The Five-Paragraph Formula for College Writing
Insecure college writers can benefit from following a writing formula that can be applied to many essays, papers; the basic building blocks of which are five paragraphs.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
If you're an insecure college writer, you can benefit from following a writing formula that can be applied to many situations. That way, you always know exactly how to approach almost any writing situation. You can avoid considerable procrastination and fear because you have a step-by-step plan that enables you to plunge right into writing the piece.
This formula works best for shorter assignments, such as essays and papers written over a relatively short period that don't require enormous amounts of research. The principles can be applied to the long research paper, but the basic building blocks of the formula are five paragraphs. In essence, the formula expands on the idea of the outline; if you take the main sentence from each paragraph, you should have a coherent outline.
The five-paragraph formula is as follows:
Paragraph One: Introduction, a three-part thesis statement
Paragraph Two: Supporting argument for first point in thesis statement.
Paragraph Three: Supporting argument for second point in thesis statement.
Paragraph Four: Supporting argument for third point in thesis statement.
Paragraph Five: Conclusion and implications.
To expand on the formula for longer pieces, simply write as many subheadings and paragraphs as necessary for each part of the formula.
Here's an example of the introduction and topic sentences for subsequent paragraphs in a paper written according to the five-paragraph formula:
Paragraph One: If Americans intend to solve the nation's garbage crisis, they must learn the Three R's: Recycle, Reduce, Reuse.
Paragraph Two: Recycling involves not only recycling products and packaging such as bottles and cans, but also buying products made from recycled materials.
Paragraph Three: The average American throws away an average of 500 pounds of garbage annually; compare this figure to the average European who tosses less than half that amount annually.
Paragraph Four: Reusing involves saving containers, such as cardboard boxes, and reusing them for other purposes.
Paragraph Five: The nation's trash and landfill crisis can only be solved if all Americans actively get involved in the Three R's: Recycling, Reusing, and Reducing. By working together, we can solve this crisis.
Final Thoughts on the Five-Paragraph Formula for College Writing
The words of a student, "Jessica W." (see her academic success story), suggest a way to build on the five-paragraph formula: "What helps for me is making lists of things I want to include in each paragraph. I do research on each of those main points and eliminate or add to the lists based on my findings. Then, I take my main paragraphs and write them out. By writing out the main paragraphs, I have a good idea of what the main point of my paper's going to be (for the introduction paragraph) and what conclusions I want to make at the very end."
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for EmpoweringSites.com, including MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She curates, crafts, and delivers compelling content online, in print, on stage, and in the classroom. Visit her personal Website KatharineHansenPhD.com or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)astoriedcareer.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.