Recently I have come to a very interesting conclusion.  The five paragraph essay that we learned to write back in high school was possibly the most valuable tool I could have taken to college.  No I know what some of you are thinking – weren’t we told to stop using that as soon as we entered higher education?  This may be true, but without that basic format we would be lost when we try to adapt our own writing and organization to each assignment we receive.

I recently had a conversation with Liz, one of the directors, during my exit interview about how handy that tool can be.  I started to realize the five paragraph format cropping back up when I began following too closely the skeleton outlines I was creating for papers.  I was consistently getting good grades on papers, but nearly every professor was complaining of a lack of transitions between each of my paragraphs.

Well that wasn’t too surprising.  I usually tried to get everything out on the page that I did not really think about the order it was presented in.  Then I remembered how I used to write pristine, well-constructed (sometimes overly so) papers in high school and no one ever complained about transitions.

The formula of each body paragraph ending with a CS and a TS (concluding and transition sentences) was something I had not thought applicable since I abandoned it upon entering ENG 104 (now WRD 104).  That is not to say that I have returned fully to the three-pronged thesis that coordinates with the three body paragraphs, but elements of the key formula to the paper have renewed the flow in my academic writing as I move from one idea to the next.

I know that many people are currently struggling not to strictly follow that five paragraph format that I’m sure many professors urge you to move away from, but let’s not totally forget it either.  Afterall, it was the building blocks of our writing education.  Who knows?  You may find yourself like me, and need to look back at where you started to advance to where you’re going in the world of academic writing.

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  • Marianne K says:

    I agree. I use the body format of the five paragraph outline to outline the body of much of my writing, including blog posts and book chapters. No, my blog posts and book chapters do not have just five paragraphs, but I outline them using the same skeletal format, adding or subtracting ideas in the three paragraph section of the outline. Like this:

    I. Introduction
    II. idea one
    III. idea two
    IV. idea three
    V. Conclusion

    I can then have as many or as few ideas as I want, but I can use this outline to decide which idea comes where, and how many of those ideas I really need. 😀