Introducing the College Essay Model: Beyond the 5-Paragraph Essay


So What’s Wrong with the High-School Model?: The 5-Paragraph Model


            Introduction: states what the essay will be about

                        Three-Pronged Thesis: points 1, 2, and 3 are listed in order of appearance

            Paragraph 1: point 1

            Paragraph 2: point 2

            Paragraph 3: point 3

            Conclusion: repeats the introduction and often summarizes entire essay


5-Paragraph Problems: Useful Structure, but with Problematic Consequences


            Problem 1: restrictive format

Most newspaper, magazine, and scholarly articles, as well as other examples of writing will never utilize this method.

            Problem 2: reader “un-friendly”

Readers need context for a thesis, as well as a general idea of why he or she is reading the essay in the first place.  The 5-paragraph essay usually does not provide this.

            Problem 3: dull conclusion

Essays like this are usually too short for a reader to require an ending summary; therefore, these essays can become boring, maybe even insulting.

            Problem 4: overall redundancy

5-paragraph essays encourage too much repetition, and often the same phrases are repeated – or only slightly modified – in the introduction, body, and conclusion.

            Problem 5: lack of content

Let’s face it; if you find yourself following this model too strictly you may be letting form generate content.  It soon becomes clear to your reader that you may not have enough ideas to get your point across.


Getting Beyond the 5-Pargraph Model: What Should Paragraphs Do?


Contrary to popular belief, there is no rule that says any kind of essay should be any number of paragraphs!


Paragraphs Perform 2 Functions


1.      To help the reader understand the text by organizing words and thoughts into understandable and related chunks of information.

2.      To help the reader’s eye return to the proper place in the text after glancing away.




The College Essay Model: The Freedom to Write More (or Less) Than 5 Paragraphs


College essays have 3 basic parts: Introduction, the Multi-Paragraph Body, and Conclusion. 

They function in the following ways:


Introduction: This is like a signpost at the beginning of your essay.  It catches the reader’s attention and encourages them to come along on your journey, without spoiling the ending or the best parts.

Ask yourself: Who are my readers?; What is my main thesis?; What can I do to make my readers want to continue reading my essay?; Why does this essay matter?


Multi-Paragraph Body: This moves your reader toward the goal of the essay.  Each paragraph relates to a point you would like to show your reader along the way, but remember that some points may take longer than one paragraph to develop fully.  Transitions between paragraphs and points help the reader make logical progress.

Ask Yourself: What points must I present in order for the reader to understand my idea?; What examples can I use?; What evidence do I have?; How can I keep the reader interested?


Conclusion: This is the destination of your journey.  It looks back on points and reinforces – but does not repeat – the main idea.  It should also have a feeling of connection with the introduction, but you should not repeat it.

Ask Yourself: Has the reader’s mind been changed?; If the reader ignores your points what might happen?; If you continue the journey, where might you end up?



Remember, it’s okay to write more than 5 paragraphs!