The Five-Paragraph Essay: What’s the Deal?

If you’ve ever been assigned to write an essay for a class, it has probably been the classic five-paragraph essay. These essays have a relatively simple structure: an intro, a body, and a conclusion. Yet there are little things you need to know to write a strong one, and that’s why we’re here today. Let’s take a moment to break this type of essay down.

The Introduction Paragraph

The introduction paragraph of any essay is quite possibly the most important paragraph of all. It is the paragraph that tells your reader the topic and helps them decide if they want to keep reading.

The intro paragraph is made up of three parts: a hook, background information, and the thesis. The hook is the opening sentence that catches the reader’s eye. It can be a question, anecdote, or something shocking. I used a question in my example essay below.

The background information is a series of sentences that move from broad facts to specific details throughout this intro paragraph. These sentences move the reader into the topic, helping them understand what you are going to discuss. If you are writing a critique of literature, for example, these sentences might be a good place to include a brief summary of the piece.

Finally, the thesis statement finishes out the intro paragraph. It states a clear claim and offers a reason why your claim is true. Even for informational essays that aren’t trying to convince the reader to agree, a thesis is needed. In my thesis in the example essay below, my claim is: “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best American lunch food,” and my reason why includes the three topics of my body paragraphs: “because they are easy to make, taste good, and keep well throughout the day.”

Body Paragraphs

After finishing the intro paragraph with the thesis statement, turn your focus to the body paragraphs. In a five-paragraph essay, you only have three body paragraphs. If you have written a thesis statement with three main points, like I did, you already know the topic of each paragraph. Your next step is to stretch each point into a topic sentence. My topic sentences below are:

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are also quite tasty.
  • Finally, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches don’t have to be refrigerated.

You’ll notice transition words like “also” and “finally” in these sentences. It’s important to connect your paragraphs together with words like these.

Also inside these body paragraphs are examples, quotes, and analysis. Your job in these body paragraphs is to convince a reader to agree (in a persuasive essay) or to provide adequate information (in an informative essay).

The Conclusion

The last paragraph of a five-paragraph essay (or any essay) is the conclusion paragraph. In this paragraph, you simply state your thesis again using different words, summarize the points you made in the body paragraphs, and finish with a sentence that leaves the reader thinking.

In my example essay below, look at the last paragraph. You will see that I’ve done just that. The first sentence of the conclusion is my thesis in different words. Each sentence following this repeats the ideas of each body paragraph. And finally, I finish off the essay with an emphasis on the thesis statement.

Note: Remember that paragraphs shouldn’t be too short or too long. Try to keep them between 5 and 10 sentences.

Don’t Forget Citations

One final note: if you include ideas that are not your own, you need to cite where you got them from. If you quote, use an example, or paraphrase a source, you need both an in-text citation in parentheses and a references page. The most common style guides for students are MLA format and APA format, depending on which subject your essay is for. Use the examples in my essay below (which is in MLA format) to help you correctly cite in your own essays and avoid plagiarizing.

 Example Essay

        How does a creamy, sweet peanut butter and jelly sandwich sound right now? Although not everyone loves the taste of this sandwich, many people prefer to see it in their lunch sacks. Children usually like peanut butter and jelly, but that doesn’t mean these sandwiches can’t be enjoyed by adults too. Sometimes they make a great snack. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are quite possibly the best American lunch food because they are easy to make, taste good, and keep well throughout the day.

        Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make. All one has to do is to take out two slices of bread and spread peanut butter on one slice and jelly on the other. After spreading, press the two slices together, and the sandwich is done. Of course, cleanup is necessary because sometimes the jelly drips off the knife or gets pressed out of the sides of the sandwich. In spite of the potential for a mess, this is perhaps one of the easiest ways to nourish oneself in the midst of a busy day.

        Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are also quite tasty. For one thing, we know right off the bat that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are sweet. Jelly is a sugary, gelatinous spread that sweetens foods it is added to. Peanut butter is made up of peanuts, and some peanut butter companies add other ingredients like salt, oil, and even sugar (Bearden). That means both peanut butter and jelly can end up being sweet. Bread, while not usually known for sweetness, often goes well with sweet things. The sweetness of the jelly and peanut butter combined with savory bread makes for a great-tasting sandwich.

        Finally, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches don’t have to be refrigerated. While some consumers might keep any of these ingredients in the fridge for the long term, there is nothing in jelly, peanut butter, or bread that will spoil if left out for a day (“Packing Your Lunch Safely”). That means if someone doesn’t want to carry around an ice pack, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the way to go.

        Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are one of the best solutions to avoiding hunger throughout a busy school or work day. They are easy to make no matter how one looks at it. They taste good, helping people feel satisfied. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches also keep well, preventing people from having to find a refrigerator or carry around a bulky ice pack. These sweet and savory sandwiches really are the best American lunch food.

Easily create citations like the ones below with Cite This For Me citation generator!

Works Cited

Bearden, Caroline Young. “What’s in Your Jar of Peanut Butter?” National Peanut Board, 2017, Accessed 19 July 2017.

“Packing Your Lunch Safely.” Indiana State Department of Health, Accessed 19 July 2017.