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.
Writing the Conclusion
You have written your introduction, you have pumped out a few killer body paragraphs, and now your work is done, right? WRONG. Do not underestimate the importance of a strong conclusion. The conclusion of your graduate school admissions essay will be the last thing that the admissions officer reads, so you want to make sure to leave a strong final impression.
By now, you have probably seen all over our site that we recommend that your essay include 40 percent narrative and 60 percent introspection. Think of the narrative as the portion of your essay addressing the “what?”, and the introspection as the section addressing the “so what?” The conclusion then, attempts to answer the BIG “so what?” It should convey to the reader a clear reason why your paper’s argument is significant.
There are elements that a conclusion must include, and some additional elements that a conclusion may include. Do not settle for merely including the necessary elements; you want your essay to stand out.
Your conclusion must include a rehashing of your thesis. Rehashing your thesis does not mean repeating your thesis. Find a different way of stating your topic and your perspective on that topic. The conclusion should also include a brief summary of your points. You do not have to mention each individual supporting argument, but make sure that you at least generally explain the contents of your essay.
Most importantly, you want your conclusion to tie back to your initial arguments. In the beginning you introduced your ideas, after which you spent the rest of the essay proving your argument. In the conclusion, you want to remind your reader of what the purpose of proving your argument was to begin with.
Strengthening your Conclusion
Here we have four recommended options for strengthening your conclusion in order of effectiveness. You do not have to limit yourself to using only one of these. You can, for instance, use the Past, Present, Future approach and still ask a provocative question.
1. Past, present, future.
If your essay includes a long running narrative, this is an excellent feature to include in your conclusion.
In the introduction you speak in the present tense. In the body, you relate to a story from the past. Now, in the conclusion, you may want to end on an upbeat note by concluding with your aspirations for the future.
Take a look at the following example:
When I was younger I had always looked up to my older brother; he could have done no wrong. Now, as our relationship has developed I have seen all aspects of his personality and recognize that he too has his flaws. Yet his important qualities—respect, courage, and determination—I still admire and try to emulate. I am certain that one day I too will be someone’s role model, and I will strive to exhibit my best qualities to be just as great an influence.
The blue portion of the above text is a reference to the beginning of the running narrative the author uses in his essay. The green has summarized the points that were made throughout the essay. Finally, the portion in black denotes the author’s intentions for the future.
2. Suggest consequences.
This is a similar approach to the previous one, but it can be applied to all types of essays. In this feature, you suggest the consequences of your points to your future at a given university and in your career. If taking 9+ hours of ballet classes has turned you into a diligent person, how will being diligent make you a great college student? If you can juggle many activities, maybe this means that you will be very involved at the university that you attend. Ultimately, all college application essays should suggest the same consequence: that you would be a positive and worthwhile addition to their university.
Take a look at the following example:
Lacrosse has always been an important component of my life, and has contributed to my passion for physical fitness. Although it is a heavy-time commitment, I believe it was a fundamental and invaluable part of my undergraduate career. The physical and mental training, teamwork, and diligence I have learned from playing D1 lacrosse have all had an extraordinary impact on my attitude and determination. While in pursuit of a Masters in Physical Therapy I am now confident that I have the ability overcome any obstacle in my path.
3. Ask a provocative question.
If the reader is left thinking about your writing later in the day (in a positive way), then you have nailed your essay! Asking a provocative question at the end of your essay can be an effective way to lodge yourself in an admissions officer’s memory.
The danger with this approach comes from the risk of asking a question that would demand a separate, new essay to answer it. Make sure your question is relevant to your topic.
Take a look at this good example:
I have always been captivated by the variety of cultures and the range of human living conditions in the world. My extensive travels, my interest in current events, and my knowledge of four languages have inspired my interest in international human rights. Yet how can one have an impact on the world, without first learning its constituents? For this reason I am in eager pursuit of an education in international social work—a goal that I am confident I can realize through the public policy program.
By this approach, you want to indicate how your argument relates to the grander scheme of things. How can your realizations about yourself apply and be beneficial to society? If you just narrated a story about the loss of your grandmother, for example, what does the process of losing a loved one generally teach people about going through difficult periods in their lives?
Check out this example:
Empathy is an extraordinary and infectious quality. Although it does not come naturally, it only requires some attention and a little bit of practice. After I made a conscious effort to be empathetic, I found that it had a profound effect on my day-to-day life. If every person could take on such an attitude, they would find themselves in a much better work and home environment.
There is nothing better than ending your entire essay with a strong quip, remark, or witticism (a zinger!). Of course, even a zinger has to tie in with one of the methods outlined above, but it is also important to pay particular attention to your closing sentence when taking this approach; your zinger must resonate with the rest of your conclusion.
Typically, a great note to end on is directly mentioning the university to which you are applying. In doing so, you indicate that your qualities, achievements, and background make you a perfect fit for the specific school to which you are applying.
As with all of the important and impactful sentences in your essay—keep your zinger short and sweet.
- Begin by rehashing your thesis (not word for word). Keep this clear and to the point.
- Next, summarize main points or important arguments that were in the body (2-3 sentences).
- End with a zinger. Make your last sentence resonate with the reader while keeping it short and sweet.
- Revisit your thesis.
- Summarize your main points.
- Add something more than the bare minimum. Too many graduate school admission essays have weak conclusions. Your conclusion is an opportunity to stand out.
- Spend time on your conclusion—it will not be overlooked.
- End on a strong note. Make sure that your final sentence leaves a strong impression.
- Rewrite the thesis with no significant changes.
- Introduce a new idea in the conclusion. You want to wrap up all loose ends.
- Attempt to make up for an unfinished argument—do not write your conclusion until you have written all that you have to say.
- Concentrate too much on a minor point in your essay. The summary should only include critical information for your argument.
- Do not claim that you are not an expert or that you are not sure about something. Confidence is key.