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Beyond the Five Paragraphy Essay

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Introduction to the University Essay
Like many undergraduate students, you are probably aware that university essays should be “different” from high-school essays. However, you may be unclear on what this difference ought to consist of. What, for instance, distinguishes the standard high-school approach to essay-writing, the five paragraph approach, from a university-level approach to essay-writing? This module will guide you through the process of moving beyond the five paragraph essay. | |The Five Paragraph Essay The five-paragraph approach has two major limitations. First, the approach produces extremely simple essays. Second, the approach is very formulaic.
The five-paragraph structure can only articulate a very simple form of argument, involving a major claim and three supporting claims. In order to avoid being limited to this argument-form, the student requires the ability to build the structure of an essay around her own ideas. This ability requires an understanding of how the essay works, not knowledge of an essay-writing formula (like the five-paragraph essay).
The Essay An essay is a written defense of a position (a thesis) on a topic. A good essay-topic will motivate a line of inquiry that is manageable for the essay-writer. To this end, it is extremely important to ensure that the topic is adequately narrow.
A thesis is the concluding point of the line of inquiry motivated by the topic. Thus, a thesis is not a restatement of a topic. The thesis of your essay should be framed in relation to your topic. It is your opinion or argument on your topic
The topic asks a question; the thesis answers the question according to the writer's opinion, based on his or her research. The essay is organized to explore the question and support your answer or opinion.

Organizing the Essay If and when you were taught to write a five paragraph essay, you were taught to have three body paragraphs. A university essay is more flexible than that, depending on its length and on what it is trying to say.

A short university essay may have three body paragraphs, but it may have more. And a long paper, of 2500, 3000 or 4000 words will have many more. It may be useful to think in terms of sections of an essay, rather than paragraphs and to forget about the number three. You will need as many sections as you will need.
|So, an essay may look something like this: |
|1. Introduction |
|2. Major section |
|3. Major section. |
|4. Major section |
|5. Major section |
|6. Conclusion |

Each section will contain paragraphs, maybe one, two, three or four. Not every section will have the same number of paragraphs. One section, after all, may be more important than another and require more paragraphs to do it justice.
Whether an essay is five paragraphs, or has many more, each kind follows the basic shape of the essay and has the three basic building blocks: introduction, body, and conclusion. The body section is just much more flexible than you may have been used to thinking of it. Don't worry about this. It is, in fact, freeing. You are free to support and develop your thesis in the best possible way.

The Outline When writing a university essay, you should still make an outline. But rather than thinking of the five paragraph skeleton that you must force your ideas into, think of the outline as the mid-point between your thoughts and the finished essay, which closely reflects your topic and thesis.

This might be clearer with an example: Say you are writing a 2000 word essay on University Students and Proposed Tuition Hikes. You have already decided that your thesis is "University students cannot afford any further tuition hikes."
You already know that you have three points that you think need to be discussed in the essay: • you need to talk about current fees • you need to talk about the proposed increase • you need to talk about the difficult financial situation that this creates for students
So it does appear that you have three main points, but as you think about what you have, you realize that your thoughts are following a cause and effect pattern. A tuition increase will have the effect of students not being able to afford university. So another way to think of the essay is as a cause and effect essay.
In a cause and effect essay, there is another way to organize your points: • Situation now • Cause or new factor (tuition hikes) • Effect or prediction (students not affording university)
You decide to go with this second way of organizing the paper (yes, it is three parts). But as you think about your topic more and do a little research, you find that your three parts have subdivisions you need to cover:
|1. Situation now |
|A. Income |
|i. parents ii. jobs |
|iii. loans iv. other |
|B. Expenses |
|i. food ii. rent |
|iii. tuition iv. other |
|II. Cause – Tuition Increase |
|A. Why it is thought to be needed |
|B. How much it will be for each student |
|III. Effect of Proposed Increase on Students |
|A. Income of students will remain same but expenses will |
|go up |
|B. Students will not be able to afford university |

So, even though you have a three part-essay, it will be much more than three paragraphs. Each section falls into two main sub-divisions, and the first section's subdivisions are divided even further. This will be a good essay that is logically organized to argue the thesis the writer wants to get across.

Paragraphs Essays are made up of paragraphs, so let's look at what makes up a paragraph. There are four main types of paragraphs:

• introductory • concluding • developing • transitional
Most of us are familiar with introductory and concluding paragraphs, but let's look at the other two more closely in the next two sections

Developing Paragraphs As the name suggests, developing paragraphs "develop" your ideas. Generally, every developing paragraph does four things (not always in this order):

Topic Sentence: • introduces the one idea that this paragraph will develop
• shows what makes you think this • presents the evidence that supports the topic
• shows how your evidence supports the point made in the topic sentence • answers the question, "So what?"
• sums up what your paragraph has shown or discussed and may connect it to the next paragraph
The following is an excerpt from a developing paragraph from the essay on university students and tuition hikes whose outline was discussed previously. It comes from the first section of the paper, under A. Income - jobs.
|Students cannot afford a tuition fee hike for another reason: income from summer and |
|part-time jobs is declining as these jobs become harder to find (Topic Sentence). These |
|figures clearly show that ...(Evidence). Thus, we can see that student income is declining, |
|and less income means less ability to pay ... (Discussion/Explanation). As a result of this |
|decline, students have had no choice but to turn to student loans ... |
|(Conclusion/Transition). |

While this is what a typical developing paragraph may look like, paragraphs, like essays, are flexible. A paragraph may have more than one of each kind of sentence. Not every paragraph has or needs a transition. And for our purposes, the most important thing to remember, is that not every paragraph has to be one major section of your essay. It may contribute to a larger section made up of many developing paragraphs.

Transitional Paragraphs Transitions carry the reader from one idea to the next; in other words, transitions link your ideas or your sections. Transitional paragraphs summarize what has just happened and introduce what will happen next. So while developing paragraphs may have a transitional sentence at the end, at the end of a section of an essay, it may be appropriate to have a transitional paragraph, summing up the previous paragraphs, before moving on to the next section of the essay.

The following transitional paragraph comes in the first major section of the essay on university students and tuition hikes and fits between A. Income and B. Expenses::

|As the evidence shows, the "recession" has reduced the amount of money available to students |
|from traditional sources: parents, many of whom have lost their jobs; summer and part-time |
|work, which has been taken by the newly-unemployed; and student loans, which have been |
|restricted. If reduced income is not bad enough, students' costs have increased to the point |
|where many are finding it difficult to attend university even with the current level of |
|tuition; these students will not be able to handle an increase. Exactly what are these costs?|

Analyzing Essays and Articles As you read articles for your courses and for research for your own essays, you will see that most articles are structured like essays, with introductions, conclusions, and body paragraphs that work together to argue a thesis. Knowing this will help you to read efficiently and critically; by reading the introduction and conclusion first you get a handle on the topic and thesis, and then reading through the body, you see how the writer has structured a logical, coherent development of the thesis.

With any article you read for any course, make a point to notice its structure. You will realize how flexible the essay format is, and it will help you structure and write your own essays.

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Beyond the Five Paragraph Essay

The Academic Skills Centre, Trent University

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