The Five-Paragraph Essay Study Guide (page 2)

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Updated on Oct 1, 2011


Be flexible in your use of the five-paragraph essay. In some cases, you might not need as many as five paragraphs to make your argument, so use fewer. Or use more. The general structure (thesis → supporting proof → conclusion) is a versatile one that can be adapted to suit numerous assignments.

Planning a Five-Paragraph Essay

To illustrate the construction of a five-paragraph essay, let's assume you have been assigned to write an essay about global warming. Here are the steps you'll need to take in planning and writing your essay using the five-paragraph format.

Part 1: The Introduction

The first paragraph of your essay should include your thesis statement, sometimes referred to as the premise of your argument. (As you learned in earlier lessons, you might want to delay the thesis statement and put it in the second paragraph, which is of course permissible. But for right now, let's assume you are sticking precisely to the five-paragraph rule.)

Within the first introductory paragraph, you need to do several things:

  • Introduce the general topic.
  • State your thesis or your point of view on the topic.
  • Grab the attention of the reader.

It is here then that you will need to have done your preplanning and selected your topic carefully. You cannot possibly contemplate writing a fiveparagraph essay on the gigantic topic of global warming. We'll assume that you've settled on the following narrowed-down thesis statement:

The future existence of polar bears on the planet is in serious danger as a result of global warming.

Once established, the thesis statement must never be abandoned—not even for a single sentence. Every paragraph and every sentence in the remainder of the essay must relate to this introductory statement.

Our writer has staked out a territory, and a position: Polar bears are in danger. The thesis statement has sounded an alarm, and because polar bears are so rare and so universally loved (or are they?), the reader is probably hooked. He or she will want to keep reading and know how and why this is happening, and perhaps what can be done about it as well.

Part 2: The Main Body Paragraphs

The three paragraphs that form the body of the essay should each focus on a different aspect of the argument. Our polar bear writer might want to devote individual paragraphs to ideas such as these:

  • statistics about recent declines in the polar bear population
  • explanation of the reason(s) for the decline, such as the melting of the ice pack that supports the polar bear habitats
  • examples and anecdotes from animal study groups in Canada and Alaska
  • quotations from environmental groups seeking to find solutions to the problem

As you have learned in previous lessons, each paragraph must include a topic sentence and supporting sentences that expand on this topic sentence, which is a kind of mini-thesis. As you begin to write each new paragraph, ask yourself how it supports your main thesis.


Be sure to create transitions between your paragraphs. Don't jump from one subject to another without creating a logical bridge between ideas. You can do this with phrases such as:

  • on the other hand
  • another example of this phenomenon
  • even before this situation arose
  • more importantly

Try to avoid clunky and clichéd transitional phrases such as In conclusion and To summarize. Instead, make it clear to your readers that you are about to conclude with words and phrases that are an integral part of your argument. For example, you might create a transition to your conclusion in ways such as these:

The single most convincing proof of the problem is . . . In light of all the factors influencing the situation, the only solution possible is . . .

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