Many high school students have learned a type of organization called the “five-paragraph essay.” The pattern works like this:
Although the five-paragraph essay format does provide a basic organizational structure, there are many potential problems. To list a few:
Contrary to what many students believe, there is no rule that says that a college essay, or any other kind of essay, must have five paragraphs and five paragraphs only. Paragraph divisions perform two functions: 1) they help the reader understand the text by organizing it into groups of ideas that work together, and 2) they help the eye return to the proper place in the text after looking away for a brief moment. A text without enough breaks is difficult to read because you keep losing your place.
Thus, paragraph divisions should simply help the reader read and understand the text. How many paragraphs you have depends on the nature of your ideas and how much you have to say. What follows is a different way of thinking about the college essay.
Introduction : Your introduction is like a signpost or a map at the beginning of a trail. It tells readers where you are going to take them, what ideas you will explore, and what they will see along the way. It should create a feeling of anticipation and interest. It should provide a broad context for your ideas, a strong thesis or focusing idea, and a brief summary of the points the essay will develop. Ask yourself:
Body : The body of the essay moves the reader along toward the destination or goal. It might have one paragraph, but usually it has several. Each paragraph is related to one of the points you want to show the readers along the way. Some points may take more than one paragraph to develop completely. There should be connections and transitions between the points you show the reader. Ask yourself:
Conclusion : The conclusion is the end of the journey. It looks back on the points you have shown the reader, and reinforces, but does not necessarily repeat, the main idea. It also should create a feeling of ending, a farewell to the reader. Ask yourself:
Reading the opinion section of the local newspaper is a good way to become familiar with the essay format used in the GWT. The unsigned editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board, and are very similar to GWT essays. The signed (with a byline) editorials are written by guest columnists, usually professional writers and influential people. The letters to the editor are written by ordinary citizens who have a strong opinion about an issue, or an article in a previous edition of the newspaper.
For many GWT topics, you could not go far wrong imagining yourself writing a letter to the editor of the newspaper.