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5 Paragraph Essay

Every essay is an opportunity to share an original idea on a subject about which you have some knowledge. Sometimes you only just gained that knowledge—as in a free response question paired with a reading segment during an exam—and other times you’ll be writing about a subject that you have studied for years and know like the back of your hand. In either case, a five-paragraph essay can serve as a useful tool for communicating your thoughts to an academic audience.

5 paragraph essay: what is it?

A five-paragraph essay is a prose composition that follows the basic structure of five paragraphs. It includes an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Often critiqued for being too formulaic, the five-paragraph essay is an essential tool in every writer's toolkit and is especially handy on timed writing assignments and exams.

Why is this format best for writing timed essays? During an exam, you might be asked to write an essay, and you may have only just learned some of the details about the subject. You likely won’t have time to draft a uniquely formatted, in-depth analysis in the time you are given. That’s where the five-paragraph structure comes into play; you can use it as a vehicle to get your main idea across to the reader and not spend precious time on how to structure your essay.

This essay format can also be thought of as a building block for almost every type of essay you could write. It is built on a thesis statement and uses the main pieces of support, which are formatted into segments (or paragraphs), to uphold your thesis. This approach can be expanded based on however much support or analysis is appropriate for your essay.

The key principle of this familiar structure is to organize your perspective or claim in a way that is logical and easy for your reader to understand.

You can use the five-paragraph format for writing any of the five styles of essay: argumentative, descriptive, narrative, informative, and persuasive. Think of this approach as not merely an essay structure, but also a means to adapt your writing and strengthen your composition skills for any future assignment.

5 paragraph essay structure

Sometimes the five-paragraph essay is referred to as the hamburger of essays. That’s not because it’s cheesy, but rather because of how it is built—like a hamburger with a beginning (bun), middle segmented into separate parts (hamburger patty, lettuce, condiments, etc.), and end (bun).

5 Paragraph Essay, Hamburger Composition, StudySmarterHamburger composition, Unsplash.

Below is the basic structure of a five-paragraph essay:

  1. Introduction

    1. Hook

    2. Background information

    3. Thesis

  2. Body paragraph 1

    1. Topic sentence

      1. Supporting details

      2. Examples

  3. Body paragraph 2

    1. Topic sentence

      1. Supporting details

      2. Examples

  4. Body paragraph 3

    1. Topic sentence

      1. Supporting details

      2. Examples

  5. Conclusion

    1. Rephrased Thesis

    2. Call to action

Now let’s break each section down to see how it functions within the whole essay.

Introduction

The introduction serves several purposes, all of which are important and should not be forgotten or glossed-over. Remember, this is the "bun" to the hamburger and without it, the whole thing falls apart. The introduction starts with a statement to get your readers’ attention—this is called a hook.

The hook

A hook can take the form of a question, quote, statistic, or anecdote; it grabs your reader and pulls their interest into the topic.

Hook as a Question: Have you ever stood at the edge of the crashing waves in the ocean and wondered how far out it goes?

Hook as a Quote: Clarence Joshua Tuttle once said, “Why do we call this planet Earth, when it would more aptly be called Ocean?"

Hook as a Statistic: About 71% of the face of the earth is covered by water, and the oceans hold about 96.5% of earth’s water.

Hook as an Anecdote: As a child, I used to gaze at the line where the horizon met the sea and wonder how it could stretch on for infinity.

In addition to the hook catching your reader’s attention, your introduction should also contain background information on the topic to give your reader context.

Without some kind of explanation about the topic’s background, you risk your reader not having the full picture, or worse, not understanding what you’re talking about at all.

You don’t have to include too much background explanation for your five-paragraph essay. Usually a couple of sentences will suffice to give the necessary context.

Lastly, your introduction needs your thesis statement, which is arguably the most important part of the essay.

Thesis statement

A thesis statement is a single sentence that explains your main argument for the entire essay. You don’t have to pack every point you’re going to make into the thesis, but your thesis should be a clarified version of the main point.

The vast majority of our planet is covered in water, so there needs to be more awareness about the impact of global warming on Earth's oceans and the wildlife therein.

The thesis should be stated near the end of the first paragraph. It should be supported by details and evidence in the following paragraphs.

3 body paragraphs

The body paragraphs are the meat of your five-paragraph essay (literally, remember the hamburger—the body paragraphs are the juicy middle). You can use more than three paragraphs if you have more points that need to be discussed, but typically no less than three.

You can consider each of your body paragraphs to be one piece of support for your thesis. The first sentence of each paragraph should be the topic sentence for that paragraph, and can act like a mini-thesis. It will state the main idea of that particular paragraph, and the rest of the paragraph will dive into further explanation by including examples and supporting details.

Your body paragraphs should look something like this:

  • Paragraph 1: First piece of support

    • Topic sentence

      • Supporting details

      • Examples

  • Paragraph 2: Second piece of support

    • Topic sentence

      • Supporting details

      • Examples

  • Paragraph 3: Third piece of support

    • Topic sentence

      • Supporting details

      • Examples

Conclusion

Your five-paragraph essay should not end abruptly; it should include a short summary that will wrap up your argument and/or observation on the topic, just like the bottom bun of the hamburger. Provide a brief summary, and then remind your audience of your thesis statement.

By restating or rephrasing your thesis, you are reminding your audience that in the body of the essay you explained everything you said you would way back in your introduction.

The last thing your conclusion needs is something to bring the topic back into the reader’s world. Make them remember why it’s relevant. This could be a call to action, warning, provocative question, or something to evoke emotion in the reader.

Call to action

Because of [insert main idea], you should take [X] action.

Warning

If you (or we) don’t do [X thing], [X consequence] will happen.

Provocative question

What do you think will happen if [X] continues (or ceases. Whatever is relevant to your main point.)?

Evocative statement

Could be a quote or anything you think will stir the emotions of the reader on the subject.

How to make a 5 paragraph essay outline

With the basic structure of a five-paragraph essay in mind, you can begin the process of making an outline.

An outline is simply a plan for your essay, and it’s important to create one so you know how to organize your ideas. Without an outline, you’re likely to ramble or wander all over your topic without fully developing your main point.

Below are the essential steps to drafting an outline for your five paragraph essay.

Step 1

The first thing you need to do is brainstorm the topic; look for associations you may already have and keep the assignment or prompt in the front of your mind.

How to brainstorm a topic: Brainstorming is a strategy for coming up with ideas and content for your essay. Brainstorming can be anything from creating word associations, to freewriting, to making lists, to drawing a venn diagram, or whatever makes sense for you so that you can break down the topic and pick out what you have to say.

Sort through whatever you come up with in the brainstorming process, and pick out something that you find important or something you can elaborate.

Step 2

Next, you need to draft a thesis statement. As previously stated, your thesis is the guide for your essay—especially so in a five-paragraph essay—because your thesis introduces the ideas your body paragraphs.

Take whatever piece of the puzzle you came up with after brainstorming, and work it into a single statement that makes a claim on the topic.

The thesis statement of your five-paragraph essay should contain a claim of some sort about the subject. It should an original thought, and not be a restating of known facts.

Step 3

Now, apply the basic structure of a five-paragraph essay to your topic. An outline typically uses numbers as a way to organize the essay. Each point can be a key word or phrase; you don’t need to use whole sentences in an outline.

Organize the paragraphs by the main points that support your thesis, then include subpoints, or pieces of evidence, to explain the topic sentence of that paragraph.

5 Paragraph Essay, Notes Structure, StudySmarterOrganize Notes, Unsplash.

5 paragraph essay example: the outline

Here’s an example of a five-paragraph essay outline:

  1. Introduction

    1. Hook: Children are no longer growing up walking to the candy store around the corner or sharing root beer floats at the local diner with kids they’ve know their entire lives. They aren’t even growing up in an innocent world like when Super Mario Brothers was the most popular video game.

    2. Background: The world has changed rapidly in the last fifty years.

    3. Thesis: Because of violence in video games, movies, social media, and increased pressure from peers, being a parent today is much more difficult than it was a generation ago.

  2. Body paragraph 1

    1. Topic sentence: The progression of technology has given children more entertainment, but it has also decreased their attention spans, making it much more difficult to keep them on task.

      1. Supporting detail: Music, video games, social media all easily accessible on phones or computers.

      2. Supporting detail: Research shows that excessive screen time for children can drastically affect their attention span, and even brain development.

  3. Body paragraph 2

    1. Topic sentence: Not only do parents have to be aware of the effects of constant screen usage, it means they must also be vigilant about their children being exposed to inappropriate material.

      1. Supporting detail: In film

      2. Supporting detail: On television

      3. Supporting detail: Online

  4. Body paragraph 3

    1. Topic sentence: Children are now often exposed to dangerous situations during their daily lives or via the media.

      1. Supporting detail: Access to drugs & alcohol

      2. Supporting detail: Violent crimes (school shootings, etc.)

  5. Conclusion

    1. Rephrased Thesis statement: Society and media have a huge impact on children’s lives and have worked together to make parenting extremely difficult, now more than ever.

    2. Call to action: Because of these changes it is up to parents to remain present so we can be aware of and sensitive to all these challenges facing our children.

Writing a 5 paragraph essay

With your outline in hand, it’s now time to write your five-paragraph essay! The beauty of this process is that your argument is now fully mapped out, and you know exactly what you need to say.

The first thing to do is nail down your thesis statement. Again, the body of your essay hinges on the main point contained in your essay, so you need to be certain of that before you proceed. Next you can start to put together your body paragraphs.

5 paragraph essay transitions

Be sure you include transitions between paragraphs, otherwise your essay will feel very robotic and will not be enjoyable to read. Transitions help to show the relationship between thoughts as you move from one to another.

You can use simple transitions (i.e. first, next, and last); or use phrases to show similarity (i.e. also, in the same way, likewise, just as, etc.) and/ or differences (i.e. but, however, in spite of, etc.).

A note on the limits of the 5 paragraph essay

Remember, there is often more to your topic than can be explained in a five-paragraph essay. That’s why these are a great tool for exam essays; you simply won’t have the time to complete an exhaustive analysis, so the five-paragraph essay is the next best choice.

Keep this perspective in mind and remember that however brilliant your essay, it is not the end-all-be-all on the subject. The five-paragraph essay is, however, an excellent vehicle you can use to explain your original thought on a subject in an organized manner.

5 Page Essay - Key takeaways

  • A five paragraph-essay follows the basic structure of five paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
  • Five-paragraph essays are a great tool for timed writing assignments and exams, but can also be used as a foundation for any type of essay.
  • Start writing a five-paragraph essay by creating a thesis statement.
  • Each body paragraph is one piece of support for the essay's thesis. They should each have a topic sentence, or main idea, that is in support of the overall thesis.
  • The conclusion of a five-paragraph essay is important because it restates the thesis and then makes the subject personal to the reader.

Frequently Asked Questions about 5 Paragraph Essay

Write a 5 paragraph essay by following the basic structure: introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

A 5 paragraph essay can be anywhere from one to one hundred pages; it all depends on how much you need to support your thesis statement. 

A 5 paragraph essay can contain as many words as necessary to fully support and explain your main point, or your thesis.

Typically, a 5 paragraph essay will contain 4 topic sentences with one of them being the thesis statement, and the other 3 being the topic sentences of the body paragraphs. 

A 5 paragraph essay can look very different from one essay to the next, however they will all follow the basic structure of the five paragraphs: introduction, (at least) 3 supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. 

Final 5 Paragraph Essay Quiz

Question

What is the definition of a five-paragraph essay?

Show answer

Answer

A five-paragraph essay is a prose composition that follows the basic structure of five paragraphs that include an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Show question

Question

Why are five-paragraph essays a good choice for timed exam assignments?

Show answer

Answer

During an exam, you likely won’t have time to draft a uniquely formatted, in-depth analysis in the time you are given. 

Show question

Question

True or false: Five-paragraph essays can also be used to write argumentative, descriptive, narrative, informative, and/ or persuasive essays.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Fill in the blank: The key principle of the five-paragraph structure is to ___________ your perspective or claim in a way that is logical and easy for your reader to understand.

Show answer

Answer

Organize

Show question

Question

Why is the five-paragraph essay often referred to as a "hamburger" essay style?

Show answer

Answer

Because of how it is built; like a hamburger with a definite beginning (bun), middle segmented into separate parts (hamburger patty, lettuce, condiments, etc.), and end (bun).

Show question

Question

Which paragraph in a five-paragraph essay contains the hook?

Show answer

Answer

Introduction

Show question

Question

Which is arguably the most important part of a five-paragraph essay?

Show answer

Answer

Thesis statement

Show question

Question

True or false: In a five-paragraph essay, you should always devote one entire paragraph to a background explanation of the topic.

Show answer

Answer

Fale

Show question

Question

In a five-paragraph essay, is it possible to use more than five paragraphs or less than five paragraphs?

Show answer

Answer

More

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a strategy to concluding a five-paragraph essay?

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Answer

Demand

Show question

Question

_____________  is a plan for your essay, and it’s important to create one so you know how to organize your ideas.

Show answer

Answer

An outline

Show question

Question

What are some examples of brainstorming exercises?

Show answer

Answer

Word association, freewriting, making lists 

Show question

Question

Why brainstorm your topic before you begin writing?

Show answer

Answer

Brainstorming can give ideas about how the topic relates to you (the writer) and what you might have to say about it

Show question

Question

Should you brainstorm before or after you create a thesis statement?

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Answer

Before

Show question

Question

Which of the following is an example of a transition to show similarity?

Show answer

Answer

Likewise

Show question

Question

Why are transitions necessary between ideas and paragraphs in a five-paragraph essay?

Show answer

Answer

Transitions help to show the relationship between thoughts as you move from one to another.

Show question

Question

What is structure in an essay?

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Answer

The structure of an essay is the arrangement of the essay's paragraphs. The structure organizes the essay into distinct parts to make it easy to read.

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Question

What does the basic structure of a 5-paragraph essay include?

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Answer

introduction

Show question

Question

What does an introduction include?

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Answer

a hook

Show question

Question

What does one use a hook for?

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Answer

One uses a hook to capture the reader's attention.

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Question

What are some ideas for hooks? 

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Answer

an interesting question

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Question

What kind of background information can be included in an introduction?

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Answer

names of texts and authors being analyzed or compared

Show question

Question

What is a thesis statement?

Show answer

Answer

A thesis statement is a one-sentence summary of the main point of an essay. It tells the reader what the argument or idea is before going into detail. 

Show question

Question

True or false: 

The first paragraph of an essay should include the most important point of the essay.

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Answer

True! The first paragraph should start the essay off strong.

Show question

Question

What should each body paragraph of a 5-paragraph cover?

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Answer

a different aspect of the main idea

Show question

Question

What should the second body paragraph of a 5-paragraph essay cover? 

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Answer

The second body paragraph should cover the second strongest argument or second most important point of the essay.

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Question

What should the third body paragraph of a 5-paragraph essay cover?

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Answer

the least important idea of the essay

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Question

True or False:

Because the third body paragraph covers the least important idea of an essay, it's not really necessary.

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Answer

False. The third body paragraph is a chance to reinforce the ideas of the first and second paragraphs by building on them.

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Question

What are the elements of a good conclusion?

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Answer

A summary of the main points

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Question

What is the purpose of an essay?

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Answer

The purpose of an essay is the effect a writer intends to have on the reader. It's the one thing the writer wants the reader to walk away from the essay feeling, thinking, or knowing.

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Question

When using an argument/persuasion outline,  what should each body paragraph cover?

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Answer

a different reason for the argument

Show question

Question

A writer covers a different characteristic of a text in their body paragraphs. What type of outline are they using?

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Answer

analysis outline

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Question

What does chronological mean?

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Answer

Chronological means arranging events in the order in which they happened. Chronologies tell a story of what happened over time.

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Question

What is an intro paragraph?

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Answer

An intro paragraph is the first paragraph of an essay. It grabs the reader's attention, introduces the essay topic, and states the main idea of the essay.

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Question

What are some other words for intro paragraph?

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Answer

introduction

Show question

Question

What are the elements of an intro paragraph?

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Answer

hook

Show question

Question

What is a hook?

Show answer

Answer

A hook is a sentence that catches the reader's attention. 

Show question

Question

Where does the hook appear in an intro paragraph?

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Answer

the first sentence

Show question

Question

A writer starts an essay with the following hook: Could you imagine a world without television?


What type of hook is this an example of?

Show answer

Answer

interesting question

Show question

Question

True or false: 

When sharing an important story for a hook, one must tell only stories that come from personal experience.

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Answer

False. An important story can be a personal experience or a story from the news, popular culture, or any other source.

Show question

Question

What is the purpose of using a shocking fact or statistic for a hook?

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Answer

The purpose of using a shocking fact or statistic for a hook is to shock the reader so they want to learn more.

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Question

In an essay, the writer describes a moment where they were caught up in a state of flow. What type of hook is this an example of?

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Answer

vivid description

Show question

Question

True or false:

A memorable quote should always come from someone famous.

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Answer

False: A memorable quote can come from a person who is famous or not famous. The quote is what matters!

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Question

True or false:

A strong statement is an effective hook whether the reader disagrees with the statement or not.

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Answer

True! They might not agree with the statement, but they will want to see how the writer supports it.

Show question

Question

How many sentences should one use for background information in an intro paragraph?

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Answer

two to four

Show question

Question

What is the thesis statement of an intro paragraph?

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Answer

The thesis statement is one sentence that states the main idea of the essay. Think of it as the sentence that tells the reader what they are about to learn about the topic.

Show question

Question

Where does the thesis statement appear in an intro paragraph?

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Answer

The thesis statement appears at the end of the intro paragraph. It should be the last thing the reader sees before moving on to the body paragraphs.

Show question

Question

True or false:

The background information of an intro paragraph should connect to the thesis statement.

Show answer

Answer

True! The two should make sense together. 

Show question

Question

What is an opinion?

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Answer

Opinion is a personal conjecture.

Show question

Question

Should you use an opinion to support your thesis?

Show answer

Answer

No.

Show question

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