If you’re a student, you will be writing five paragraph essays. I guarantee it.

What is a five paragraph essay?

This is one of the times when the clue is in the question! A five paragraph essay is a format that is specifically designed to guide a student into doing several things:

  • Creating a catchy opening line
  • Making a firm thesis statement
  • Providing a transition from the thesis (or introductory) paragraph to the first supporting paragraph
  • Organizing supporting arguments in a cohesive, coherent fashion
  • Providing a transition from the supporting paragraphs to the summary
  • Wrapping up in a solid summary paragraph

All of this is done in five paragraphs

Introduction: Introduce the subject with general discussion leading up to a thesis statement (what the “point” of your essay is, or what you’re going to prove), then transition into the first of three body paragraphs.

Three body paragraphs: each body paragraph discusses one point, concept, example, or idea that helps support your thesis statement.

Conclusion paragraph: the conclusion paragraph restates your thesis statement without repeating it word for word, and then reiterates a very general summary of your support, then finishes with a statement that wraps up your essay concisely.

How should you organize a five paragraph essay?

I am a HUGE fan of outlining. Outlining is a beautiful thing, especially as essays get longer. It may seem like an unnecessary step, but as a seasoned writer, I outline. I outline like my life depends on it. If I’m writing a thirty page paper, I’ll have at least a ten page outline, and it is a thing of beauty.


Outlining is the writer’s opportunity to organize their thoughts and make notes before they have to write. Some people are great at writing and not great at organizing. Outlining helps. Some people are great at organizing and not so good at writing. Outlining helps there too. The idea is that outlining breaks a big task into a few smaller, much easier ones, and after you try it once you will realize that once the outline is done, the paper is more than half-way written. Trust me: I know of what I speak.

How to Outline?

I was taught how to outline by a teacher who loooooooved her some Roman numerals. I still do it that way (and that was thirty-five years ago), but you don’t have to. The key to outlining is to find a system that works for you, and allows you to see the flow of information. Let’s do one on the fly–outlining a five paragraph essay:

My Summer Vacation Plans, by Banger, aged oh-no-you-didn’t-think-I’d-say

I.) Introduction

A.) Catchy opening line: Must be related to the topic, and relevant.

B.) Short, general discussion of how awesome summer vacation is:

1.) It’s warm;
2.) There is no school (except I’m a grad student, boohoo!);
3.) I can go places, and I love to go places!

C.) Thesis statement: My summer vacation will be fantastic because I am going on a road trip to New York to do super-nifty things, including eating frozen custard, swimming in a lake, and going to one of my favorite places, Camp Scratch-a-‘Squitobite.

D.) Transition statement: I know exactly what I’ll do as soon as I get to New York, and that’s go for frozen custard.

II.) Body Paragraph One

A.) It’s all about the frozen custard

1.) One reason frozen custard is awesome;
2.) Another reason;
3.) A third reason. (Trust me, be glad I’m not saying why it’s awesome, or you would want some now.)

B.) Transition statement: If you think frozen custard is incredible, let me tell you about swimming in lakes!

III.) Body Paragraph Two

A.) Lakes are amazing!

1.) You can swim in them, and they are composed of 67.95% fish pee. TRUE FACT;
2.) They have seaweed, and you can throw it where people are about to swim and make them freak out and scream;
3.) Swimming in lakes is easier for beginning swimmers than swimming in the ocean, because the waves are smaller and the water doesn’t burn their eyes

B.) Transition statement: What’s even better is that I know a place where I can get frozen custard and swim in a lake. It’s win-win!

IV.) Body Paragraph Three

A.) That place is Camp Scratch-a-‘Squitobite.

1.) My family has a long tradition of going to Camp Scratch-a-‘Squitobite. My grandpa went there, my dad, I went, and now my kids go;
2.) The biggest, juiciest mosquitoes in the world live there, and they give us rides to the frozen custard stand;
3.) We get to play in the lake too, and have a great time.

B.) Transition statement: Camp is a lot of fun. We swim in lakes and eat custard with our mosquito friends.

V.) Conclusion

A.) Restate (but do not repeat!) the thesis statement:

1.) I am looking forward to my summer vacation, because it is going to be really fun.

a.) The things that will make it fun are eating some super-terrific frozen custard near the lake;
b.) swimming in a lake made up of 67.95% fish pee and lots of seaweed;
c.) going to Camp Scratch-a-‘Squitobite, where my kids and I can play in the lake and eat custard, but not simultaneously, because fish pee.

Wait, that’s an outline?

Sure! That’s the way I like to outline, because once I’m ready to write, the essay, as I said, is pretty much written. It didn’t take very long to write that outline–longer just because I was getting silly in it–and it may take less time now to write the essay than it did the outline. The hard part is done: I know what I’ll say where in the essay and about how I’ll say it.

Furthermore, if I needed to add in more detail, or an extra paragraph, or move something around, it’s easy to do so when everything is still in outline form.

Did that help? If you’re a student and you try outlining for the first time, let me know how it worked for you. I’d love to hear!


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