FAQS about 5 Paragraph Essays

by Reginald Hart

What is an essay?

An essay is a group of paragraphs relating to a central idea known as a thesis. An essay contains 3 parts: introduction, body, and conclusion; therefore, all essays contain at least three paragraphs.

What is the purpose of an essay?

An essay is a piece of writing which informs, educates, or entertains; these are not always separate and can be combined in some essays.

What is a 5 paragraph essay?

An essay is comprised of an introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs and a conclusion paragraph.

Why 5?

It is widely believed that three supporting ideas are necessary to examine most subjects.

What are the advantages of a 5 paragraph essay?

A 5 paragraph essay is a good teaching tool. It helps the student writer to focus on critical thinking and refine the writing process. For the teacher, it provides a specific structure making it easier to apply a grading rubric.

How do I begin?

Usually the teacher provides topics for the essay. The first stages involve various brainstorming and organizing techniques.

What is academic writing?

Academic writing uses formal language. Primarily, it differs from casual or personal writing in the word choices. Slang, idioms, cheesy expressions and jargon should be avoided. This helps academic writing maintain clarity and timelessness (meaning it will still make sense in a future time). Academic writing can include essays, dissertations, transcripts, reports, memorandums, business letters, and even formal email.

Is academic writing always serious?

Formal does not always mean serious. Usually the subject matter and style determine the tone of the essay. Descriptive essays can be humorous and contain hyperbole, alliteration, metaphors, similes, symbolism or other literary devices. Argumentative essays are generally humorless and do not employ hyperbole or word-play.

What are the various styles of a 5 paragraph essay?

There are various styles used in writing the 5 paragraph essay. Common forms include description, compare & contrast, definition, argumentative, persuasive, interpretation, informational and analysis by division.

Getting Started


The title is the first thing the audience sees. It should be vivid, interesting, and related to the content. A title is usually short, no more than 4 or 5 words. Titles are not grammatical and often do not contain articles, prepositions, conjunctions and other helping words. Essay titles should be capitalized. They often resemble newspaper headlines.


The introduction for a 5 paragraph essay must contain a thesis. The thesis can be divided into subject, treatment and three supporting ideas. The introduction may contain essential background information. It may also contain an opening statement. But the thesis is the only thing that must be there.

Opening statement

Don't begin your essay with a general statement that everyone already knows such as "Globalization is all around us…" or "Paris is interesting…"

Never use a wordy sentence construction such as "This essay is about how globalization is eliminating jobs…" or "In this paper I will explain how globalization is affecting the job market…" Instead, be forceful and direct "Globalization is causing unemployment in Korea."

Essential background information

The introduction may contain essential background information. This is the kind of information that the audience is not likely to know. It can include some history of the writer or of the topic. Perhaps it is an unknown fact or an anecdote which explains why the author is exploring the topic.


The thesis is the controlling idea for the essay. All sentences must have a relationship to it. If any sentence does not relate to the thesis then the author is off-topic. The "stated" thesis is divided into three parts: subject, treatment and three supporting ideas.


The subject is generally very broad so the treatment and 3 supporting ideas help to narrow down the subject matter. An example subject might be "globalization".


The treatment helps to narrow down the subject. If we were using "globalization" as a subject we might narrow it down by philosophy, politics, economics & trade, or region. For example, "in Korea is good" or "in Korea is bad".

3 Supporting Ideas

Sometimes these are known as "body topics" or "talking points". The 3 supporting ideas will become the topic sentences for the body paragraphs.

Thesis Statement: Globalization in Korea is good because it aids exports, promotes tourism and stimulates the acquisition of knowledge.

Thesis Statement: Globalization in Korea is bad because it damages traditional culture, causes job loss, and creates a brain drain.


The body is where you provide the details, evidence and examples to support your thesis.

Every body paragraph should have a clear topic and this is shown through the topic sentence. Usually, for student writers the topic sentence is the first sentence in the paragraph. But it should be noted that the topic sentence can be located anywhere in the paragraph and can even be inferred.

Show, don't tell! Good writers try to "show" the reader through concrete details rather than try to "tell" through abstracts. A good rule of thumb is to follow each abstract statement with a concrete detail.


This is the last paragraph in the essay. In a 5 paragraph essay it is customary to restate the thesis (using different words if possible).

Thesis Statement: Many Koreans are buying the Hyundai Elantra because of its competitive price, fuel economy, and high resale value.

Restate Thesis: Sensible pricing, low miles per gallon, and an attractive resale value have all contributed to the popularity of the Hyundai Elantra in today's market.

Thesis Statement: Paris is an invigorating place to visit because of its magnificent location, its theaters and art galleries, and its many fine restaurants.

Restate Thesis: If you love beautiful surroundings, world-class theater and art, and an exquisite meal, then Paris is the place for you.

A conclusion might also restate some of the key points of the essay, but this is often unnecessary. The conclusion should never introduce new evidence or take the essay in a new direction. Avoid ending with a question or questions that have not been answered in the essay. Rhetorical questions are okay, but are not always an effective way to end your essay. Remember, the conclusion is the writer's final chance to address the audience. Especially the last sentence should be carefully thought out as it is the very last thing the audience will see.


The hook is a device to get the attention of the audience. It can take many forms. It could be the title. Or, it could be a shocking fact or an interesting word combination. Not all essays require a hook, but the general plan for any piece of writing is to get the audience to willingly read from start to finish.


A clincher is a word, a phrase or even a sentence in the conclusion that almost "proves" the thesis. Not every essay has, or even needs a clincher, but a clincher can be a nice bit of polish that helps make the essay shine!

The clincher is that final thought which should create a lasting impression. The clincher (also referred to as the closer) is your last opportunity to connect with the audience. One way to make the most of this moment is to return to the same technique used for your hook, or perhaps repeat your title or some other important point in the essay.


Transitions are words or phrases that serve as bridges between ideas and between paragraphs. They can be transitions of time, place, comparison, contrast, conclude or summarize.


In the planning stage, audience is probably the most essential point to consider, but the writer may also ask themselves other questions. What is the writer’s position in respect to the audience? Is the writer an insider or an outsider? What purpose will the writing serve? In other words, why write it? What style of essay will serve the purpose: descriptive, argumentative, compare and contrast or some other form? What kind of organizational pattern is most appropriate? Does the paper require any research? If so, how much research is necessary and what kinds of researched evidence will improve the quality?

Rhetorical Stance - Insiders vs. Outsiders

When considering various subjects for the essay writers need to first determine where they stand in relation to the information they will present. They also need to determine where the intended audience stands.

Is the writer an expert? Are they an “insider” in the subject for discussion? For example, if one is writing a literary analysis one could determine whether they are knowledgeable or not. And the audience also can be viewed as an insider or an outsider. A literary analysis written for a non-literary audience would have to avoid too much literary jargon and assume a position of knowledge gaps in the case of the intended audience.

We can therefore view the rhetorical stance in the following ways.

◆ Insiders writing to insiders

◆ Insiders writing to outsiders

◆ Outsiders writing to insiders

◆ Outsiders writing to outsiders

Audience vs Reader

An audience is engaged with the text. They ask questions and are active in their reading. A good audience makes notes in the margins, cross-checks the data and is not always easy to convince. They might question the order of information, the clarity and even the grammar of the writer. An audience understands that the writer is human, and not necessarily believable or always trustworthy. Still, most audiences begin with an element of trust.

A reader tends to be passive. They take in information without actively questioning it. They view the writer as an authority who is somehow above them in intellect or knowledge. Readers view the text as important and infallible. "If it's in a book it must be true. "

When we write we often become more skilled at analyzing other work. We shift from being passive readers to active, engaged, audience members.

Word Choice

One of the most important things to consider when we write is word choice. To choose effective words requires of course, an extensive vocabulary, but all words should be chosen based on the vocabulary knowledge of the target audience.

So, who is our audience and what do they know are always two important questions to consider when we think about word choice.

Gobbledygook - never use it.

Jargon - only use with specific audiences.

Triteness - sign of lazy writing.

Slang and Idioms avoid using these.

Unity vs Coherence

Unity involves the relationship of ideas to the main idea or "thesis". If we took a well-constructed essay and cut it up into pieces and scattered it on the floor it would still have unity because all the various pieces would still have a relationship to the "thesis".

But it would not be clear. Clarity is central to cohesion. Cohesion generally means that all the ideas stick together, but it also has a lot to do with order of information. If the information is given in the wrong order then the audience may be confused.

Coherence is also concerned with the flow of ideas. EFL or ESL students often write grammatically correct sentences but the sentences in a paragraph might seem choppy or lack coherence on one reading, even though they might be unified by all relating to a central topic.

#1) Example of flow (problematic)

When I was a boy I lived on a small farm in Canada. My family grew a multitude of vegetables on the farm. I spent many summer days uprooting legions of weeds from our potato patch. The work was so tiring and tedious that I almost hated summer vacation back then.

#2) Example of flow (more coherent)

When I was a boy I lived on a small farm in Canada. On the farm, my family grew a multitude of vegetables. Uprooting legions of weeds from our potato patch occupied most of my free time during the summer. Back then, I almost hated summer vacation, because the work was so tiring and tedious.

The second paragraph has better flow and the relationship of ideas is easier to follow because of the pattern begin developed. Old information leads and new information follows. In paragraph #1 new information is presented at the beginning of each sentence and the mind has to work harder to comprehend the information, so it doesn't flow well. An audience may have to read slowly or reread it to get the meaning.

Introductory Statements

In addition to the thesis statement, most essays have some kind of introductory statement. This would be the first few sentences the audience sees. There are numerous methods used.

Begin with a Quotation

Some writing teachers suggest that this method has been overused. Perhaps true, but it really depends on the uniqueness and applicability of the quoted material. Try to avoid using such well-known quotations that they have become trite or lost their impact. Shakespeare, for example has been used so often that it often seems trite or trivial. Beginning with a more current quotation might be a better attention-getter. Especially if the quotation is not well known or so new as to be fresh in the audience's mind.

Example - Steve Jobs / Fareed Zakaria / Michelle Obama

Shocking Statement

Something that is shocking or surprising usually creates interest in the audience.


Comparing one thing with another, especially something not so well-known with something very well known.

Memory Trigger

This technique is commonly done and works quite well. It generally involves some kind of sensory detail. Perhaps the writer is walking through a market and a familiar odor causes a remembrance of the past. Or, the writer is looking through a photo album and this triggers the memory. It could even be a song, or a poem that causes the writer to want to relive a past moment. This type of opening is commonly used in descriptive writing.

Begin with a Question

It is okay to begin with a question, but it should not be a question that the writer does not intend to answer. Be careful with this kind of opening statement. It is not a good idea to state too many conclusions in an introduction.


Professional Appearance is most important, therefore all essay final drafts must have proper format.

Double spaced, indented paragraphs.

Font: Times New Roman 

Size: 12 point

Justify: left

It is mandatory that all students use Microsoft Word.

Include references (Works Cited) if used in the essay. Use this sample format:

Works Cited

Duke, Alan, Rachel Wells, and Carolyn Sung. "Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes 'amicably' Settle Divorce, Attorney Says - CNN.com." CNN. Cable News Network, 10 July 2012. Web. 10 July 2012. <http://edition.cnn.com/2012/07/09/showbiz/cruise-holmes-divorce/index.html>.

"Tom Cruise." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 Oct. 2012. Web. 10 July 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Cruise>.

Tourtellotte, Bob. "Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes Wrap up Speedy Divorce." Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, 30 Oct. 0000. Web. 10 July 2012. <http://news.yahoo.com/tom-cruise-katie-holmes-eye-settlement-reports-000451750.html>.

Wells, Rachel, and Jane Caffrey. "Lawyer: Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes Divorcing - CNN.com." CNN. Cable News Network, 30 June 2012. Web. 10 July 2012. <http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/29/showbiz/cruise-holmes-split/?iref=obinsite>.


This page has information on writing basic essays. Here you will find powerpoint files and text files to help you learn about and/or teach essay writing skills. At the top is a comprehensive explanation on the 5 paragraph essay style.

Paper Rater - Check grammar, style, word choice, etc.          

Grammar Help - Owl at Purdue


Easy Bib   -create Works Cited section                 

KNUE Intensive English Teacher Training Program

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

On Writing Well by William Zinsser







Reggie Hart's EFL Cafe is your one-stop shop featuring EFL tools for teachers and students.

Return to Reggie Hart’s EFL home page
Reggie Hart's EFL Cafe Korea