Let’s stop sh*tting on five-paragraph essays, shall we?

I am being 100%, perfectly serious when I extol the virtues of the five-paragraph essay. It is the paragon of academic achievement. No other form of poetry — for that is what it is — so deftly instructs the student writer in the art of organizing one’s thoughts without such muddling metrics as word count or page count.

As a poetic form, the five-paragraph essay dances more to the side of lyric essay than prose poem. Yet its three centrally-located arguments are reminiscent of English sonnets, and you could just as easily make use of the Italian volta by writing a “compare-and-contrast” little ditty or a “cause-and-effect” piece. The real trick, however, comes from the trade-off of metered lines for no more — and no less — than three sentences to a paragraph.

All these rules of form are in service to concentrating the themes of one’s essay. The first paragraph introduces each of your three primary points which — each having their own paragraph — are allotted three sentences a piece for an individual explanation while still binding them to one another with only the most graceful of transitions. All this being brought home in the final, concluding paragraph by referencing each of your three previously-proven points.

The force of focus such a writing entails makes a laughingstock of word counts and page counts alike. If students were first taught how to hear themselves think just three thoughts at the start, and for the possibility of more as they wrote, how much more easily would they be able to write a new and coherent paragraph for each of those lovely thoughts? Is it not better to ask a student for just three little, well-written thoughts that might reveal the crux of a particular lesson?

The five-paragraph essay is an impeccable place to start the writing of prose, helping writers to encourage their own thought process so that instructors may better act as philosophical guides than proliferators of word-waste. The seeming looseness of form — so deceptively simple — makes me wonder how I could have let so much time pass before returning to it. It is not unlike coming home, and I plan on visiting more often.


Also published on Medium.


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