Staff Post: The Pros and Cons of the Five Paragraph Essay
by Ana Homayoun on
This post was written by our fantastic staff member, Harsh, who works with students on everything from Calculus to writing.
High school students are all-too familiar with the famous five paragraph essay. It has a long and storied history in schools as the go-to format for analytical work. This structure of a five paragraph essay is usually used as a platform for persuasion and analysis, and typically contains an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. The introduction informs the reader of contextual details and states the author’s thesis, and the thesis is then supported by evidence and analysis in the body paragraphs, while the conclusion summarizes the author’s overall argument and claims.
Proponents of this method feel its straightforward and regimented nature allows students to structure their writing in a simple and clear way. However, many teachers and professors believe the five paragraph form restricts the development of ideas and limits students’ critical thinking. Interestingly enough, this format has been abandoned in many college settings in favor of other essay formats, which can pose a challenge for incoming freshman used to the five-paragraph essay format. Professors who teach introductory writing and composition classes have even complained of the need to “deprogram” their students regarding the five paragraph essay’s strict rules. Educators also argue that focusing on a specific essay structure builds counterproductive habits, as students focus more on writing a perfectly proportioned essay instead of considering the intricacies of a prompt with flexibility and an open mind. The other key issue with the five paragraph essay is it teaches students to restrict their work for the sake of brevity, which can prevent them from engaging in deeper analysis or exploration.
While there are many opinions on the topic, at the end of the day, the five paragraph essay isn’t really good or bad. On the plus side, it provides new and budding writers with a structure to organize their thoughts and position on an issue, while teaching them how to write a thesis and a cohesive argument. In addition, it can also be expanded and reformatted by more mature, experienced writers. While it is a good place to start, as students improve and evolve their writing skills, the hope is they won’t use the structure as one that has to be followed to the letter, and will instead make room in their writing for deeper critical thinking and creativity.