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Three Paragraph Essay On Education

How to Write A Five-Paragraph Essay

Step-by-step instructions for planning, outlining, and writing a five-paragraph essay.

The Planning

The most important part of writing a five-paragraph -- or any other style -- essay has little to do with the actual essay writing: When it comes to a successful essay, the most crucial step is the planning. In fact, a properly planned essay will practically write itself.

The first advice you should provide students about to embark on an essay-writing adventure, therefore, is to plan what you will write about -- and plan to write about the assigned topic.

The second part of that advice might seem obvious and unnecessary, but we all know those students who fail to carefully read the question or prompt and then too quickly write about a vaguely related topic; or those who believe essays are graded on word count and prefer to write a lot about a topic they know well -- or everything they know about a variety of topics -- rather than risk writing too little about a less familiar, though assigned, topic.

Students need to be made aware that assigned topics for most writing assessments already are quite broad; they often need to be narrowed and focused; they rarely should be broadened.

Consider the following assignment:

Mark Twain once said: "Suppose you were an idiot... And suppose you were a member of Congress... But I repeat myself." Discuss whether you agree or disagree with Mark Twain's statement.

An essay about some silly bills passed by Congress, an essay about a few brilliant and respected members of Congress, even an essay about the factors that influenced Samuel Clemens' beliefs about Congress might be appropriate responses; an essay about Tom Sawyer or the history of Washington, D.C. would not be.

According to the College Board Web site, the only way to get a zero on the SAT's new essay section is to fail to write about the assigned topic. A little planning can prevent that.

The Outline

After students have read and understood the assigned topic, they can go on to the next step of the essay-writing process. This step does involve writing -- but not yet essay writing. In step two, students write an outline of their proposed essay. The outline should look something like this:
Congress According to Twain

1) Topic: The question or prompt rephrased in the student's own words. Rephrasing the prompt will help students understand the assignment and narrow and focus the topic of their essay. For example, "Mark Twain once said that all members of Congress are idiots."
2) Position: The student's position or opinion about the question or prompt. For example, "I see no reason to disagree."
Most writing assessments ask students to take a position. Students should be aware that, if the test directions ask them to take a position, they need to take one side of the issue and defend it, not consider and defend both sides of the issue.
3) Reasons: Three reasons the student has taken his or her stated position.
a) Reason 1: The most important reason. For example, "Congress has passed a number of bills without considering where the funding for those bills would come from."
i) Evidence: Example that demonstrates Reason 1. For example, "The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act are just three examples of laws that were passed without considering how cities and states would pay to implement their mandates."
b) Reason 2: The second most important reason. For example, "Congress has passed a number of silly bills based on narrow political interests."
i) Evidence: Example that demonstrates Reason 2. "For example, federal laws have been passed making it a crime to imitate Smokey the Bear or transport wooden teeth across state lines."
c) Reason 3: The third most important reason. For example, "The members of Congress from my state are idiots."
i) Evidence: Example that demonstrates Reason 3. For example, "I met John Smith, a member of Congress from my state, and he had never heard of my hometown."

The outline now is complete, and the essay -- as you can see by reading the italicized text in the outline -- is practically written.

The Five-Paragraph Essay

Finally! Students have arrived at the easiest part of the essay-writing process -- writing the essay. All they have to do now is arrange their outline text into a five-paragraph-essay format and add a few transitions, and they're done!

Paragraph 1: This is the Introduction. Here, students restate the assigned topic, state their position on the topic, and list the three reasons for their position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.

Mark Twain once said that all members of Congress are idiots. I see no reason to disagree. Members of Congress are often financially irresponsible, politically motivated, and unaware of the real concerns of their constituents. Let me explain.

Paragraph 2: This is the first of three paragraphs in the body of the essay. Here, students name and explain the most important reason for their stated position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.

Congress is financially irresponsible because it has passed a number of bills without considering where the funding for those bills would come from. The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clean Air Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act are just three examples of laws that were passed without considering how cities and states would pay to implement their mandates. Congress doesn't just waste money, though, it wastes time too.

Paragraph 3: This is the second of three paragraphs in the body of the essay. Here, students name and explain the second most important reason for their stated position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.

Congress has wasted time by passing a number of silly bills based on narrow political interests. For example, federal laws have been passed making it a crime to imitate Smokey the Bear or transport wooden teeth across state lines. Congress doesn't only do idiotic things as a group, though.

Paragraph 4: This is the third of three paragraphs in the body of the essay. Here, students name and explain the third most important reason for their stated position. They end the paragraph with a transition sentence.

Even the individual members of Congress from my state are idiots. I met John Smith, a representative from my state, and he had never heard of my hometown.

Paragraph 5: This is the Conclusion. Here, students rephrase and recap their position on the issue and their reasons for it, and then write a concluding sentence. The conclusion might emphasizes their position, expand it, offer a solution, or express a hope or prediction for the future.

So you can see why I think Mark Twain was correct when he said that all members of Congress are idiots. Often financially irresponsible, politically motivated, and unaware of the real concerns of their constituents, I believe that members of Congress need to spend less time immersed in the politics of Washington, D.C. and more time amid the voters at home.

Congratulations! You passed!

Additional Essay-Writing Resources


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2017 Education World

Last updated 10/02/2017

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Millions of students have been taught a formula that has nothing to do with chemistry. The formula is for writing a five-paragraph essay. First, write an introductory paragraph to state the argument. Then, add three paragraphs of evidence. Finally, write a conclusion.

Linda Bergmann is director of the Writing Lab at Purdue University in Indiana. Her job is to help students, including international students, improve their writing. Professor Bergmann has worked with many students who learned this traditional five-paragraph formula.

LINDA BERGMANN: "It is kind of like, 'A is true because one, two, three.' The second paragraph is the first reason, next paragraph the second reason. The next paragraph is the final reason, and then the last paragraph is, 'So we can see that this is true.'"

Professor Bergmann says international students sometimes have difficulty with this formula if they learned a different writing structure. But just knowing how to write a five-paragraph essay is not going to be enough for a college student who has to write a longer academic paper. As Professor Bergmann points out, the formula is too simple to deal with subjects that require deeper thought and investigation.

LINDA BERGMANN: "Essentially, it is way too simplistic to handle more intellectually sophisticated topics which involve actual inquiry."

Karen Gocsik is executive director of courses in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The institute has an extensive library of online writing materials on its website.

So what are the qualities that make up good writing? Ms. Gocsik says there are no simple answers -- except maybe for one. That is, there is no formula that students can follow to guarantee a well-written paper.

KAREN GOCSIK: "What we try to teach students to do in college is to listen to their ideas, and that the idea should be able to tell you what form it needs to take."

She says moving from secondary-school writing to college-level writing can be difficult, but students should not be afraid.

KAREN GOCSIK: "The thinking that you are doing, and the purpose that you have and the audience you are writing to -- all of these things you will mix up together and you will come up with, we hope, an excellent college paper."

In some cultures, students organize their paragraphs to build toward the main idea at the end of the paper. American college students are usually expected to state their thesis at the beginning. And, while students in some cultures use lots of descriptive words, American professors generally want shorter sentences.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. Tell us about your own experience with academic writing. Go to voaspecialenglish.com and share your stories. And before you write that next paper, check out two links on our website. One is for the Online Writing Lab at Purdue. The other is for the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth. I'm Jim Tedder.

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