Sally Baggett holds a master’s in literature. She enjoys inspiring students, cooking with her family, and helping others achieve their dreams.
Just like there is more than one way to skin a cat (or so they say), there is more than one way to write an essay. One is not required to produce a perfectly formatted five-paragraph essay every time one composes a piece of writing. There is another type of essay you can write that may just be simpler than the traditional style: the three-paragraph essay. This type of essay might be beneficial for beginning writers as it offers the organizational structure of a longer essay without requiring the length. It also offers a challenge to more advanced writers to condense their points.
The Parts of the Essay and Its Benefits
As with most essays, the three-paragraph essay has three parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Yet with this type of essay–unlike its five-paragraph counterpart–each one of these sections has only one paragraph. The three-paragraph essay, therefore, might be ideal for young writers or those who are currently mastering the English language.
Another benefit to the three-paragraph essay could be that it requires you to condense your supporting points into just one, which can be a good exercise. If you had to choose only one point to convince a reader to agree with you, what would it be?
After performing some light prewriting, such as brainstorming or writing an outline, students can move right into composing the essay. While this process is similar across the board for writing academic papers, the three-paragraph essay is unique in that the body will take up less space in the finished product.
An outline for this essay might look like this:
- Introduction Paragraph
- Background Points
- Thesis Statement
- Body Paragraph
- Topic Sentence
- Supporting fact 1
- Supporting fact 2
- Transition Sentence
- Topic Sentence
- Conclusion Paragraph
- Re-statement of Thesis
- Summary of Main Point
- Challenge to the Reader
Paragraph One: Introduction
As with most formal essays, the three-paragraph essay begins with an introduction paragraph. Such paragraphs must, obviously, introduce the reader to your idea and, in most cases, convince the reader that this essay is worth reading. To craft a strong introduction, be sure to open with a solid hook. You want to draw in readers so they are compelled to engage with your writing.
A hook can be something compelling such as a question, a powerful quote, or an interesting fact. Introduction paragraphs also usually contain background information that assists the reader in understanding your topic, perhaps defining it or explaining an important part. Finally, you want to include a thesis statement. Even though your essay only has three paragraphs, there still needs to be a purpose to the writing.
You could structure your introduction paragraph according to this outline:
- Introduction Paragraph
- Hook: Is there no solution for dumping waste in the ocean?
- Background Points
- Explain why trash is dumped in the ocean
- Statistics about dumping trash in the ocean
- Thesis Statement: Dumping waste in the ocean is a problem because it spells disaster for the ecosystem, leading to problems on land.
This structure is not mandatory, though it might be useful in the long run for organizing your thoughts.
Paragraph Two: Body
The second paragraph, as we have discussed, is the one and only body paragraph. This paragraph bears the burden of communicating support for the thesis statement all on its own. As such, it may take more than one rough draft to get this paragraph to communicate everything you want it to.
Your body paragraph needs to underscore the thesis statement. Create a topic sentence for this body paragraph that communicates this and also transitions from the introduction into the body. For example, your body paragraph topic sentence based on the outline above could be:
One of those problems might play itself out as food scarcity where humans live.
This topic sentence reiterates the thesis and moves the reader into a body paragraph that contains a supporting point: that damage to the ocean’s ecosystem could lead to food scarcity. Within the body paragraph, you can quote different sources that support this point.
Again, this paragraph does not have room to contain everything that a full five-paragraph essay might. But that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in some strong evidence to convince your reader to see your perspective, such as is accomplished through quotes and analysis. Don’t forget to end with a strong transition sentence to move the reader seamlessly into the conclusion.
Paragraph Three: Conclusion
The final paragraph in an essay is usually the conclusion. The three-paragraph essay is no exception. In this essay, the conclusion can be just as long as the other two paragraphs, and it can drive home the point made in the thesis statement and body paragraph. As with most conclusion paragraphs, this paragraph ought to restate the thesis in different words. It should then summarize what was stated in the body paragraph before challenging the reader in some way, whether in thought or action.
Editing Before Turning It In
One thing to be sure of in this type of essay (as in any other) is to polish it. Make it flow well. In other words, revise it!
Before beginning the revision process, take a break from your writing so that you can look at it with fresh eyes. Once you start revising, hunt not only for grammar and punctuation errors but for ways to make the writing flow better. Take a look at the sentences at the beginning and end of each paragraph. Do these sentences contain transition words? Do these paragraphs link to each other? Transition words or phrases like “Likewise,” “In spite of,” or “In addition to” can ensure that your paragraphs are coherent. There are also other services that will automatically proofread you paper.
If you used any sources (i.e. websites, books, videos, etc.) to help support your points and write your paper, you need to cite them! Most teachers will ask you to create a bibliography in MLA format. Others may have you one in APA format, or create references in Chicago style. Ask your teacher for guidance on what citation style they prefer.
Don’t forget that you aren’t limited to using this type of essay for just persuasion. You can also use it to relate a narrative tale, using the three parts as the beginning, middle, and end of a story. You can use this to craft an informative essay. See if other types of essays–such as a process analysis or an evaluation–will fit inside the three-paragraph essay format.
In many ways, the three-paragraph essay is similar to the five-paragraph essay. They both make a solid point using an introduction, body, and conclusion. This simpler essay only requires that you condense your points into one body paragraph, perhaps only one supporting point, before reaching a conclusion. Again, this can make a good exercise for beginning English writers, but can also make a challenge for a more advanced writer to select their strongest supporting points.
When you are first faced with the task of writing a long essay or term paper it can be intimidating, but you make your job and the reader’s job much easier by following some basic rules of thumb. Of course, if your professors offer you any specific guidelines about writing be sure to follow those first. Otherwise, incorporate the advice that follows into your papers wherever appropriate.
Of course, papers should always be typed, double-spaced on 8-1/2 x 11 paper on one side of the page only, and letter-quality print or better is always expected. Often you are expected to supply a cover sheet giving the date, your name, the title of the paper, the class, and the professor’s name. Tables and figures should be numbered consecutively throughout the text, and if there are a good number of them, then separate lists of tables and figures at the beginning of the paper may be expected. Tables and figures should always have descriptive captions, and if they come directly from sources, the sources must be specifically credited in the captions with the same citation style that you use throughout the paper.
A paper’s title should be succinct and definitive, individual and informational. Clearly, the title "An Overview of the Hydraulic Fracturing of Methane-Bearing Coal Formations" is more complete, satisfying, and informative than "Hydraulic Fracturing." The title is important because it announces the paper’s specific content and typically serves as a pathway to the paper’s thesis.
Your introduction is your opportunity to be at your most individual. You should get your reader’s attention immediately by announcing the paper’s subject or by launching into a relevant scenario or narrative that informs or illustrates your overall argument. A paper illustrating the costly effects of poor mine design, for instance, might open with the scenario of how a poorly designed pillar at a salt mine in Louisiana once collapsed, fracturing the surface above and draining an entire lake into the mine. A paper on the supply and demand of nickel might begin by straightforwardly announcing that the paper will explain the uses of nickel, detail its market structure, and use data to forecast the future supply and demand of the metal.
In brief, a paper’s introduction should define and limit the paper’s scope and purpose, indicate some sense of organization, and, whenever possible, suggest an overall argument. Another important principle in technical writing is that the introduction should be problem-focused, giving the reader enough background so that the paper’s importance and relationship to key ideas are clear. A rule of thumb about the introduction’s length: about 5-10% of the entire paper.
As examples of how creative an introduction can be, here are the opening lines from a geography paper and a paper on optics, both of which use narrative technique to arouse our interest. Note how the first excerpt uses an "I" narrator comfortably while the second excerpt does not use "I" even though the writer is clearly reflective about the subject matter. The first excerpt is from a paper on the generic nature of America’s highway exit ramp services; the second is from a paper on shape constancy.
The observation struck me slowly, a growing sense of déjà vu. I was driving the endless miles of Interstate 70 crossing Kansas when I began to notice that the exits all looked the same. . . .
Our eyes often receive pictures of the world that are contrary to physical reality. A pencil in a glass of water miraculously bends; railroad tracks converge in the distance. . . .
Thesis Statement / Objective
Most papers have outright thesis statements or objectives. Normally you will not devote a separate section of the paper to this; in fact, often the thesis or objective is conveniently located either right at the beginning or right at the end of the Introduction. A good thesis statement fits only the paper in which it appears. Thesis statements usually forecast the paper’s content, present the paper’s fundamental hypothesis, or even suggest that the paper is an argument for a particular way of thinking about a topic. Avoid the purely mechanical act of writing statements like "The first topic covered in this paper is x. The second topic covered is y. The third topic is . . ." Instead, concretely announce the most important elements of your topic and suggest your fundamental approach—even point us toward the paper’s conclusion if you can.
Here are two carefully focused and thoughtfully worded thesis statements, both of which appeared at the ends of introductory paragraphs:
This paper reviews the problem of Pennsylvania’s dwindling landfill space, evaluates the success of recycling as a solution to this problem, and challenges the assumption that Pennsylvania will run out of landfill space by the year 2020.
As this paper will show, the fundamental problem behind the Arab-Israeli conflict is the lack of a workable solution to the third stage of partition, which greatly hinders the current negotiations for peace.
Body Paragraphs / Section Headings
Never simply label the middle bulk of the paper as "Body" and then lump a bunch of information into one big section. Instead, organize the body of your paper into sections by using an overarching principle that supports your thesis, even if that simply means presenting four different methods for solving some problem one method at a time. Normally you are allowed and encouraged to use section headings to help both yourself and the reader follow the flow of the paper. Always word your section headings clearly, and do not stray from the subject that you have identified within a section.
As examples, I offer two sets of section headings taken from essays. The first is from Dr. Craig Bohren’s "Understanding Colors in Nature" (1), which appeared in a 1990 edition of Earth & Mineral Sciences; the second is from a student’s paper on the supply and demand of asbestos.
Section Headings From "Understanding Colors In Nature"
- Color By Scattering: The Role of Particle Size
- Color By Scattering: The Positions of Source and Observer
- The Blue Sky: The Role of Multiple Scattering
- Color By Absorption in Multiple-Scattering Media
- Color by Absorption: Microscopic Mechanisms are Sometimes Elusive
Section Headings From "Asbestos: Supply and Demand"
- Industry Structure
- The Mining and Properties of Asbestos
- World Resources and Reserves
- Byproducts and Co-products
- Economic Factors and Supply and Demand Problems
- Uses of and Substitutes for Asbestos
- The Issue of Health on Supply and Demand
Just by considering the section headings in the above examples, we can begin to see the fundamental structures and directions of the essays, because both sets of headings break the paper topic into its natural parts and suggest some sort of a movement forward through a topic. Note how these headings—as all section headings should—tell us the story of the paper and are worded just as carefully as any title should be.
Most importantly, then, you must use your section headings in the same way that you use topic sentences or thesis statements: to control, limit, and organize your thinking for your reader’s sake.
Most papers use "Conclusion" as a heading for the final section of the text, although there are times when headings such as "Future Trends" will serve equally well for a paper’s closing section. When you are stuck for a conclusion, look back at your introduction; see if you can freshly reemphasize your objectives by outlining how they were met, or even revisit an opening scenario from the introduction in a new light to illustrate how the paper has brought about change. Your conclusion should not be a summary of the paper or a simple tacked-on ending, but a significant and logical realization of the paper’s goals.
Beware of the temptation to open your final paragraph with "In conclusion," or "In summary," and then summarize the paper. Instead, let your entire conclusion stand as a graceful termination of an argument. As you write your conclusion, concentrate on presenting the bottom line, and think of the word’s definition: a conclusion is an articulated conviction arrived at on the basis of the evidence you have presented.
What follows is an excerpt from a conclusion to a paper entitled "Exercise in the Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis in Women." Note how the conclusion reflects directly on the paper’s hypothesis and spells out the bottom line, gracefully bringing closure to the paper’s argument:
The majority of evidence presented in this paper supports the hypothesis that exercise positively affects bone mineral density in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Significantly, exercise has been shown to increase bone mineral density in premenopausal women even after the teenage years, and it helps preserve the bone mass achieved in the following decades. There is also evidence that exercise adds a modest, yet significant amount of bone mass to the postmenopausal skeleton. As these findings demonstrate, women of all ages can benefit by regular weight-bearing exercise, an increased intake of calcium-rich foods, and—for postmenopausal women—the maintenance of adequate estrogen levels. For all women, it is never too late to prevent osteoporosis or lessen its severity by making appropriate lifestyle choices.
Any sources cited must be correctly listed on a References page using the Author-Year or Number system (see Chapter 5 of this handbook).