Beloved by teachers, dreaded by students of all ages, the five-paragraph essay is an enduring part of every English class. You’ll usually get your first one of these assigned to you in upper elementary school, but get ready because that probably won’t be your last. One of the key components to writing a five-paragraph essay is developing a solid outline.
On its face, the five-paragraph essay is a pretty straightforward form. It’s exactly what it says on the tin: an essay made up of five paragraphs. Those five paragraphs consist of an introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. Even with that paragraph breakdown, you can still generally think of it as three main parts of an essay (intro, body, conclusion).
Your process should always start with an outline. Even if you have limited time, creating a very basic outline will benefit your writing. Aside from the immediate sense of accomplishment that comes with getting some words on paper, an outline essentially gives you the skeleton for your essay. If you have a good outline, the actual writing of the essay will mostly involve filling in the muscles and organs of that skeleton.
Your introduction serves two main purposes: grabbing the reader’s attention and stating your thesis. In your outline, you’ll mostly focus on the latter. Your thesis statement is the thing that will drive the rest of your essay, so spend some time thinking about it.
Once you have an idea for your thesis statement, write it out in one simple sentence. You can change the wording (or even the thesis in its entirety) later on, but get that main idea out of your head and onto the paper.
Outside of the thesis, write down any general ideas that immediately come to mind. If you can’t think of anything beyond the thesis in the outlining phase, don’t worry about it.
Thesis Statement: In the pantheon of all cuisine, burgers are the best food in the world.
a. Brief history of the burger
b. Origin of the word burger
Your body paragraphs will build out and support your essay’s thesis. The foundation of each body paragraph is a topic sentence. Think of each topic sentence as its own small thesis sentence, while the rest of the sentences in the body paragraph build on the topic sentence.
- In your outline, write out that topic sentence in its simplest form.
- Under the topic sentence, list out your supporting information, evidence, or other ideas that expound on the topic sentence.
- Repeat that for each of the three body paragraphs.
You can, of course, reorganize your actual essay later, and deciding whether to lead with your strongest or weakest argument is a completely personal choice.
II. (Body Paragraph 1)
Topic Sentence: The burger is a highly versatile food that can suit nearly anyone’s diet or tastes.
a. Vegetarian/vegan options for patty
b. Bread variations for the buns
c. Nearly endless options for toppings
Conclusions are hard for a lot of people to figure out, but try not to overthink it. The easiest way to start is to restate your initial thesis using context from your body paragraphs. Write that in your outline as a single sentence.
From there, think about how the thesis and the contents of the essay might affect an actual person. That might even include a call to action for the reader. Jot those ideas down under your concluding sentence.
Concluding Sentence: In conclusion, the burger is the best form of sustenance for nearly everyone thanks to its versatility, accessibility, and cultural importance.
a. The next time you bite into a burger, consider the history and necessity it represents.
b. Something about burgers and creativity
The more you practice outlining essays of any type, the easier the outlining and writing processes will become. Use a simple essay outline template to create a few outlines, then the process will become habitual.
Beyond that basic structure, there’s not much to the five-paragraph essay. You just kind of have to do it, but that can be easier said than done.
You (probably) aren’t getting graded on your outline, so try to stay as loose as you want with it. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, full sentences, or even full thoughts. Don’t be afraid to get a little goofy with it either. It’s often normal to omit articles (the and a/an) in outline points. All of that will come when you actually write your essay.
The same applies to any writing flourishes. Your outline is a bare room in a home. All the metaphors, transitions, and creative parts of the writing are the furniture and decor that you’ll eventually put in that room.
One of the biggest problems in essays is plagiarism, intentional or otherwise. To avoid even accidental plagiarism, cite your sources directly in the outline. This doesn’t have to be the exact MLA format for citations. For example, if your argument came from a book, you can write down the book title and author name next to that argument in the outline.
The thesis in your outline is not set in stone. You’re allowed to change your thesis at any point in your writing process. Maybe you discover a different angle to approach the essay, or maybe you just realize there isn’t enough information to support your thesis. Maybe you just find your thesis boring. Whatever the case, it’s okay to change, modify, or reword your thesis if you feel like it will help your essay.
One of the most beautiful things about the five-paragraph essay is: You aren’t graded based on how many drafts you write. Your first draft doesn’t have to be your final draft. Write two, three, seven drafts (if you have the time and energy). That means that you can always change and improve your essay until it’s exactly what you want it to be.