The five-paragraph form is meant to be a stepping stone for beginning writers to learn how to organize their ideas, not the end-all formula to present ideas in written form. Since we will be writing beyond the five paragraph form in this class, it would be helpful for those accustomed to writing the five-paragraph form to examine its limitations, in order to avoid inadvertently writing in that format.


1. The five paragraph essay discourages students from making strong connections between the ideas presented in the body of the paper. Almost invariably, students learn to write “We can see (thesis) through Example A, Example B, Example C.” What this generates is more a list than an essay. Because a list does not have strong logical connections from paragraph to paragraph, it cannot handle the sophisticated relationships between ideas that students are trying to cultivate.

2. The introduction and conclusion are often a series of thinly veiled repetitions. The five paragraph essay expects the reader to be partially illiterate, and repeats its points through the introduction and conclusion as if to certify that nothing was missed. A conclusion that begins with “In conclusion, this essay has shown that,” and then repeats all of the ideas in a shuffled order doesn’t add anything to the essay, and might as well be cut.

3. In the five paragraph essay, the form generates the content. Students feel pressured to come up with exactly three points, rather than two with two subheadings under each, or four points, with the last one having three subheadings. In other words, the focus turns away from what the argument requires, and toward how to configure ideas so they will fit inside the restrictive format. Ultimately, this means that many ideas fit awkwardly and do not reach their full rhetorical potential.

Questions for discussion:

What does the five paragraph essay do well?

What should a more advanced essay accomplish structurally?