion paragraph should have two parts:

  1. A re-statement of the topic's thesis sentence
  2. The writer's summary, conclusion, reaction, opinions, and/or reflections

Re-state your main thesis sentence then summarize your thoughts and final conclusions. Be specific and reflective in your statements. This last paragraph is perhaps the most important part of your essay:

        Cats make very good pets. They sleep most of the day, they groom themselves, and they are independent. Because I work 10-12 hours a day, I do not have much time to care for an animal so I need a pet that is low maintenance. Cats are extremely low-maintenance, yet they are great companionship. Other low-maintenance pets such as fish do not exhibit the personality I enjoy in my cats. Yet, if I am busy working on a project and do not  want to be disturbed, I can ignore the cats without worrying that they will destroy the house or make too much noise. Because they groom themselves, my house is clean despite the fact that I have two pets in the house. At least for my life style, cats make an excellent choice for a pet.

STEP 7: The First Paragraph

Now, it is time to write the first paragraph. The introductory paragraph should have three parts:

  1. An attention getter (sometimes called the "hook")
  2. The topic's thesis sentence
  3. A preview of the next three paragraphs (sometimes called the "guideposts")

Some writers start with the thesis sentence, but most start with an attention getter. Tell a story, tell a joke, or share an experience. Say something to give the reader the desire to continue reading your essay--to hook your reader. After the hook and the topic sentence, give the reader a preview of what you'll be discussing in the essay. For a five-paragraph essay, do not write too much. Be brief. This preview is often called giving your reader "guideposts" because you will be guiding the reader through the organization of the essay.

Here is a possible first paragraph. It is color-coded so you can recognize the three, required parts of the introductory paragraph that are listed above:

        A woman walked into a pet store and asked the sales clerk, "Do you have any cats you'll let go cheap?" "No," was the reply. "They all go Meow." I realize this is a silly joke written for children, but I laugh every time I hear it. You see, I have two cats who cry Meow each time I come home from work. I think cats make great pets. Why do they make such good pets? The three reasons I can think of are that they sleep most of the time, they groom themselves, and they are independent.

STEP 8: Transitions

Now you are ready to weave the five paragraphs together into one essay. You do this weaving by using transition words, phrases, or sentences. Here is a Web site that explains and gives examples of transitions:  http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/gl_transition.html

Let's add some transitions and write our final essay:

 

Why Do Cats Make Good Pets?

       A woman walked into a pet store and asked the sales clerk, "Do you have any cats you'll let go cheap?" "No," was the reply. "They all go Meow." I realize this is a silly joke written for children, but I laugh every time I hear it. You see, I have two cats who cry Meow each time I come home from work. I think cats make great pets. Why do they make such good pets? The three reasons I can think of are that they sleep most of the time, they groom themselves, and they are independent.
        First, the average cat will sleep a phenomenal 18 hours every day. These 18 hours are not consecutive; cats will sleep only a few minutes at a time--hence the term, a "cat nap." Although cats have been known to snore, they do not sleep very soundly. It is virtually impossible to sneak up on a cat when it is sleeping. I have two cats, and they will usually sleep stretched out on their side or curled into a ball.
        Second, unlike dogs who have to be bathed by their owners, cats groom themselves and rarely need to be bathed. In fact, most cats do not even like water. I am often amazed to see the agility of my cats as they are grooming themselves. They lick their paws and can reach every part of their body. In the process of grooming themselves, cats will often swallow some of their hair. They can tolerate some hair in their stomachs but they cannot digest too much at a time. It is important to let cats eat grass to aid their digestion. It is also important to give cats special treats of hairball treatment.
        Finally, cats are extremely independent. Although cats enjoy being petted and scratched, they only like this attention when it suits them. One of my cats likes to sleep, groom, and play near me. He doesn't want a great deal of attention from me, but he likes to be near me. My other cat is more independent. He seldom asks for attention. He would rather be by himself so he can explore his environment. Unlike dogs, cats do not need to be taken for walks or let outside to do their business. They can amuse themselves and are very easily trained to use a litter box.
       In conclusion, cats make very good pets. They sleep most of the day, they groom themselves, and they are independent. Because I work 10-12 hours a day, I do not have much time to care for an animal so I need a pet that is low maintenance. Cats are extremely low-maintenance, yet they are great companionship. Other low-maintenance pets such as fish do not exhibit the personality I enjoy in my cats. Yet, if I am busy working on a project and do not  want to be disturbed, I can ignore the cats without worrying that they will destroy the house or make too much noise. Because they groom themselves, my house is clean despite the fact that I have two pets in the house. At least for my life style, cats make an excellent choice for a pet.

 


Copyright (c) 2009, Jolene M. Morris, All Rights Reserved