Forget the 5 Paragraph Formula


Throughout middle and high school, students are taught the fundamentals of reading critically through the various types of essays- whether they are analyzing literature prompts or researching historical events. We are taught to have an intro, 3 body paragraphs and a conclusion. However, there is a surprising lack of creative writing and other types of essay structures in many English and History classes. This makes sense to a lot of people; the five paragraph essay formula is well known and expected.

That being said, there are various benefits to building your own essay structure that don’t get enough attention from the high school curriculum that are can be very valuable to students- even if making their own essay structure isn’t really their cup of tea. A more structured essay doesn’t have as much freedom to express yourself as a piece that you structure yourself.

A 5 paragraph essay standard is teaching students to edit themselves even while they’re writing their rough draft because they’re already forcing a set rigid structure on their writing before they’ve even begun to formulate their ideas. In effect, students begin to come up with ideas that only fit into the 5 paragraph mold. This limits students’ creativity and force them into a formula at the sacrifice of perhaps a better idea.

While formulas in essays are good in certain contexts, I feel that certain essays shouldn’t be held to such rigid standards. Not using a premade structure can sometimes solve more problems and focus in on better ideas than intended, which allows for the consideration of all options in a scenario and to be more aware of the ideas that you’re creating. At least for the first draft, students shouldn’t be expecting a perfect structure, and let themselves write more creatively. Anything can be edited- after the initial ideas are put into place.

This November, I participated in a challenge called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in which you attempt to write 50,000 words in just 30 days. I chose to write a fictional story. Though it has no relation to the types of structured essays that I’ve been writing for school, I’ve found that my writing has improved. I have learned the different devices that work for my style and allow me to write about the things that I’m passionate about. In addition, I feel this way of writing better captures my stories and ideas WITHOUT forcing it into a rigid structure.

No, I don’t think that everybody has to write 50,000 words to find out what works best for them, nor do I think writing should be completely structureless. I do think that allowing oneself to write down things even if eventually they don’t make it into the final draft makes for a more creative essay. I also think that not every topic is needs the famous 5 paragraph essay to provide clarity- sometimes all you need is a couple well written paragraphs to get your point across. Even if it isn’t perfect as you write it, an essay should be seen as a sculpture- sometimes it takes a few crossed out sentences to make the perfect essay, or one bad idea to lead you to a better one that you might not have considered before. After all, you can’t edit a blank page!

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