When you’re assigned an essay, do your eyes glaze over at the thought of trying to fill up that blank page? Whether you are answering a test question or writing a research paper, the classic five-paragraph essay is a great way to start writing.
Before writing, it’s important to take time to brainstorm ideas.The more thoughts you can generate, the greater the chance that you will get good ideas to put in your essay. Self-criticism should be put on hold during this process. Brainstorming can be as messy as you like. Give yourself permission to write all over the page, draw arrows, highlight important ideas, and cross out rejected thoughts. These things can help open your mind and get the creative juices flowing.
If your teacher has proposed a question, then your brainstorming task is straightforward: list all possible answers to the question, along with any facts and information that will help you get to the correct answer.
If the essay topic is open-ended (the dreaded “write an essay about _____” assignment), try coming up with your own question to get your ideas flowing. Questions such as, “Is the protagonist a hero?” or “Why is friendship important?” can help guide your thinking.
The Basic Five-Paragraph Essay
The basic essay consists of five paragraphs: an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Five paragraphs is the basic format for writing an essay. It is possible to write something longer by simply adding additional body paragraphs to give your ideas additional support.
The introduction is where you answer the assignment question. This opening paragraph consists of two parts: background information and the thesis statement. The background information uses a few sentences to establish the basic topic of the essay, including basic information that the reader needs to know.
The thesis statement is usually the last sentence or two in the introductory paragraph. Sometimes all that is required for this is to rewrite the question with an explanation added (“The protagonist is a hero because…” or “Friendship is not as important as it may seem because…”). In addition, the thesis statement lists the three points you will explore to support your response: “The protagonist is a hero because she always tells the truth, donates to charity, and saves a puppy’s life.” Each of these points should be discussed in detail in each of the body paragraphs.
The body of the essay consists of three paragraphs that each introduce points that prove the thesis statement. A good body paragraph has a topic sentence and supporting details.
The topic sentence clearly states the point you will discuss in that paragraph: For example, “The protagonist is a hero because she always tells the truth.” Next come supporting details that help prove your point. It’s not enough just to list a bunch of facts, however. For each supporting detail, you must explain why that detail is important and how it supports your thesis. For example: “The protagonist is a hero because she tells the truth to keep a friend from getting hurt.” Notice the use of the word “because” in this example to explain why the fact is important.
The conclusion paragraph restates the thesis and explains the importance of the main idea in a broader context. It should give a sense of the larger meaning of the topic and its implications. It should have a few sentences that explain why your topic is important. What universal message or lesson can be learned from the point you just proved?
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