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Advantages And Disadvantages Of The Five-Paragraph Essay

By tutor Darla: www.tutapoint.com/darla.n

When I was a high school sophomore, I wondered if every essay I wrote for my English classes would be a classic five-paragraph essay. I had mixed feelings about the formula, and those mixed feelings remain now that I’ve graduated from college with my degree in English.

For those of you who are new to the five-paragraph essay, here’s a quick explanation. Paragraph one is the introduction, and paragraph five is the conclusion. The three middle paragraphs are the body paragraphs, one for each main point. The thesis statement lists the three main points. Example: I like swimming because it burns a lot of calories, it is sweat-free exercise, and it doesn’t make me sore.


For simple papers, using a simple approach makes sense. Not worrying about how to structure the paper frees you to concentrate on the content. Writing the thesis statement is easy because it is simply an assertion with three phrases of support drawn from each body paragraph. When you have to write an essay quickly, which is the case on tests, following this simple structure is helpful.

The temptation to go off on tangents or develop points unevenly decreases because each main point is one paragraph long. When there are few details or facts from research to include, using more than one paragraph per point is unnecessary.

Teachers know what to expect structurally from five-paragraph essays. In high school, they work.  


Trying to make ideas fit into a mold can restrict creativity. Also, five-paragraph essays can be a bore to write and to read. Papers with complex topics probably won’t fit into that neat formula.

In college, five-paragraph essays will rarely cut it. Paper topics are often complicated, requiring more than a paragraph or two to explain or argue a main point. Paragraph-long transitions might be necessary between points. Length requirements might increase.

Others’ expectations lie at the heart of the disadvantages. First, professors expect more sophisticated writing, even in subjects besides composition. Second, your boss probably won’t expect you to write five-paragraph essays, so it’s worthwhile to learn to structure writing differently. 

Bottom line: Use the formula with caution. It’s great for simple essays, but in college or the workplace, it usually won’t work.


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