Writing in Five Paragraphs

The first habit in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “to begin with the end in mind.” In the case of an essay or paper, our end is a composition consisting of three parts: an introductory paragraph, body paragraphs and a concluding paragraph. (See the University of Virginia’s “Basic Essay Format” https://www.uvu.edu/writingcenter/docs/handouts/basicessayformat.pdf for an excellent overview.)

Our paper will always have an introductory paragraph and a concluding paragraph, but the number of body paragraphs may vary. The “Five-Paragraph Essay,” a popular format for essays and short papers, has three body paragraphs along with an introduction and conclusion. Each paragraph type: introduction, body and conclusion, has a different role.

Last revised on January 25, 2018.


When we land on a webpage that does not capture our interest, we move on in a matter of seconds. We can expect our would-be readers to do the same, if we do not get their attention right away. Doing so is the goal of the essay’s first sentence, the so-called “hook.”

Compare the following two sentences:

This year the Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan did not show up to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The first sentence is ho-hum. Unless we are already interested in the Nobel Prize or Bob Dylan, we will not read on. The second sentence may leave us wondering, “What’s up with Dylan? Was he being rude?  Was he trying to make a point? If so, what was it? Why did the Nobel Committee give the prize in literature to someone known primarily as a songwriter? Was the committee trying to make a point? If so, what was it?”

Assuming that the second sentence hooks some readers, what then? Where do we go from here? The next step is to provide some background information, for example, noting other honors Dylan has received, for example, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Officier de la Legion d’honnuer, and other recipients of the Noble Prize in Literature.

We complete the introductory paragraph with the all-important thesis statement. Here we state our position and the support we will be offering for it, for example:

Bob Dylan’s refusal to show up for the Nobel Prize evidences a deep humility, a feeling of unworthiness, foreshadowed in his reactions to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Officier de la Legion d’honnuer, and comments about previous recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

For guidance on crafting an effective thesis statement, please see page 7 of www.cambridge.org/download_file/586172/0/


Last revised on January 25, 2018.

Body Paragraphs

In the body of our essay, we follow up on the thesis statement.  In the 5-paragraph format, we would devote three paragraphs to advancing our thesis, beginning each one with a topic sentence stating the paragraph’s main idea. Given the above example of a thesis statement, regarding Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize in literature, our three topic sentences might be:

Examining Bob Dylan’s response to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, we see signs of deep humility, anticipating his reaction to the Nobel Prize.

Dylan’s behavior, when receiving the Officier de la Legion d’honnuer, evidences discomfort over the honor, presaging his response to the Nobel award.

Bob Dylan’s remarks about previous winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature show that he views himself unworthy of that honor, thereby foreshadowing his response to the award.

Last revised on January 25, 2018.


In our introductory paragraph, we hooked our readers, announced our topic, provided some background information and ended with a thesis statement. In our body paragraphs, we developed that thesis.  Now we take a backward and then a forward look. Looking back, we note how together the paragraphs in the body of our paper back up our thesis. For example,

Bob Dylan’s awe and respect of previous Noble laureates, along with his embarrassment and sense of unworthiness when receiving lesser honors, evidence a humble man who would shy away from the Noble Prize ceremony.

Looking forward, we suggest where the discussion might go from here. For example,

Much more remains to be said about Dylan’s humility, not least his approach to songwriting.




Last revised on January 25, 2018.