Some essays focus on a particular theme, such as the history of ice cream or a contemporary Mexican author. Other essay assignments are based on a format, like the 3.5 essay. This type asks writers to compose an essay of only five paragraphs, including an introductory and concluding paragraph. The first paragraph has three to five sentences, including a thesis statement; the second, third and fourth paragraphs have five to seven sentences; and the final paragraph again has three to five sentences. The three paragraphs sandwiched between the beginning and closing provide concise, well-researched information, quotes and data.
Begin the paper with an intriguing sentence that invites readers to read about your research. Start the paper with a general statement addressing your topic, which should entice a reader to want to learn more. For instance, if you are writing about Mayan temples, open with a line that makes the period come alive. An introductory sentence might read, “Every morning in the ancient Mayan civilization, circa 2000 B.C. to A.D. 900, the land teemed with workers ready to build massive temples we can still tour today.”
The substance of your five-paragraph paper is presented in the last sentence of the first paragraph, the thesis. The thesis does not have to be profound or cleverly written. In fact, writing what may seem like a bland thesis statement will help your reader understand the direction you want to take in the paper. For example, if you are writing about ancient Mayan temples, your thesis statement might read, “The ancient Mayan civilization used quarried stone, gold and great amounts of manpower to create extraordinary temples for its rulers.” A reader then knows you will talk about these three points in the next three paragraphs.
If possible, include quotations in your paper to make your research stand out as authoritative. Quote experts in the field who have published books, articles or papers on your essay topic. If you are conducting research on family history, include direct quotes from family members who lived through the event discussed. Use a tape recorder to interview your grandmother, for instance, instead of jotting down her responses. Before you begin writing your paper, read her the quote and make sure she is comfortable with your using the comment in your essay.
Make sure you have researched enough about the topic before you set out to write the rough draft. Often students go right to the rough draft, skipping out on extensive research and organizing the paper. Be sure you have enough information to fill the five-paragraph format. Avoid running out of steam in the third paragraph and trying to recycle information you have already included.
Wrap up your essay with a strong conclusion. The fifth paragraph is only three to five sentences long, but it must summarize your entire essay. Think of the conclusion as a gift to your reader: After she has finished reading your paper, you provide her with a rough summary of what she has just learned. Write a conclusion statement that ties together the information provided. If you discussed Mayan art, consider writing, “Overall, ancient Mayan artwork educates anthropologists about the importance of gods, gold, hierarchy and geometry in this thriving society.”