You might think of essays as boring assignments for explaining the themes in Huckleberry Finn or breaking down the characters in The Great Gatsby, but the essay is one of the most timeless forms in all of literature. It’s a genre that includes deep readings of texts, personal essays, and journalistic reports. Before you get to any of that, you need to figure out the basic parts of the essay.
You can think of any essay as consisting of three parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. You might see some small variations, but for the most part, that is the structure of any essay.
Take the five-paragraph essay as a simple example. With that form, you get one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. That’s five paragraphs, but three parts.
A good essay is much like a good burger (or a sandwich, but we’re a burger society here). Your intro and conclusion are the buns sandwiching the patty, cheese, and other good toppings of the body paragraphs.
“Hello! My name is Seymour. It’s nice to meet you.” That might seem like a simple, non-essay introduction, but it has all the basic components of what you want in an introduction paragraph. You start with the hook. Your hook is the first sentence of your entire essay, so you want to grab people’s attention (or hook them) immediately.
From there, you have sentences that lead the reader directly to the thesis sentence. Your thesis is possibly the most important part of your entire essay. It’s the entire raison d'être. It’s what you’re arguing or trying to accomplish with your essay as a whole.
Kaboom! That, the sound of the entire universe forming in an instant, giving rise to apples, toenails, and what we know today as the humble five-paragraph essay. Since that fortuitous moment, the five-paragraph essay has become the favorite assignment among English teachers, to the bemusement of students. Although many educators, professionals, and youths have valid criticisms about the form, the five-paragraph essay is an important component of developing writing skills and critical thought.
The body paragraphs are the main part of your essay burger. Each body paragraph presents an idea that supports your thesis. This can include evidence from a literary source, details that build out your thesis, or explanations for your reasoning.
The first sentence of each body paragraph is known as the topic sentence. You can kind of think of it like a smaller part of your thesis sentence. It’s the main idea that you want to discuss in that specific body paragraph. The rest of the body paragraph is made up of supporting sentences, which support that topic sentence.
While many are critical of the five-paragraph essay’s rigid form, that rigidity is part of what makes it so advantageous. Every five-paragraph essay is an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion paragraph, and they will always have that structure. With such a stable form, a writer truly only needs to worry about the contents of the essay, putting all the focus on the actual writing and ideas, not the organization.
A burger needs a solid, sturdy bottom bun. Otherwise, the burger would fall apart. The same holds for a conclusion. A good conclusion holds the essay together, while offering a unique finishing touch to the whole thing.
The conclusion is at once the easiest and hardest part of the essay. It’s easy in that it mostly involves restating your thesis and much of what you already discussed. The hard part is thinking outside of the essay and considering how your thesis applies to components of real life.
In conclusion, the five-paragraph essay is a useful and effective form for teaching students how to write and develop their critical thinking skills. It’s not without its setbacks, but it’s a simple form that can give way to other ways of writing. Longer research papers are essentially five-paragraph essays with more body paragraphs, while short fiction and creative writing require similar critical thought and writing acumen. Even if you don’t write, five-paragraph essays can teach you how to use your voice and express your ideas.
Understanding each part of an essay is essential to writing one, but seeing actual essay examples in the wild can take you from essay noob to essay expert. Look at specific types of essays, and see if you can pick out the different parts in each one — from thesis statements to hooks and concluding sentences.