While the five-paragraph essay may be the primary structure for high school writing, college composition classes frequently take the assignment to the next level. Traditionally consisting of an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion, the college version of this assignment expands on these skills by encouraging students to focus less on following a formula and more on creating well-researched, fluent writing. Although the five-paragraph structure you know from high school provides some useful basics, college writing will transform this relatively simple structure into a sophisticated, well-developed paper that meet the audience's specific needs.
Craft a Catchy Hook
College writing classes often focus on showing students how to create a relationship with their readers and consider their audience's needs. As a result, the introduction's job in a college essay is not only to grab readers' attention and inspire them to keep reading, but reveal why they should care about your topic. Find a way to introduce the topic that inspires this response in your audience. If you're writing a personal essay about your experiences in high school drama club, for example, you might open with a description of taking a bow with the cast at the end of opening night. If you're writing a persuasive essay about distracted driving, you might present a startling statistic or true story about texting on the road.
Develop Your Thesis Statement
In the five-paragraph essay, the thesis statement identifies the central theme of your paper and previews your main points. It usually states your essay's claim, then follows with three reasons for it. One weakness of the high school five-paragraph essay is that students tend to write vague thesis statements that rarely go beyond making an obvious point. In a college essay, the thesis should be clear, specific and detailed, introducing both the topic and its significance. The drama club essay's thesis might state, "Participating in drama club prepared me for college and future career opportunities by forcing me to overcome my shyness, teaching me better teamwork skills and giving me stronger communication skills."
Transition with Topic Sentences
The three body paragraphs of your essay all follow the same pattern. First, you'll begin with a topic sentence that introduces the subject of the paragraph. For example, the first topic sentence in the drama club essay might read, "While I almost didn't join drama club because of my shyness, getting involved ultimately helped me overcome my fears." As you move into your second and third paragraphs, using transitions like "In addition," "Also" and "Next" can link your paragraphs and ideas together. In your past five-paragraph essays, your high school teachers may have required you to structure the body as three distinct paragraphs. In college writing classes, feel free to divide them up to make the essay easier to follow and less overwhelming for readers.
Give Clear Examples
College writing places a strong emphasis on not just making claims, but providing solid, credible evidence to verify them. In each body paragraph, your topic sentence should follow up with clear, specific examples and details that illustrate that paragraph's main point. For example, in the drama essay, you might follow the first paragraph's topic sentence about overcoming shyness with a brief description of the first time you auditioned for a play in spite of your fears and how each acting experience you've had has chipped away some of your insecurity. If you're writing a persuasive essay, you'll have to supply statistics, examples and data from sources like journal articles, government reports and academic studies to back up your ideas.
Close with More Than Just Summary
The phrase "In conclusion" might have been an acceptable opening for your last paragraph in high school, but college instructors expect you to think critically about why your topic matters, not just reiterate your main points. Just as you should speculate about why your topic might be relevant to your audience before you write your introduction, your conclusion should ultimately address the question of what readers have learned. Your conclusion should be more than just an afterthought that summarizes your three main points; instead, it should reflect on the significance of the topic beyond the context of the essay. For example, the essay about distracted driving might include a call to action for readers to put away their phones while on the road.
- State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota: Formulas and Definitions for the 5 Paragraph Essay
- Jackson State Community College Writing Center: Five-Paragraph Essay
- Bucks County Community College Tutoring Center: Graphic Organizer for a Five Paragraph Essay
- Valencia College: The Five Paragraph Essay
- California State University: Welcome to College: Say Goodbye to the Five Paragraph Essay
- George Mason University College of Humanities and Social Sciences: Learning Goals for ENGH 100 and 101
- University of Kentucky: Introducing the College Essay Model
- Ithaca College: First-Year Composition
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