|A classic format for compositions is the five-paragraph essay. It is not the only format for writing an essay, of course, but it is a useful model for you to keep in mind, especially as you begin to develop your composition skills. The following material is adapted from a handout prepared by Harry Livermore for his high school English classes at Cook High School in Adel, Georgia. It is used here with his permission.|
See, first, Writing Introductory Paragraphs for different ways of getting your reader involved in your essay. The introductory paragraph should also include the thesis statement, a kind of mini-outline for the paper: it tells the reader what the essay is about. The last sentence of this paragraph must also contain a transitional "hook" which moves the reader to the first paragraph of the body of the paper.
Body First paragraph:
The first paragraph of the body should contain the strongest argument, most significant example, cleverest illustration, or an obvious beginning point. The first sentence of this paragraph should include the "reverse hook" which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the introductory paragraph. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional hook to tie into the second paragraph of the body.
Body Second paragraph:
The second paragraph of the body should contain the second strongest argument, second most significant example, second cleverest illustration, or an obvious follow up the first paragraph in the body. The first sentence of this paragraph should include the reverse hook which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the first paragraph of the body. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional hook to tie into the third paragraph of the body.
Body Third paragraph:
The third paragraph of the body should contain the weakest argument, weakest example, weakest illustration, or an obvious follow up to the second paragraph in the body. The first sentence of this paragraph should include the reverse hook which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the second paragraph. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional concluding hook that signals the reader that this is the final major point being made in this paper. This hook also leads into the last, or concluding, paragraph.
This paragraph should include the following:
- an allusion to the pattern used in the introductory paragraph,
- a restatement of the thesis statement, using some of the original language or language that "echoes" the original language. (The restatement, however, must not be a duplicate thesis statement.)
- a summary of the three main points from the body of the paper.
- a final statement that gives the reader signals that the discussion has come to an end. (This final statement may be a "call to action" in an persuasive paper.)
A Sample Paper
|1Stephen King, creator of such stories as Carrie and Pet Sematary, stated that the Edgar Allan Poe stories he read as a child gave him the inspiration and instruction he needed to become the writer that he is. 2Poe, as does Stephen King, fills the reader's imagination with the images that he wishes the reader to see, hear, and feel. 3His use of vivid, concrete visual imagery to present both static and dynamic settings and to describe people is part of his technique. 4Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a story about a young man who kills an old man who cares for him, dismembers the corpse, then goes mad when he thinks he hears the old man's heart beating beneath the floor boards under his feet as he sits and discusses the old man's absence with the police. 5In "The Tell-Tale Heart," a careful reader can observe Poe's skillful manipulation of the senses.||The introductory paragraph includes a paraphrase of something said by a famous person in order to get the reader's attention. The second sentence leads up to the thesis statement which is the third sentence. The thesis statement (sentence 3) presents topic of the paper to the reader and provides a mini- outline. The topic is Poe's use of visual imagery. The mini- outline tells the reader that this paper will present Poe's use of imagery in three places in his writing: (1) description of static setting; (2) description of dynamic setting; and (3) description of a person. The last sentence of the paragraph uses the words "manipulation" and "senses" as transitional hooks.|
|1The sense of sight, the primary sense, is particularly susceptible to manipulation. 2In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe uses the following image to describe a static scene: "His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness . . ." Poe used the words "black," "pitch," and "thick darkness" not only to show the reader the condition of the old man's room, but also to make the reader feel the darkness." 3"Thick" is a word that is not usually associated with color (darkness), yet in using it, Poe stimulates the reader's sense of feeling as well as his sense of sight.||In the first sentence of the second paragraph (first paragraph of the body) the words "sense" and "manipulation" are used to hook into the end of the introductory paragraph. The first part of the second sentence provides the topic for this paragraph--imagery in a static scene. Then a quotation from "The Tell-Tale Heart" is presented and briefly discussed. The last sentence of this paragraph uses the expressions "sense of feeling" and "sense of sight" as hooks for leading into the third paragraph.|
|1Further on in the story, Poe uses a couple of words that cross not only the sense of sight but also the sense of feeling to describe a dynamic scene. 2The youth in the story has been standing in the open doorway of the old man's room for a long time, waiting for just the right moment to reveal himself to the old man in order to frighten him. 3Poe writes: "So I opened it [the lantern opening]--you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily--until, at length, a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye." 4By using the metaphor of the thread of the spider (which we all know is a creepy creature) and the word "shot," Poe almost makes the reader gasp, as surely did the old man whose one blind eye the young man describes as "the vulture eye."||The first sentence of the third paragraph (second paragraph of the body) uses the words "sense of sight" and "sense of feeling" to hook back into the previous paragraph. Note that in the second paragraph "feeling" came first, and in this paragraph "sight" comes first. The first sentence also includes the topic for this paragraph--imagery in a dynamic scene. Again, a quotation is taken from the story, and it is briefly discussed. The last sentence uses the words "one blind eye" which was in the quotation. This expression provides the transitional hook for the last paragraph in the body of the paper.|
|1The reader does not know much about what the old man in this story looks like except that he has one blind eye. 2In the second paragraph of "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe establishes the young man's obsession with that blind eye when he writes: "He had the eye of the vulture--a pale blue eye, with a film over it." 3This "vulture eye" is evoked over and over again in the story until the reader becomes as obsessed with it as does the young man. 4His use of the vivid, concrete word "vulture" establishes a specific image in the mind of the reader that is inescapable.||In the first sentence of the fourth paragraph (third paragraph in the body), "one blind eye" is used that hooks into the previous paragraph. This first sentence also lets the reader know that this paragraph will deal with descriptions of people: ". . . what the old man looks like . . .." Once again Poe is quoted and discussed. The last sentence uses the word "image" which hooks into the last paragraph. (It is less important that this paragraph has a hook since the last paragraph is going to include a summary of the body of the paper.)|
|1"Thick darkness," "thread of the spider," and "vulture eye" are three images that Poe used in "The Tell-Tale Heart" to stimulate a reader's senses. 2Poe wanted the reader to see and feel real life. 3He used concrete imagery rather than vague abstract words to describe settings and people. 4If Edgar Allan Poe was one of Stephen King's teachers, then readers of King owe a debt of gratitude to that nineteenth-century creator of horror stories.||The first sentence of the concluding paragraph uses the principal words from the quotations from each paragraph of the body of the paper. This summarizes those three paragraph. The second and third sentences provide observations which can also be considered a summary, not only of the content of the paper, but also offers personal opinion which was logically drawn as the result of this study. The last sentence returns to the Edgar Allan Poe-Stephen King relationship which began this paper. This sentence also provides a "wrap-up" and gives the paper a sense of finality.|
And we’re back to our short series about “maturing” our essays! Last week we talked about more sophisticated thesis statements; now, we’re going to investigate structures.
The task of essay writing is undoubtedly daunting for many; specifically, the challenge of synthesizing information, relating it back to the thesis, and providing appropriate support can be overwhelming.
Often, we race right back to our comfort zones – the five-paragraph essay. This format is often taught in high school, and its organizational structure is simple: an introduction, three body paragraphs that align with the three DOPs (divisions of proof) listed in the thesis, and a conclusion.
What makes this format less useful for college writing is twofold. First, the limits set forth by the thesis apply, thus creating a paper that is structured around evidence instead of subtopics. Secondly, the format does not allow for deep interpretation.
So how can we use our new thesis statements to help us diverge from the five-paragraph essay?
- Analyze possible support
Think of your thesis as your lens. In other words, look at your evidence and possible commentary with what I like to call “thesis glasses.” Rather than merely tacking on information for the sake of providing support, your thesis should help you filter out unnecessary, unrelated, or weak evidence.
- Maintain organization
Here are two possible ways to organize a paper beyond using divisions of proof (DOPs):
a. Thematic organization– Organize your body paragraphs based on central themes or ideas, using evidence as support rather than the leader of the paragraph.
b. Chronological organization – This method works best for narrative or
historical essays that are time-conscious.
Let’s run through this procedure using a thesis from our previous blog post.
Snakes, particularly constrictors, provide the warmest hugs, thereby forging a sense of closeness between owner and pet.
What kind of support can we garner from this thesis?
- Behavioral support regarding the snakes’ constricting abilities.
- Anecdotal evidence specifically from snake owners.
- Statistics regarding the happiness levels of snake owners. (Possible counterpoints from non-snake owners.)
Though additional support exists, the thesis allows us to omit unnecessary data or evidence. For example, because our thesis is focused on the closeness between snake owners and their constrictors, we won’t have to use data pertaining to snake bites or rattlesnakes.
Now, let’s continue with organization.
Because our thesis is more argumentative than it is exploratory, a thematic organization might help us decide how to situate our body paragraphs.
Here’s a rough outline of what that structure may look like:
a. Thesis: Snakes, particularly constrictors, provide the warmest hugs, thereby forging a sense of closeness between owner and pet.
- Theme 1: Constrictors as emotionally comforting creatures in the wild.
a. Evidence: an animal behaviorist’s take on serpentine hugs.
b. Evidence: constrictors as parents in the wild.
- Theme 2: Constrictors as emotionally comforting pets.
a. Evidence: anecdotal evidence from snake owners.
Theme 3: Bonds between owner and constrictor.
a. Evidence: statistics regarding the happiness levels of snake owners.
- Theme 4: Counterpoint – the danger of soliciting hugs from constrictors.
a. Counterevidence: statistics about snake-related deaths.
b. Rebuttal: discuss the importance of recognizing behavioral patterns as to avoid danger.
In this outline, we’ve used themes as our central guides. Notice that we did not label them as body paragraphs. Often, one theme or subtopic could require more than one paragraph because a thematic organization lends itself well to multiple pieces of evidence.
Furthermore, we were able to include a counterpoint: a contrary argument that challenges your own. Not all essays will require or benefit from one, but we can see that the theme of the counterpoint contradicts the previous themes in the essay and the central argument of the thesis. Therefore, rather than immediately attacking the evidence, our rebuttal still aligns with our own point.
Remember that you need not worry about reaching a paragraph quota. Shorter, more succinct paragraphs are preferable over lengthy, disorganized ones. Your thesis will guide your organization; it is your decision how to go about it, though.
While a five-paragraph essay forces an organizational paradigm onto your paper, the schemes we’ve explored in this series should help you take control of your essay.
Go forth and conquer!