Note: The text below is the original and complete text appearing at <http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/writing/tools/5paragraph.html>. The link is no longer active.
Bid Goodbye to the Five Paragraph Essay
The Five-Paragraph Essay is the rhetorical equivalent of training wheels on a bicycle. Like training wheels, the Five-Paragraph Essay may help you get started, but it will very soon begin to hinder any further progress and it virtually ensures that you will never win any races.
Because the five-paragraph format is so widely taught in American high schools, and because it can be so limiting within the context of college writing tasks, it is important to be aware of some of the reasons it should be avoided:
1. The five-paragraph format is entirely artificial; it is seldom seen outside the classroom and almost never used in newspapers, journals, books, or any form of academic discourse.
2. The five-paragraph format depends entirely upon a categorical scheme of organization that simply divides any topic into three sections; it has neither the flexibility nor the range to address the complexity of most college writing assignments.
3. Worst of all, the five-paragraph format stifles the writing process and encourages poor writing habits:
→ Because the thesis of a five-paragraph paper simply asserts three largely unrelated points, the format does nothing to foster thought or creativity and thus undermines the entire notion of prewriting in general and of invention in particular.
→ Since the structure of the five-paragraph essay is determined before the fact, it discourages any inclination to learn techniques of arrangement.
→ By relying on an arbitrary but wholly predictable pattern of development and by mandating that a completely obvious categorical thesis be repeated in the conclusion (after a span of only three paragraphs), the five-paragraph format not only insults the intelligence of the reader but encourages a writing process that, in ignoring the reader's needs and interests, is largely arhetorical.
→ Because the structure of the Five-Paragraph Essay is set in stone, it precludes any attempt at global revision.
→ By making it not only possible but advantageous for the writer to employ the first ideas that come to mind, the Five-Paragraph Essay undermines the epistemological function of writing and obviates the need for imagination or creativity.