|The Five Paragraph Literary Essay
The five paragraph essay has a very specific purpose - to support your thesis. A thesis is a statement of opinion that you make at the beginning of your essay and then prove through the rest of it. You prove that your thesis is true by providing 3 supporting statements. Each supporting statement is backed up by 3 examples. Each example is tied to the supporting statement with an explanation.
Each paragraph in the essay serves a specific purpose:
The introduction introduces the topic of the essay, asserts its thesis, and gives 3 supporting statements.
The first body paragraph provides 3 examples and explanations for the first supporting statement.
The second body paragraph provides 3 examples and explanations for the second supporting statement.
The third body paragraph provides 3 examples and explanations for the third supporting statement.
The conclusion wraps up the essay, restating the 3 supporting statements and the thesis.
Each sentence in the essay has a job description.
There are 5 sentences in the introduction:
Topic sentence (Introduce the general topic of the essay. Include the name of the novel or play and the name of the author.)
First supporting statement
Second supporting statement
Third supporting statement
There are 8 sentences in each of the 3 body paragraphs:*
Introductory sentence (Give the supporting statement.)
First example to prove the supporting statement.
Explanation of how the first example proves the supporting statement.
Second example to prove the supporting statement.
Explanation of how the second example proves the supporting statement.
Third example to prove the supporting statement.
Explanation of how the third example proves the supporting statement.
Concluding sentence (Link the supporting statement to the thesis.)
There are 3 sentences in the conclusion:
Restate the 3 supporting statements.
Restate the thesis (with punch).
Concluding sentence (wrap up your essay).
(* Sometimes you might find it is best to write an example in two sentences, especially if it involves a quotation.)
How to include a quotation in your example
For each body paragraph, include at least one quotation with an example. Usually, it is not enough to simply write the quotation. For example, suppose you had the supporting statement, “Scout is violent.” Which would be a better-written example to prove your supporting statement?
“This time, I split my knuckle to the bone on his front teeth.”
Scout decides to take action against her cousin Francis after he insults
Atticus; “This time, I split my knuckle to the bone on his front teeth.”
The second example is better written because the context of the quotation is given, and it is set up to prove the supporting statement. Not all quotations require context, but most do.
How to Write an Explanation
It is difficult to write a good explanation; however, there is a fool-proof method of doing so. It consists of three steps:
Summarize the example.
Use the word “shows”, “demonstrates”, “proves”, or “illustrates”.
Refer to the supporting statement.
Here is an explanation for the example given in the previous paragraph:
Scout’s aggression against Francis proves she is violent.
Notice how the three steps are used:
(Summarize the example.) Scout’s aggression against Francis
(Use the word “shows”, “demonstrates”, or “proves”.) proves
iii. (Refer to the supporting statement.) she is violent.
Write in the present tense
One exception: When you write a quotation, use the verb tense from the story (or novel or play). Don’t change it to the present if it’s written in the past tense.
eg. Kevin is strong. When his sister is mean to Helen, he confronts her; “ ‘One more
trick like that,’ I yelled at Kath, ‘And I tell. I mean it.’ ” (Crossroads; p. 64)
When you want to refer to something that has already happened in the story, don’t use the past tense, use the present perfect tense.
eg. Kevin is very sensitive. Even though he is invited to Christine’s party, he decides
he won’t because Christine has not invited Kath; “She was still my sister.”
(Crossroads; p. 64)
Vary your vocabulary
It’s important to vary your wording as you write an essay. In particular, consider the supporting statements. They are each written 4 times in the essay (once in the introduction, twice in the body paragraph, and once in the conclusion) and tied into 3 explanations. If you don’t vary your vocabulary, your sentences will become repetitive, making your essay dull. New words shed new light on an idea and keep it fresh.
To enhance the flow of your essay, use transition words. Transition words indicate that a new supporting statement or example is being expressed, and the essay is moving on. You don’t need to use a transition word for every new statement or example. The transition word doesn’t have to be the first word of the sentence. Examples of transition words include:
moreover most importantly as well also
furthermore first of all another too
Keep your essay air-tight
Every sentence in your essay should fulfill one of the “job descriptions” outlined for the paragraphs. Don’t write anything extra. Keep your essay air-tight!