Effective information organization is one of the most challenging problems non-writers encounter when tasked with a composition project. While the lowly 5-paragraph essay would be a poor format choice for your dissertation, it has proven to be very effective when used to write book reviews, cover letters, and pitches. This is a handy guide to writing a 5-paragraph essay for – almost – any situation.
Paragraph One: The Introduction
The first paragraph of your 5-paragraph essay is always your introduction, but it isn’t always an introduction to you. Confused? Read on.
In an academic essay, this paragraph introduces your primary sources, your main points – remember the rule of three – and concludes with your thesis statement. You’ll expand on the information you include here in subsequent paragraphs, so your focus should be on condensing the high arguments of your paper into a single, introductory paragraph.
In a cover letter, this paragraph begins with a statement declaring what job you are applying for and why you are the best possible candidate. You won’t be giving a full bio until the next paragraph, however, so for now just tell them why you’re perfect for the job, what you bring to the table, and what you expect to gain from the experience of working for their company or organization.
Paragraph Two: The Build-Up
In a 5-paragraph essay, your second paragraph should ideally build upon the information included in your introduction. You aren’t going to reiterate your thesis statement here, but you should be explaining more deeply how your sources have led you to it.
If you’re writing a cover letter, you should use the second paragraph to talk about yourself in more depth. Provide information about your education and employment backgrounds, your volunteer work, and even your hobbies, if they are relevant to the position. Don’t tell what you are doing right now, however.
The information you provide in this paragraph will lead your reader smoothly into…
Paragraph Three: The Climax
This is where it all comes together. I like to treat this paragraph as a second introduction, and end it with a punchy statement to pull readers over the hump and into my conclusion.
So, for an academic essay, you’ll want to make the bulk of your argument here. You aren’t getting to your thesis statement just yet, but you are identifying that nugget of incendiary truth that will compel your readers to pull through into your conclusion. The last sentence of this paragraph should hint at everything coming in the next two paragraphs.
Cover letter writers, use the third paragraph to talk about your current employment, projects, and applicable activities. If a hiring manager has read past your introduction and bio, you want to make sure they keep reading. This is your chance to stand out from the rest of the applicants: make it count!
Paragraph Four: The Wrap-Up
Now that you’ve grabbed your readers with a hook, it’s time to reel them in. In an academic 5-paragraph essay, the fourth paragraph brings the rest of your argument together. If there are any sources or points mentioned in your introduction that you haven’t gotten to yet, now is the time to put them to use. Expand that catalyzing sentence from the last paragraph and keep your readers’ attention.
If you’re writing a cover letter, you want to use this paragraph to tell your prospective employer – precisely – why you have chosen this career move. Rephrase your previous statement about what you hope to gain from this appointment. It’s also advisable to identify the company’s mission and talk about how it aligns with your work and your passions.
Paragraph Five: The Conclusion
In my opinion, this is the most difficult part of any essay. Non-writers often find writing a conclusion particularly difficult, because they feel their arguments are spent after four paragraphs. If this sounds like you, I promise: you still have more to say.
The conclusion is your essay’s denouement. This is where you tie up all your argument’s loose ends. You want to rephrase your thesis statement and expand it with information from your three body paragraphs.
If this seems taxing, it may help to think of your 5-paragraph essay as a football. It starts out pointy and dense on one end, then bloats outward with information, before coming to another dense, pointy end.
Those of you writing cover letters have it easy here. Your conclusion consists of only a brief, polite statement. You want to thank the hiring manager for her time and express interest in hearing from her soon. That’s it. Give it a closing phrase, sign it, and you’re done!