If writing an essay was easy, you would not be reading this article. Yet, the purpose of this article is to show you precisely how easy it is to write the perfect 5 paragraph essay. Moreover, once you’ve learned the techniques, tips, and tricks in this article, longer and shorter essays will be easier too.
The key to writing an outstanding essay
You’re not here to learn merely how to write an essay. You’re not here to learn how to write a good essay. You’re here to learn how to write an excellent essay. And the quickest path to great essays is sticking to the basic essay structure until you feel like an expert. (There are many, many, many online essay format resources. Check out a few and figure out which one makes the most sense to you).
The key to excellent essays isn’t magic or simply being born a gifted writer. No, the real key is fully utilizing the basic essay format that anyone can write using the steps described in this article. Committing to this simple format for writing an essay, in combination with rewriting and practice, can turn literally anyone into an essay-writing genius. (As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, 10,000 hours of practice can make you an expert in most things. This is especially true in mental tasks like writing. So get practicing!)
Before getting into the basic essay format, let’s take a look at the overall structure of a great essay.
The fundamental structure of all writing
This is basic, but consider this:
Every piece of writing is a string of words arranged into sentences. These sentences are arranged into paragraphs. And the paragraphs may be arranged into an essay, a chapter, or an entire book.
Each word represents a simple idea. Each sentence uses words to express a slightly more complicated idea made of smaller ideas. And each paragraph expresses a much more complicated network of ideas.
Why are these obvious points being made? Because when you write a word, sentence, or paragraph, you should always focus on the idea you are trying to express. When writing an essay, you should always make sure that the idea of a sentence fits the idea of a paragraph.
As you are surely also aware, the order of words in a sentence matter, as do the order of sentences in a paragraph, and so on. Why does order matter? Sometimes, one idea builds off of another one. This is precisely why the order the paragraphs of a short essay always occur in the same order.
When you are writing an idea into an essay, make sure that the reader has enough information to understand that idea. If not, you need to insert more information before that idea or relate the new information to previous information from your essay in some way. (This notion of relating ideas in a specific order will come up later, under the topic of transition sentences.)
The fundamental structure of every great essay
Every great story, every great film, and every great essay has three things in common: a beginning, a middle, and an end. In an essay, these parts are typically called the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. When an essay is missing one of these pieces, it feels incomplete, like a movie with that has no ending or a story with characters you can’t understand. Worse yet, when these pieces are out of order, your reader will think you have lost your mind.
All good examples of essay writing stick to the introduction, body, and conclusion format. Consider this example. The writers on the New York Times Opinion page do not label their articles with “introduction,” “body,” and “conclusion.” However, these great examples of essays are so structured that you could circle these 3 essay parts with a marker. (Tip: Reading opinion articles from newspapers is a much better way to learn about essay writing than reading free samples of essay writing available online.)
The format for writing an essay may change slightly from one assignment to another or from one style of essay to another, but the “introduction, body, and conclusion” order will always be in an essay. In just a bit, this article will describe the process of outlining the structure of your essay.
There’s one thing that must come before writing your outline—writing a thesis statement.
There is no thesis statement generator—but you don’t need one!
Simply put, the thesis statement is the point of your essay. A well-developed thesis statement is a 1 or 2 sentence summary of what your essay shows and how it shows it. In other words, it should outline the points that will be made in your body and indicate the conclusion made from those points.
You don’t need a thesis builder. When writing a thesis statement, just ask yourself how you would explain your essay to a friend or a relative. This question is the perfect thesis statement generator. (If you need a little guidance there are solid web tools to guide your thesis statement writing.)
Write your thesis statement first. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing analytical thesis statements or thesis statements for an autobiographical essay. A thesis statement is the centerpiece of your essay. And this is why writing a thesis statement should happen first. It shouldn’t be the first sentence of your essay, but it must be in your introduction. Ideally, the thesis statement should be tucked into the middle or end of the first paragraph while writing essay introductions.
Thesis statements will come up again, when the article discusses introductions. But here are a few thesis statement examples to make sure you understand the idea:
“There are many organic foods available today, but the vast majority of conventional foods can be eaten without any concern about the consumption of toxic pesticides. This is because many foods are not grown with pesticides, while the edible parts of other crops are covered by thick peels, and some agricultural foods are grown with nontoxic pesticides.”
“Detroit did not become the automotive capital of the United States overnight. Rather, automotive manufacturing became established in Detroit because of its position in proximity to raw materials like steel, the presence of navigable waterways, and the efforts of local entrepreneurs.”
“Three key design elements that defined the Art Deco movement were bold geometric shapes, rich colors, and luxurious ornamentation.”
Notice the similarities shared by these thesis statements. They each list 3 points that will be elaborated on in the body. (Five paragraph essays rely upon this magic number of 3 points, which is discussed next.) And you can also imagine the essay that each of these statements belongs to.
Focusing on structure in 5 paragraph essays
Five paragraph essays require a very special sort of discipline. In this case, you only have 5 paragraphs to work with, so there is only one structure that makes sense: 1 introduction paragraph, 3 body paragraphs, and 1 conclusion paragraph. (In the next few sections, the goals of these sections or the ideas they should convey are described in more detail.)
How can you be sure your essay has this fundamental structure? The first step is producing a basic essay outline. (Check out this worksheet to help you with the process.)
Here’s the thing:
Always write an outline! It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a college essay over a holiday break or writing an important essay for an exam, take time to gather your thoughts.
A basic essay outline should be broken in an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The Introduction of the essay outline should focus on the information that the reader will need to understand your thesis statement.
The main thing you want to accomplish with outlining your essay is determining the order of the three body paragraphs. Think about how the presentation of one argument or point of your essay relies upon another. (In other words, their order may matter.)
Lastly the conclusion should restate the introduction, though without all of the introductory content. Think of the introduction and conclusion as matching bookends.
Writing an introduction to be clear and effective
This may be obvious:
But the purpose of an introduction is to introduce the purpose of the essay. An introduction should provide enough information to orient the reader to the essay subject, state the purpose of the essay (in a basic thesis statement), and roughly outline the content of the body.
When you are writing an introduction, you first need to grab the attention of the reader. The first sentence of your introduction should be a bold statement, a striking fact, or a provocative question. The trick here is to use something memorable. This is one reason many essays begin with a famous quote.
After you have the attention of the reader, give a little more background about your essay topic. When you have provided enough information, use your thesis statement to clearly indicate what your essay is about.
After this, you should conclude your introduction with a quick summary of the points you will be making in the body. (But a well thought out thesis statement can do accomplish this goal also.)
But keep in in mind:
You can always go back and edit your introduction if it is not perfect yet. Writing an introduction can be the most difficult part of essay writing, so try your best just to complete the text and move on.
Writing the clearest body paragraphs
The purpose of a body is to explain the content of an essay. If you are writing a standard college essay, like an argumentative essay or an analytical essay, each of these paragraphs will be one of the points you mentioned in your introduction.
Now here’s something weird:
Each paragraph of the body is like a tiny miniature essay.
Think about it:
Every paragraph has a point or thesis statement. Each paragraph starts with an introductory sentence. And lastly, each paragraph ends with a brief conclusion. If you are writing a body paragraph with an essay, sometimes it helps to focus on the point of the paragraph contained in your basic essay outline.
So far, the essay-writing tricks have been helpful, but this next one elevates good writing to great writing.
Using transition sentences to make your writing fluid and natural
When you talk to your friends and family, it is organic and easy. Without very much thought, your words flow from one topic to the next.
When you are writing an essay, it is very easy for your words to feel awkward or unrelated. This is especially a problem when going from one paragraph to the next. If the body paragraphs are on 3 separate topics, sometimes they will appear disconnected to your reader.
Transition sentences fix this problem. As the first or last sentence of a body paragraph, they help transition the reader from one idea to another.
There are countless ways to write transitions, but this is the easiest process. Write each of your body paragraphs as you naturally would. And then revise your text to link the ideas with transitions.
For instance, one of the basic essay example thesis statements was from an essay about the automotive industry in Detroit, You could link a paragraph about access to raw materials in with a paragraph about adjacency to waterways using the following sentence:
“Steel was cheap because it was produced near Detroit, but this raw material was made even cheaper by the nearby waterways of the Great Lakes.”
This transition sentence connects the two topics of two paragraphs. This is the ideal transition. However, you don’t need to be perfect. Consider this alternative sentence that does the same job:
“Proximity to coal and iron ore were not the only advantage Detroit had in becoming the automotive capital of the 20th century.”
Here, the topic of the next body paragraph was not related to the current paragraph. But still, the reader is prepared to read about another reason Detroit was such an automotive success.
Here’s a trick:
When you don’t know how to write a transition sentence, try using words like “additionally,” “moreover,” or “still” to begin the new paragraph. Similarly, “in contrast” or “however” can be used to start paragraphs that make a contradictory point. In either case, transition sentence starters or transition sentence words like these can be used to relate two paragraphs to each other, which is the whole point of transitions.
After you’ve written your essay, go back and check to make sure that you use a transition sentence between every paragraph. Often, you can simply turn the first or last sentence of a paragraph into a transition.
Wrapping up your essay with a clear conclusion
This is it! You’ve made it to the home stretch. A lot of students either freak out when they are writing a conclusion or just slap something together and hope it works. But you shouldn’t do either because you already sort of know how to write a conclusion.
Learning how to write a science conclusion or how to write a conclusion of any kind is as simple as rereading your introduction and rewriting it. By stripping away the introductory quote, fact, or bold statement as well as the background information, you have a great starting point for a conclusion.
Here’s the kicker:
A conclusion should repeat the arguments you’ve made throughout your essay. This means that it should be the thesis statement of your introduction, as well as the thesis statements of each of your body paragraphs more or less glued together.
If you are having a hard time figuring out how to start a conclusion, here are two ideas. First, you could try using a transition sentence that connects the last paragraph of your essay’s body to the thesis statement. Second, you can simply reword your thesis statement, starting with “in summary.” The first approach is better, but the second works if you are in a rush.
But most importantly:
The best conclusions go a step further. When figuring out how to write a conclusion, it is easy to simply restate your introduction. But by simply adding a final concluding sentence that describes a follow up question or a future essay subject, you can make your essay memorable.
Make sure your essay is amazing by rereading it
For most essays, you will have time to check your work and revise it. Though exams and tests may limit you, try to budget enough time to reread your essay. If nothing else you can make sure you used a proper format for college essays, basic research paper format, or whatever other format you were supposed to use for the assignment. (Obviously, look for typos, bad grammar, improper formatting, and other silly mistakes as well.)
However, as you reread your essay here are some great questions to ask yourself. As you answer these questions about your writing, try to put yourself in the position of your reader.
- Will the introduction grab the reader’s attention immediately? (If not, try a shorter, bolder, stronger first sentence.)
- Will the thesis statement be clear to any reader? (If not, rewrite it using shorter, simpler statements.)
- Do the body paragraphs flow from one to the next? (If not, try changing the order of the paragraphs and/or inserting a transition sentence between paragraphs.)
- Does the conclusion effectively summarize the essay? (If not, you may need to rewrite the conclusion by focusing on the thesis statements of the essay and each body paragraph.)
By keeping these points in mind, you will be able to make tiny little fixes that could give you essay a great big grade boost.
The single biggest thing to consider while you are reading is one simple question:
Is this too complicated?
If you find a sentence that’s too complicated to understand, circle it, underline it, or highlight it. Make those sentences your top priority in the next step. No college essay format guidelines will tell you this, but the most important rule of essay writing is “keep it simple.”
The last step in every great essay, rewriting
The top trick for how to write a college essay is, of course, the same top trick for writing a high school essay or any other writing at all—that is, rewriting. (There are many resources that explain the importance of rewriting. But you should watch Nobel Laureate novelist Orhan Pamuk explain the power of rewriting.)
Rewriting is the stage when good writing becomes great writing. This is your chance to fix the issues you uncovered while rereading your essay.
By the way, if you’re the type of person who likes lists, use a checklist to help you with revisions. And of course, reread and revise your essay as many times as you can.
“Keep it simple.” If you encounter a sentence that is difficult to understand or is more than 2 lines long, try to figure out ways to break it up. Simplifying your ideas is the most important part of the rewriting process. You should save your long and complicated sentences for when you’ve become a famous writer. If you take a look at excellent essay examples, you won’t find many long sentences. So stick to that!
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