This is the first handout / infographic that all HowToPassAnEssay.com students receive. It is a free download available as a pdf file under the Downloads page.
If you have not done so already, go to the downloads page to open, download, and/or print the Five Paragraph Essay Structure. An image of the handout is available here, but the full page pdf is designed to open clearly in your browser, the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, or print and slip easily into your notebook.
As a one page infographic, the Five Paragraph Essay Structure serves as a road map to show you where the blanks are and what you need to fill in those blanks to get the essay written on paper.
Look at the numbered shapes on the left side of the handout. They’re not there just to look pretty. The shapes actually have meaning.
They are numbered 1 through 5 for our five (5) paragraph essay structure. They represent a very definitive flow from top to bottom representing each of the individual paragraphs in the essay.
- The inverted (up-side-down) triangle at the top represents the introductory paragraph. In the introduction, you want to open wide with an attention getter and pull the readers in to your very focused thesis statement (one sentence that includes the topic and three points).
- The three squares represent the three body paragraphs. For each of the body paragraphs you will fill in all the details regarding one topic point.
- The regular triangle represents the concluding paragraph. The conclusion refocuses on the thesis, then spreads out into a closing summary or call to action.
Line-by-Line/Sentence-by-Sentence Breakdown for Each Part of the Essay
Each of the five paragraphs will include 4-5 sentences.
The entire essay should be 20-25 sentences / 400-600 words.
Keep in mind that just because the sentences in the essay have to be written in a specific order on paper – that doesn’t mean that you have to create/write those sentences in order.
Yes. The sentences (blanks) must appear in a specific order in the essay. Many of us, however, get stuck on those first lines, the attention getter. That’s okay. SKIP IT. You can come back and write it later.
Start With The Thesis Statement to Outline Your Essay
Honestly, the first thing I have my students write for ANY essay, is the thesis statement (the last line of the first paragraph – details below). That doesn’t mean that it appears first in the essay. It’s just the first sentence they write.
It’s a quick way to focus the topic on exactly what stuff you want to cover in the essay. It makes a quick and easy outline for the body paragraphs, AND it helps you stay focused on the topic and THOSE three points rather than wandering off topic as you write the rest of the paper.
Stick to the Five Paragraph Essay Structure. Fill in the blanks, and you should have all the necessary items included without extra or distracting sentences that aren’t really relevant.
- Attention Getter
- Explication (ties 1 to 3)
- Thesis Statement (Topic + 3 Points that preview the 3 body paragraphs)
The first 1-2 sentences should be an Attention Getter to draw the reader in. Graders may be scoring hundreds of these essays at one time, and many will be on the same topic specified for the exam/assignment. Anything you can do to draw attention and interest the reader will benefit your potential score.
Let’s take some of the pressure off. This does not have to be the perfect attention getter.
It’s not like you’re writing an essay to publish in some fancy literary magazine. You’re trying to PASS an essay.
It certainly doesn’t hurt if the attention getter is a good one, but it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. Your main goal is to make sure you DO include an attention getter of some kind. The graders need to know that you are aware that an attention getter belongs there and that you made the effort to put it there.
For those who get stuck on attention getters, a separate lesson will be available JUST on attention getters.
This is the absolute MOST important part of your paper.
THIS IS THE ABSOLUTE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR PAPER.
The thesis statement is just fancy terminology for the last sentence of the first paragraph that INCLUDES the TOPIC and THREE POINTS. (This is a solid sentence to preview the details that you will use in the body paragraphs to reinforce or prove each of those three points, as they relate to the stated topic.)
Keep this simple and fill in the blank. The last sentence in the first paragraph MUST be just ONE sentence, and it must include the topic and three points that you’ll explain further in the body.
After the attention getter, the next 2-3 sentences are primarily there to tie your attention getter to your thesis statement (last sentence in the paragraph).
The attention getter can’t just be some wild statement to get attention. It actually has to relate to the paper’s topic in some way. These middle sentences do that. They explain (explication) how the attention getter is relevant to the thesis statement.
Once you’ve written the thesis statement, the body isn’t really that hard. You have the three points that have outlined the three body paragraphs for you.
Do this three times…once for each of the three points you made in the thesis.
- Topic Sentence
c. Give example(s)
You start off with an EASY fill in the blank sentence. You start the body paragraph with a topic sentence. The topic sentence is basically your topic and ONE of the three points. Just as the thesis statement previewed the three points for each body paragraph, the topic sentence previews the rest of the current body paragraph.
Explication takes the point further. DO define, explain, and give an example(s). You don’t necessarily have to do them in that specific order, but it seems to flow well as you think through the point.
You state the point in the topic sentence. Then, you build on that with a definition. You explain it further, and use an example or two to really drive the point home.
You define the point. This doesn’t have to be a dictionary definition, though it could be. Just state what the point “is.”
Take it further and explain the point. Explain how that point is relevant to the topic. You’re trying to prove your point …or “back it up.”
DO give an example or two. A sentence or two with a real world example of how your point fits in the topic is VERY effective.
Explication in General
You don’t always have to do all three forms of explication either. Sometimes a point just doesn’t “define” well. That’s okay. Spend a little more time explaining and giving examples.
Explication is not concrete, but if you do follow the define, explain, and give examples steps as a guide, you’ll find that writing one or two sentences for each fills your blanks in the paragraph of 4-5 (or more) sentences very quickly.
Transitions between each of the paragraphs are important to the flow of the paper.
Transitions ARE an important part of a good essay. Frankly, if you fill in all these blanks writing your essay with just single sentences (without making them relate to each other), the essay could come out “choppy.” You fix that by adding transitional phrases.
…and this is NOT hard to fix. Read one sentence, then the next. Do they relate to each other, or is one just kind of hanging there? Make the sentences (and paragraphs) relate to each other with transitions.
Remember the shape of the concluding paragraph. The introduction starts wide, with an inverted triangle, then pulls you in to a focused thesis statement.
The conclusion does the opposite. It starts with a focused recurrence of the thesis statement, then spreads out to refer back to the big picture, attention getter, or call to action.
Restate the thesis. That means exactly what it says. Don’t “copy” the thesis statement. Restate or reword it a little bit. Just make sure you still include the topic and three points. THAT is your first sentence in the last paragraph…a reworded/restated thesis.
Easy, right? …just one more sentence/blank that’s practically written for you already.
Then move on to explication…which is still just a little bit further than explanation.
In the conclusion, you could still follow the define, explain, and give examples pattern of thought, but it may come off sounding too much like another body paragraph.
You DON’T want the concluding paragraph to trail off like a fourth point. It shouldn’t address any “new” information. It’s more of a summary that brings the reader that sense of closure.
Just as the body explication sentences don’t necessarily include every component (define, explain, examples) or follow a specific order, the explication components in the conclusion are flexible, too.
After the first sentence (the restated thesis), the rest of the concluding paragraph should sum things up and offer closure.
- Restate Thesis
b. Make a Judgment
c. Refer Back to Attention Getter
d. Call to Action
You can summarize what you’ve said in the whole paper, but since you’ve just repeated points multiple times, a pure summary can be difficult. I mean, how many different ways can you say it, right?
Make a Judgment
This one will actually depend on the assignment. Sometimes the assignment WANTS you to express an opinion. Sometimes, it requires an argument (pro or con) on a topic. Sometimes, you have to argue one side of a topic, but you also have to write it in third person (no using the words, “I,” “we,” “you,” etc. (That’s a bit advanced, though. Passing a basic essay isn’t always THAT specifically detailed in terms of rules. Check with your teacher or the exam expectations for the specific rules.)
Too, making a judgment may not fit with your topic. Some topics are purely informational or descriptive. There may be no need for a statement or sentences about judgment.
Refer Back to Attention Getter
DO refer back to your attention getter. Whatever you used to draw readers in to the paper…you had to explicate and justify how that attention getter related to the topic. Since you’ve now spent paragraphs further explaining your points and introducing new ideas and examples in the body, your conclusion is where you mention your original attention getter again. Remind them of your opening and how it relates.
Call to Action
A call to action, or asking the reader to follow up and DO something after reading the essay isn’t anything new. It’s more popular in speeches than written essays, but with the vast resources online and the ability to create links or write out a web address, the “call to action” is growing in popularity for written documents, including essays.
HowToPassAnEssay.com Call to Action
For the conclusion of this lesson, I’ll offer a call to action for you, too.
If you haven’t done so already, submit your name and email address for the free mini-course on How to Write an Essay by filling-in-the blanks. Additional lessons include a line-by-line/sentence-by-sentence walk through applying the Five Paragraph Essay Structure as we actually WRITE an essay together. You will SEE exactly what sentences go where.
If the free mini-course is working for you already and you can’t wait for the next lesson, you can also purchase the full How to Pass an Essay package and get immediate access to the course pdfs, video lessons, additional handouts and tools, and even more walk-through examples writing essays on additional topics and all the lessons for spotting and fixing your own grammar errors, so you can PASS an essay.
Paragraphs & Topic Sentences
A paragraph is a series of sentences that are organized and coherent, and are all related to a single topic. Almost every piece of writing you do that is longer than a few sentences should be organized into paragraphs. This is because paragraphs show a reader where the subdivisions of an essay begin and end, and thus help the reader see the organization of the essay and grasp its main points.
Paragraphs can contain many different kinds of information. A paragraph could contain a series of brief examples or a single long illustration of a general point. It might describe a place, character, or process; narrate a series of events; compare or contrast two or more things; classify items into categories; or describe causes and effects. Regardless of the kind of information they contain, all paragraphs share certain characteristics. One of the most important of these is a topic sentence.
A well-organized paragraph supports or develops a single controlling idea, which is expressed in a sentence called the topic sentence. A topic sentence has several important functions: it substantiates or supports an essay’s thesis statement; it unifies the content of a paragraph and directs the order of the sentences; and it advises the reader of the subject to be discussed and how the paragraph will discuss it. Readers generally look to the first few sentences in a paragraph to determine the subject and perspective of the paragraph. That’s why it’s often best to put the topic sentence at the very beginning of the paragraph. In some cases, however, it’s more effective to place another sentence before the topic sentence—for example, a sentence linking the current paragraph to the previous one, or one providing background information.
Although most paragraphs should have a topic sentence, there are a few situations when a paragraph might not need a topic sentence. For example, you might be able to omit a topic sentence in a paragraph that narrates a series of events, if a paragraph continues developing an idea that you introduced (with a topic sentence) in the previous paragraph, or if all the sentences and details in a paragraph clearly refer—perhaps indirectly—to a main point. The vast majority of your paragraphs, however, should have a topic sentence.
Most paragraphs in an essay have a three-part structure—introduction, body, and conclusion. You can see this structure in paragraphs whether they are narrating, describing, comparing, contrasting, or analyzing information. Each part of the paragraph plays an important role in communicating your meaning to your reader.
Introduction: the first section of a paragraph; should include the topic sentence and any other sentences at the beginning of the paragraph that give background information or provide a transition.
Body: follows the introduction; discusses the controlling idea, using facts, arguments, analysis, examples, and other information.
Conclusion: the final section; summarizes the connections between the information discussed in the body of the paragraph and the paragraph’s controlling idea.
The following paragraph illustrates this pattern of organization. In this paragraph the topic sentence and concluding sentence (CAPITALIZED) both help the reader keep the paragraph’s main point in mind.
SCIENTISTS HAVE LEARNED TO SUPPLEMENT THE SENSE OF SIGHT IN NUMEROUS WAYS. In front of the tiny pupil of the eye they put, on Mount Palomar, a great monocle 200 inches in diameter, and with it see 2000 times farther into the depths of space. Or they look through a small pair of lenses arranged as a microscope into a drop of water or blood, and magnify by as much as 2000 diameters the living creatures there, many of which are among man’s most dangerous enemies. Or, if we want to see distant happenings on earth, they use some of the previously wasted electromagnetic waves to carry television images which they re-create as light by whipping tiny crystals on a screen with electrons in a vacuum. Or they can bring happenings of long ago and far away as colored motion pictures, by arranging silver atoms and color-absorbing molecules to force light waves into the patterns of original reality. Or if we want to see into the center of a steel casting or the chest of an injured child, they send the information on a beam of penetrating short-wave X rays, and then convert it back into images we can see on a screen or photograph. THUS ALMOST EVERY TYPE OF ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION YET DISCOVERED HAS BEEN USED TO EXTEND OUR SENSE OF SIGHT IN SOME WAY.
George Harrison, “Faith and the Scientist”
In a coherent paragraph, each sentence relates clearly to the topic sentence or controlling idea, but there is more to coherence than this. If a paragraph is coherent, each sentence flows smoothly into the next without obvious shifts or jumps. A coherent paragraph also highlights the ties between old information and new information to make the structure of ideas or arguments clear to the reader.
Along with the smooth flow of sentences, a paragraph’s coherence may also be related to its length. If you have written a very long paragraph, one that fills a double-spaced typed page, for example, you should check it carefully to see if it should start a new paragraph where the original paragraph wanders from its controlling idea. On the other hand, if a paragraph is very short (only one or two sentences, perhaps), you may need to develop its controlling idea more thoroughly, or combine it with another paragraph.
A number of other techniques that you can use to establish coherence in paragraphs are described below.
Repeat key words or phrases. Particularly in paragraphs in which you define or identify an important idea or theory, be consistent in how you refer to it. This consistency and repetition will bind the paragraph together and help your reader understand your definition or description.
Create parallel structures. Parallel structures are created by constructing two or more phrases or sentences that have the same grammatical structure and use the same parts of speech. By creating parallel structures you make your sentences clearer and easier to read. In addition, repeating a pattern in a series of consecutive sentences helps your reader see the connections between ideas. In the paragraph above about scientists and the sense of sight, several sentences in the body of the paragraph have been constructed in a parallel way. The parallel structures (which have been emphasized) help the reader see that the paragraph is organized as a set of examples of a general statement.
Be consistent in point of view, verb tense, and number. Consistency in point of view, verb tense, and number is a subtle but important aspect of coherence. If you shift from the more personal "you" to the impersonal “one,” from past to present tense, or from “a man” to “they,” for example, you make your paragraph less coherent. Such inconsistencies can also confuse your reader and make your argument more difficult to follow.
Use transition words or phrases between sentences and between paragraphs. Transitional expressions emphasize the relationships between ideas, so they help readers follow your train of thought or see connections that they might otherwise miss or misunderstand. The following paragraph shows how carefully chosen transitions (CAPITALIZED) lead the reader smoothly from the introduction to the conclusion of the paragraph.
I don’t wish to deny that the flattened, minuscule head of the large-bodied "stegosaurus" houses little brain from our subjective, top-heavy perspective, BUT I do wish to assert that we should not expect more of the beast. FIRST OF ALL, large animals have relatively smaller brains than related, small animals. The correlation of brain size with body size among kindred animals (all reptiles, all mammals, FOR EXAMPLE) is remarkably regular. AS we move from small to large animals, from mice to elephants or small lizards to Komodo dragons, brain size increases, BUT not so fast as body size. IN OTHER WORDS, bodies grow faster than brains, AND large animals have low ratios of brain weight to body weight. IN FACT, brains grow only about two-thirds as fast as bodies. SINCE we have no reason to believe that large animals are consistently stupider than their smaller relatives, we must conclude that large animals require relatively less brain to do as well as smaller animals. IF we do not recognize this relationship, we are likely to underestimate the mental power of very large animals, dinosaurs in particular.
Stephen Jay Gould, “Were Dinosaurs Dumb?”
SOME USEFUL TRANSITIONS
(modified from Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference)
- To show addition:
- again, and, also, besides, equally important, first (second, etc.), further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, moreover, next, too
- To give examples:
- for example, for instance, in fact, specifically, that is, to illustrate
- To compare:
- also, in the same manner, likewise, similarly
- To contrast:
- although, and yet, at the same time, but, despite, even though, however, in contrast, in spite of, nevertheless, on the contrary, on the other hand, still, though, yet
- To summarize or conclude:
- all in all, in conclusion, in other words, in short, in summary, on the whole, that is, therefore, to sum up
- To show time:
- after, afterward, as, as long as, as soon as, at last, before, during, earlier, finally, formerly, immediately, later, meanwhile, next, since, shortly, subsequently, then, thereafter, until, when, while
- To show place or direction:
- above, below, beyond, close, elsewhere, farther on, here, nearby, opposite, to the left (north, etc.)
- To indicate logical relationship:
- accordingly, as a result, because, consequently, for this reason, hence, if, otherwise, since, so, then, therefore, thus
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