As a student in middle school and high school, the five-paragraph essay format was hammered into my head constantly, and this became the only way that I would write an essay. However, at MSU I learned that although this format is one way to organize an essay, writing in college does not have to be so narrowly focused.
For example, following the five-paragraph essay format does not necessarily mean you will only be writing five paragraphs. You most likely will be writing at least five, but it is not limited to this number. You can think of it more as a five-section essay. This format is more a way to organize your essay in a style that is easily recognizable and fits a standard (American) convention. So, although this can seem boring to write this way, it is a way of writing which shows that you can organize information and your main points in one way that is easy to follow for a reader (aka for a professor or TA).
To organize your essay, a five-section essay will include these parts:
1. Introduction (which includes your thesis statement)
2. Supporting Idea/Main Point One
3. Supporting Idea/Main Point Two
4. Supporting Idea/Main Point Three
For a more in-depth look at what to include in each of these five-sections, look here. This resource comes from a retired teacher of literature and writing, and she also provides some overall essay writing advice too.
Look here for another explanation of what to include, and if you scroll down just a bit, you will also find a short video that will take you through a step-by-step example using diagrams; sometimes it helps to see an example laid out in action.
Finally, it may help to think of an essay as an “intellectual journey” for a reader, and this example provides helpful questions to think about while writing each section of your essay.
As always, if you have more questions or want more help with structure and organization, do not hesitate to make an appointment with any of our consultants here at the Writing Center!