You know the one we’re talking about. The 5-paragraph essay is composed of a one-paragraph introduction (head), 3 main paragraphs (body), and one concluding paragraph (tail). First, you clearly state a thesis which explains to the reader what you’re going to tell them. Then, you tell them. Finally, you sum up what you’ve said in a new way.

Or something like that. It’s not hard to imagine a parody of the most conservative writing teachers drilling this template into the heads of their students under some misguided idea that “that’s what they need to get through life and be a good communicator.” Just as it’s not hard to

To wit, if you want the oversimplified rule-of-thumb for the five-paragraph essay construction, my advice goes like this: It’s often a useful tool for efficiency of communication but a lousy one for rendering an experience, character profile, and many types of writing in which the primary objective isn’t to be informative.

But with this backdrop in mind, I also wanted to sit down and think a little longer on the relative pros and cons of the format.


5-Paragraph Essays in the Modern World

Much of today’s online blogs, web publications, and social media content is written for that specific software or digital media platform.


  • Online blogs and website publications aiming to rank high in Google (and other) search results will typically follow something like the 5-paragraph essay in so much that the most important information is included at the very top. This is because, for many different types of search terms, Google wants their search audiences to be able to navigate to the information they’re looking for as quickly as possible. As such, content frequently focuses on a singular topic or keyword whose definition is clearly stated in the first paragraph and often the first sentence.


  • Even longer tweets don’t permit for a lot of multi-paragraph compositions, but more than that, whether you’re trying to increase content distribution and direct audiences to the “real content” or whether you’re trying to get a rise out of a particular audience to increase traffic. Tweets aren’t primarily about being informative. At least not in themselves.


  • About Pages: This is what I call a modern-day trap for the five-paragraph essay. No matter if it’s a personal blog or the main website for a major company, the About page seems to call for a formal application to the open-ended existential question: Who (or what) am I? It’s no wonder that this assignment can paralyze so many people who might otherwise be very eloquent in their description of what truly drives them, their organization, and/or their website.


  • In many ways, the five-paragraph essay construction is an introduction to more formal, academic, and field-specific types of writing. Scientific and literary journal publications are still alive and well today. Efficiency of communication within a closed group is a more common writing goal than just undergrad writing composition courses.


I also want to talk about what the five-paragraph essay construction means for persuasive writing, but I’ve going to save this for another day and another post.