The Five Paragraph Essay is a staple of academic writing and offers a very useful template for basic essay structure. This is because the five-way division of content works as a very convenient and straightforward breakdown of the beginning/middle/end framework which underlies all scholarly composition.
So, simply put, the first paragraph, the introduction, constitutes the “beginning”. Paragraphs two, three and four make up the “middle” section, while paragraph five, the conclusion, is the “end”.
There is an expository logic to this chronology (that is, it is intended to explain or describe). You need to remember that scholarly prose functions as a sort of narrative, a story, and stories necessarily obey certain kinds of rules. These rules concern how, when and why information is presented. Order and arrangement of information are very important factors because they will determine the strength or weakness of an argument.
Consider that if your first paragraph started offering conclusions, the reader, who does not yet know the reasoning or evidence supporting these conclusions, would be left somewhat at a loss. They would lack the appropriate contextual information properly to assess the statements being made. For related reasons, one should avoid introducing entirely new arguments in the final paragraph, because there will be insufficient time to expand upon the topic in address. The introduction of new arguments and analyses is the business of the middle section, which is the most spacious for that very reason.
Let us now consider the structural properties of the Five Paragraph Essay in closer detail. The first paragraph, as an Introduction, needs both to explain and engage. It tells the reader what the work is about, offering a brief outline of the primary argument in the form of a thesis statement. Having read the Introduction, the reader should be well aware of what is to come. Moreover, they should be engaged with the work. You want to hook the reader in, to whet their appetite to continue reading. A great means of achieving this is to link the final sentence of this paragraph with the initial sentence of the one following. Indeed, this particular method should be observed between each and every paragraph in the essay. So, how might this be achieved?
One way is to introduce a question at the end of one paragraph which is answered in the beginning of the next (yes, just like this opening sentence answer the question placed in the preceding sentence above). Note how this creates coherency and interdependence: the one sentence would not make sense without the other – for we would have either a question without an answer or an answer without a question.
While the question/answer format is useful, this is only one of many methods for achieving contiguity (coherent connection between) the five paragraphs. Just be sure that your argument leads logically from one point to the next.
The middle-section paragraphs are of particular importance in this respect, because this is where the argument is expanded and unpacked. The second paragraph will expand the argument, breaking it into its component parts; the third paragraph will explain the interrelations between the components; and the fourth will look at the reasons for such interrelations. Note how these separate objective lead logically into one another. Keep this in mind when writing.
The fifth paragraph, the Conclusion, will pull all the threads of the essay together: explaining what they all mean and what the significance of this is.
As we have seen, the five paragraph structure reflects a compact breakdown of how essay content should be weighted, the purpose of the respective components of the work and the interrelation between the individual parts.
Mastering the Five Paragraph Essay, then, is the first step in mastering academic writing on the whole.
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