Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay
Most high school courses teach only one way to block an argument: the 5 paragraph essay. One main argument is broken down into 3 clear examples which support that argument. The example below shows how a thesis might be organized into a 5-paragraph essay:
Thesis: "During the 1920s, the image of the ideal American woman underwent dramatic changes in terms of fashion, athleticism, and sexuality. While these changes seemed to make women more liberated, in reality, they had little impact on most women’s everyday lives."
The five paragraph essay was devised with the good intention of helping students write essays by offering a one-size-fits-all pattern or structure that students could follow. There is nothing inherently wrong with the five-paragraph essay as a learning tool for writing short essays, but it doesn't work for a ten-page paper or prove a thesis that makes two arguments. A five-paragraph essay template in these (and most academic) cases usually results in a frustrating paper that contains overly long paragraphs and an unclear structure.
University assignments require organizational forms that incorporate more than 5 paragraphs and do more than simply list examples to develop a single point. For example, the thesis in the example above would be supported more effectively if it were organized into a different organizational scheme:
Thesis: During the 1920s, the image of the ideal American woman underwent dramatic changes in terms of athleticism, sexuality, and fashion. While these changes seemed to make women more liberated, in reality, they had little impact on most women’s everyday lives.
In this example, the argument first describes the change that occurred and then evaluates its impact. There are no limits on the number of paragraphs you can or should write. Instead, each section develops one part of the thesis in however many paragraphs are needed.