5 Paragraph Essay Length Cheats

Your teacher hands you a paper at the beginning of class. At the top there are big bold letters declaring “Essay Guidelines”. Another essay? But you have two others due this week!

After another all-nighter, classes are long, and you're relieved to gather your things and get ready to head back to your dorm when Professor Stressful adds “By the way, I'd like a five hundred word essay on this topic by the end of the week.”

It's easy to get overwhelmed with written assignments, especially if you're not a good writer by nature. Two of my students, one in high school and one a senior in college, used to have a lot of trouble writing anything. As soon as those guidelines were in their hands, if guidelines were even provided, panic would ensue. They've told me it could take hours for them to write a simple three page paper- especially if it involved research. Luckily, there was something I could do for them.

My students call this cheating because “there's simply no way writing suddenly gets this easy all the time,” according to the college senior noted above. Really, it's just a simple formula I learned back in one of my AP English classes in high school, taught by the most demanding Duquesne professor I've ever met. She called it the “five paragraph essay format.” I am going to give you this formula as it suits high school papers with notes that explain my expansion. The expansion suits more in-depth papers, papers with a longer page requirement, and University level papers. I'll also give you a few good references for more online info and a (copy-and-paste) printable outline.

This format was very awkward to use at first (especially because I was a good writer), but she insisted we use it the entire year. Once you get used to it, you'll be able to pump those papers out in no time at all (a definite plus in college, even for me).

Here's the formula:

Introductory Paragraph: Topic Sentence (called a “Thesis Statement”): Topic, point 1, point 2, point 3.

“Hook”: A statement that gets a reader's attention.

Body: Paragraph 1: Point 1

Paragraph 2: Point 2

Paragraph 3: Point 3

Closing Paragraph: Restate Thesis

Summarize three main points

Make a statement that signals the end of the paper (called a “Clincher”)

Other notes: Paragraphs should be at least five sentences long (my teacher was obsessive about 5-7 sentences in each paragraph)

This looks a wee bit confusing, so let me clear it up for you. First off, I want to note that a good portion of what should be included in the formula is debatable or based on preference. Universities and teachers differ on specific guidelines for this format, so it's a good idea to check out what your professor/teacher wants. I'm simply giving you a formula that works for most of my students.

Let's start with the Introductory paragraph. This should include a “hook” and your thesis. Whether or not it includes more of an outline for the paper is debatable, so I'll leave that up to your discretion.

The hardest part of the intro paragraph is the hook. It's also probably the most important part of the paragraph. The hook is a statement that gets the reader's attention (as noted above).

Example taken from a short story assignment:

This story is about a dead elephant and some park rangers.


The smell of new death hung in the air, suffocating, demanding, and pregnant.

I think that makes my point for me.

The hook is usually most effective if it is the first or last sentence in the paragraph.

Now, your thesis. The thesis has four parts: Topic, Point one, Point Two and Point Three. This will directly relate to the body of your paper. The points should go in some sort of order, but what order is something professors will fight about for eternity. Should they decrease in strength or importance? Should they increase in strength? The basic rule is that they should flow somehow. As long as it makes sense that the topics are laid out the way you have them, you'll be fine. The main thing to remember here is if you can make each topic relate to the next. Does your layout make sense?

Thesis example taken from a film review paper:

In Remember the Titans, the locker scene depicts Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass challenging the social boundaries of hate, race and sexuality.

The topic is the locker scene. Topic (and paragraph) one is going to be something about hate as relates to the topic (as of yet, we don't know if it will be about hate in the scene, the movie, or as relates to the character). Topic (and paragraph) two will be about race. Topic (and paragraph) three will be about sexuality.

To expand on this, you may add another point. Here's an example taken from a similar assignment:

Pearl Harbor is a story about tragedy, love, death and life.

We can see here that our topic will be about the story of Pearl Harbor. The first topic and paragraph will be about tragedy in the story, etc.

I don't recommend more than four points. After four, it looks like a list (which is really what it is). It also gets too hard to keep your sentence concise. The thesis shouldn't be the entire paragraph, it's just a mini-outline for your paper.

Alright, we're finally to the Body of the paper. The body consists of one paragraph for each of your three points, which is explained above. To expand your paper, you can do two for each point, or whatever combination of numbers of paragraphs per point suit you. If your teacher wants a five paragraph essay, you don't expand. If a teacher wants a bazillion page report, and you're an exhausted college kid just trying to get done, expand away. There are two things to remember about body paragraphs: 1. Make your first sentence blunt (state what you came to say in that paragraph) and 2. Tie your paragraphs together. Transitions are VERY important. A transition is a sentence that leads to the next paragraph or point. Example of a good transition and first sentence (modified from an old SAT practice booklet):

To understand why turning a book into a movie is so expensive, you have to think of all the people that get royalties from the process.

There are several people that are paid in order to make a book into a movie legally.

The transition sentence from the ending of the first paragraph leads us to think about people who receive royalties from the process of turning a book into a movie. The beginning of the second paragraph tells us that those people will be the focus of that paragraph. The last paragraph in the body should transition to the closing paragraph.

And finally, the closing paragraph. The closing paragraph causes the most arguments among so-called professionals, because no one's sure what should be included in it. Some people want to see a (detailed) summary of the entire paper, all over again. Others don't feel the need to re-read the paper in one paragraph. What has been decided on are these three things:

1.Restate the thesis.
2.Summarize your paper briefly (no more than three sentences).
3.Include a clincher, or a final statement that signifies the end of the paper.

What each of these include specifically will again be up to you or the teacher. The teacher that taught me this format would give an automatic zero on the paper if you did not fulfill requirement number one by copying and pasting the thesis statement as the first sentence of your closing paragraph. My preference (which seems to be the majority vote among teachers/professors) is that you restate it in a different way. I personally also like to see the summary limited to two or three sentences as well. Once again, those are preferences.

There are a few good online resources for more reading (or if I totally confused you). My favorite is here: grammar This source is written by a teacher that has different preferences for this outline, so it will give you a good overview from the other side. It also includes example papers.

Also, Wiki actually provided something useful on it's page about the subject: essay

Hopefully, this post has helped you learn about the five paragraph essay format. If you have questions, or still need help, get in touch with me. I'd love to help you make sense of your writing assignments!


I also promised a copy-and-paste printable outline, so here it is:

Paragraph One: Topic Paragraph

  • Thesis Statement/Topic Sentence: States what the paper is about and gives an outline for what's to come. Format: Topic, point one, point two, point three.
  • Transition to paragraph one of the body.

Paragraph Two: Body Paragraph 1

  • Paragraph covers point one
  • First statement states paragraph's topic
  • Include a Hook, or sentence that catches the reader's attention
  • Transition to next paragraph

Paragraph Three through Four follows paragraph two's outline.

Paragraph Five: Closing Paragraph

  • Restates Thesis
  • Brief summary/refresher of paper's contents
  • Includes a Clincher, or a statement that signals the end of the paper.

To Expand the format:

  • Add a fourth point to the thesis. This should add an extra paragraph in the body.
  • Add an extra paragraph for each topic in the body. You can end up with four extra paragraphs this way.
  • Be careful about sentence and paragraph length.

Read the paper once it's done as if you're seeing it for the first time.

Does the hook catch your attention?

Do the transitions flow well between paragraphs and thoughts?

Do the thesis statements and clincher seem out of place, or do they fit well where they are?

Are your paragraphs of satisfactory length? Does any paragraph seem to need more added to it? Does any paragraph seem too wordy?

If you were grading your paper, what would you give it? Why?

5/8/2011 | Rebekah G. | 3 comments

WritingSAT WritingACT Writing

  • 1

    Spell out numbers less than ten. For example, spell out one and two instead of using the numerals. This will not only make your essay longer, but it will also look more professional since it is a requirement in formal writing.[11]

  • 2

    Write out contractions. Write out contractions wherever possible to increase the length of your essay. For instance, instead of using “it’s,” write, “it is," or instead of using "can't," write, "cannot." It will also make your essay appear more formal.[12]

  • 3

    Minimize pronouns. Wherever possible, use specific names instead of pronouns. For example, instead of writing “they,” write, “Angela, Mark, and Tony.” However, use pronouns when writing out names becomes too wordy. Wordiness can detract from the readability and quality of your paper.[13]

  • 4

    Include supporting material. Adding quotations, anecdotes from personal experience, and paraphrasing research are strategies you can use to lengthen your essay. However, make sure the supporting material is relevant and strengthens the points you are trying to make.[14]
    • Additionally, if you are quoting or paraphrasing research or literature, make sure to cite it properly. Citations can add extra length to a paper as well.
  • 5

    Ensure that each paragraph has a topic and a concluding sentence. Introduce the paragraph with a topic sentence. This sentence should state your argument. Provide supporting evidence. Then conclude the paragraph by summarizing the points you just made, or by restating your opinion.[15]

  • 6

    Be as descriptive as possible. Instead of saying, "The painting was red,” say, "The magnificent piece of art was full of vibrant, warm colors such as red, brown and mahogany.” In addition to lengthening your essay, you may give off the impression that you're truly passionate about the topic.[16]
    • However, try to avoid being descriptive when it is unnecessary since this may cause your paper to appear embellished or sound verbose.
  • 7

    Draw out your conclusion. Conclusions don't have to be limited to one paragraph. Start your conclusion with a paragraph that simply summarizes your paper. Add a second paragraph that makes a final point about your thesis and how it can be applied to contexts outside of your paper.[17]

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