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How to Write a Five-Paragraph College Essay

The five-paragraph essay is the basic starting point for college essay writing. It’s a widely accepted essay format, is used in many college English classes, and is also the type of essay you’ll write as part of the CLEP College Composition exam.

While there are many useful formats for writing college-level essays, the five-paragraph essay is an effective model to follow as you develop and polish your composition skills. Here are some guidelines to help you strengthen your knowledge of this format, which will be especially helpful if you’re completing a timed writing assignment for a CLEP OR DSST exam.

How to Write a Five-Paragraph College Essay

The first paragraph of your essay should be an introductory paragraph that includes your thesis statement. The thesis statement is generally one sentence that offers a concise summary of the main point or claim of your essay. Your introductory paragraph should also explain to your readers how you will prove your thesis within the body of your essay.

Example:

While the American colonies were fighting for independence from Great Britain, thereby severing the American-British relationship, an equally vital relationship of a different nature was being forged throughout the course of the war between the future United States of America and France.

The second, third, and fourth paragraphs make up the body of your essay, and will be used to support your thesis, with each paragraph supporting a main point that you are trying to make. College-level essays usually focus on analyzing and interpreting information, rather than a restating of facts, which is more common in high school writing. You’ll want to make a clear argument to support your thesis and provide evidence to back it up.

When writing the body of your essay (paragraphs 2-4), you should create a topic sentence to summarize the point you are trying to make in each of the paragraphs. Each sentence in a paragraph should support the topic sentence and your thesis statement, using quotes, facts, examples, and concrete statistics.

Example:

France, possessing a bitterness after its own defeat to Great Britain in the Seven Years’ War between 1754 and 1763, was eager to prove to the world its strength against the British empire by joining the American colonists’ struggle in an open sign of bloody revenge against its reviled foe, Great Britain.

And finally, the conclusion — which sums up your essay. This fifth paragraph will bring the essay to a close and remind the reader of the main ideas and arguments that you’ve presented. The conclusion will also restate the thesis statement without being redundant, usually in a simpler form than the one presented in the introductory paragraph.

Example:

The ability of the colonies to ultimately defeat the British was only possible after the French persistently supported the valiant American cause. This created the bonds of the French-American relationship and sowed the seeds for future cooperation. This linked destiny has proven itself in trade, military, and politics, making the French-American relationship arguably, the more impactful bond tested in the Revolutionary War.

It is important to remember that the five-paragraph essay format is just a foundation — a great format to use when polishing your academic writing or crafting essays for timed exams. As your writing becomes more complex, you’ll find that you naturally move beyond the five-paragraph essay format.

Use it as a stepping stone as you move toward more advanced college-level writing. No matter what major you choose to study, you will need to be able to express yourself clearly in your writing, and the five-paragraph essay is a an important tool to help you achieve this goal.


Becky Muldrow & the Dual Credit at Home Team
Becky Muldrow & the Dual Credit at Home Team

Hi there! I'm Becky Muldrow, wife to my high school sweetheart, Gene, and mom to 10 great kids! I love spending my days homeschooling the last 4 of them and sharing (on my website and at homeschool conferences) how we do high school differently - by replacing it with college.

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