Senior Scholars to Freshmen Flunks: the Five Paragraph Essay Unraveled

Cover Page Through writing this paper, I wish to actively inform the public about the universal argument towards the five paragraph essay and formulaic writing in general. To help share this information, I wanted to present the opinions of several accredited sources, and insert them into a conversational format so that the reader can easily navigate and understand their arguments. Apart from informing the public about the current debate, I wanted to introduce a solution to the problem of students using the five paragraph essay in their college English classes.

By introducing higher level writing earlier in the education system, students will have a head start once they start taking courses at their university. I believe that this paper will be effective because it appropriately lays out accredited opinions about the positives and negatives of formulaic writing, while at the same time proving the point that it will not be accepted in a college atmosphere. Furthermore, it presents a solution to this situation by seeking to implement higher level writing methods while students are still taking high school courses.

This paper introduces the argument, supports it from both sides, frames itself, and then offers a possible solution. I personally think that the synthesis of my essay is well written. I feel that I did a good job finding sources that agree or disagree with each other and then implementing those arguments into a conversation. Apart from those strengths, I fear that my niche may seem weak due to the strength of my synthesis. I feel that I may have overshadowed the personal part of the essay with the information I learned from my sources.

As a result of this project, I have learned that writing is just another medium through which to inform people about a given topic. I have come to realize that writing is very simple: you do it to inform the reader about something. The complex part occurs when you try to decipher how you will complete that task. In terms of “developing theory of writing,” this realization is probably the main point I learned because in all honesty that is a very big concept that I took away from this project. I am excited to see how this theory will change based on the works to come.

Campbell Bailey Michael Johnson English 1510 18 February 2013 Senior Scholars to Freshman Flunks: The Five Paragraph Essay Unraveled Almost every high school English classroom in America has been taught the same thing: the five paragraph essay, or “formulaic writing,” is the proper way to write a paper. Most students would agree with this statement; they think that they five paragraph essay is a simple and efficient way to draft an essay. Additionally, students often start college with the incorrect assumption that this writing style is adequate and acceptable by their instructors.

As long as they write an introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion, they will receive their coveted grade of an A+. But what is the science behind this formulaic writing? Why does it seem to work so well for high school students, but not college students? The five paragraph essay (or FPE) should not be disregarded or seen as a necessity; it should be viewed as an instrument to improve the writing of novice students. But all writing mechanisms have a proper time and place for implementation.

As a result, prior to entering college all students must learn that the five-paragraph essay will not always suffice in a university environment. If they continue with formulaic writing style, they run the risk that their assignments won’t come close to receiving the grade that they desire. This represents a shortcoming in the schooling of today’s novice writers, and this limitation cannot be filled by any brilliant instructor. The solution lies at the feet of none other but the institution of education.

The American schooling system must start preparing students during their high school years for the college level writing that they will need to become proficient, while also making them aware of both the positive and negative aspects of formulaic writing. The five paragraph essay has been taught in schools for years because it achieves fantastic results. Students can grasp its construction easily, resulting in good grades and positive reputations for school districts. According to Dictionary. com, formulaic is defined as “made according to a formula; composed of formulas” (dictionary. com).

Not surprisingly, that is exactly what the FPE is: it’s a specific formula that, if followed, helps students create and write their papers. Almost every formula for the FPE is the same, and one will rarely find a different structure then the one taught in almost every school system across America. The construction of the FPE is quite simple, which is why it can be taught to students at an academically young age. The first paragraph is the introduction, with the thesis statement ending the paragraph. The next three paragraphs all support the thesis, and each one usually contains a source that helps build the writer’s argument.

The last paragraph is named the conclusion, and summarizes the main points of the paper. This structure has been used by countless students over the years, and it has yielded consistent and positive results. Not only is it easy for a teacher to grade, but it also allows students a quick and efficient way to write their essays on various state-sanctioned tests. But a problem arises once these students arrive at the college level. It is here where the great debate between scholars begins about whether or not the FPE is a proper and justifiable method for teaching writing skills.

In the current and ongoing argument over the FPE, it seems that a great deal of controversy is about format. Both high school teachers and college professors seem to have differing opinions on the topic. Jan Haluska, who currently chairs the English Department at Southern Adventist University, believes that the versatility of the FPE creates more beneficial thought and ideas then does writing without a formula. Novice writers are more capable of furthering themselves intellectually if they follow a set of guidelines, rather than not following anything at all (30).

But Rick VanDeWeghe of the University of Colorado, and Richard Argys of North Glenn High School disagree, stating that “The FPE formula may assist students with proper formatting of papers, but it appears to fall short of helping them offer a cogent discussion of their thoughts” (99). The FPE helps students in the short run with the format of their papers, but it oppresses the persuasive aspect of their words. It seems that while the FPE essay offers students organization and simplicity, it also holds back their natural intellectual ability to persuade and inform.

The argument over the structure of the FPE is even more hotly debated. VanDeWeghe and Argys positively support the FPE format, saying that it offers writers a solid groundwork unto which to build their essay. They agree that all writers have a hard time creating work, and it is a great advantage to have a clear view of what a proper dissertation looks like (98). In a metaphorical sense, following guidelines to the five paragraph essay is much like riding a bike with training wheels. Without training wheels, the rider would lose their balance and crash, much like a writer ith no direction or foundation. But other writers believe the thesis statement that accompanies the teaching of the FPE overshadows any foundational aspects. Author Mark Graham believes in this notion, and expresses his belief by writing “And so you can’t begin with a thesis, because you don’t have one, and may never have one. An essay doesn’t begin with a statement, but with a question” (Graham). Many college level educators heartily agree with this statement, and this concept has been used to sway many to veto the use of the FPE.

Essays were not initially created to persuade, but to inform and discover. While there is evidence that the FPE suppresses this notion, the fact that the formulaic essay creates a positive working environment for writers cannot be overlooked. It seems that today’s educators play the lottery with whether or not to support formulaic writing; the only way to know if they have hit the jackpot is to pour over the crisp final drafts of their students. When freshman students begin their college careers and flip open their English writing syllabus, they often find themselves anxious and fearful.

Thoughts of constantly writing papers and hours of essay formatting leave them anxious with knots in their stomachs so tight that they can hardly breathe. But the stomach knots of some students who have mastered the five paragraph essay are usually a little looser than others according to Kerri Smith, a freshman composition professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Smith exalts students who possess skill with the five paragraph essay. She welcomes them to her class, eagerly overjoyed that she will finally have some students intellectually capable enough to withstand the rigors of college writing (16).

So it seems that professors may genuinely believe that formulaic writing lends students a hand in kick-starting their writing careers. They arrive to college armed with valuable information about the structure, organization, and overall atmosphere of a successful essay. But Smith shows us in the above comment exactly what so many educators are arguing for. She references that formulaic writing prepares students for the “rigors of college writing. ” In this one single sentence Smith deals the ultimate blow to the argument for the use of the FPE in college environments.

Although it may bring better writers to universities around the country, students will arrive at their freshman English course and discover that they have the skills for an A paper, but they lack the correct form. The formulaic writing that they once knew and loved is rendered completely obsolete by the harsh standards of college writing. Imagine you have been trained from birth to swim with fins attached to your feet. By the time you are 19 years old, you have perfected your stroke and you can gracefully glide through the water. But suddenly, you are told that fins are no longer allowed to be worn while you swim.

You confidently take them off and plunge into the water, kicking with your feet like you are so accustomed to doing. You quickly realize that you are hardly moving at all, and that you don’t even possess the strength to tread water in your bare feet. Exhausted, you cling to the side of the pool and come to the conclusion that if you ever want to swim again, you will have to completely re-think and re-learn the skills you have been taught your whole life. The fins represent the formulaic structure of writing that the average student is familiar with.

The bare feet symbolize the liberal construction of a college level essay. As one can clearly tell, a college student trying to excel in courses with only knowledge of formulaic writing will struggle much like a swimmer who only knows how to swim with fins. It seems that the “big final paper” around the country for high school seniors is to write a research paper. This paper is often feared by many students, even though they typically have to argue for one side of a specific topic. These seniors will often investigate a specific topic, and write a glorified summary of the views of a few accredited sources.

While this essay is obviously not five paragraphs, students will almost surely mold their writing in a formulaic fashion. They will have a one sentence thesis at the end of their introduction, cite one source per paragraph, give their explanation of that source, and then end with an expected conclusion. The students receive an A grade, and they feel happy and ready to enter college with their expert writing skills, when in reality, they do not have the slightest understanding of what is expected in college writing classes.

The concepts that students learn in their freshman English course need to be taught earlier in the curriculum in order to prevent this mistake from happening. Senior year, students are primed and ready to learn essential skills that will help them thrive in a university environment. Concepts that are incorporated into college essays should be introduced at this time. For example, many high school students do not understand that an essay should shed light on two, three, or even four opinions of a specific argument.

They also do not know that a complete essay should contain an original argument, or a niche, which is a new opinion or angle on the topic that the writer brings to the conversation. Lastly, high school students don’t understand what a real conclusion is, and this weakness quickly becomes apparent in their early college career. Writer Paul Graham has never understood the method for writing a conclusion that he was taught in high school, saying that it seemed like he was “just supposed to restate what we said in the first paragraph, but in different enough words that no one could tell” (Graham).

This is a common misconception about the conclusion of an essay, and it is something that develops in middle school and continues on until students graduate from grade school. If high school educators could mold their second semester curriculum around teaching their students the three basic concepts above, freshman writers in their English courses would be better prepared and, but they will also be less anxious which will in turn allow them to write more successful, journal-worthy essays. There has yet to be a study conducted which researches the success of college students in regards to the five paragraph essay.

A researcher could study the success of freshman students in their English writing course, and interpret that data based on the intensity of their prior knowledge of the five paragraph essay. Furthermore, a study has yet to be done about the success of freshman college students that had prior knowledge of college-level writing concepts, as discussed above. Such studies would shed much light on the effectiveness of the five paragraph essay. These results may even be the final nudge educators need to rethink and adjust their high school curriculums.

In conclusion, academia may never know or agree if the five paragraph essay has a universally positive or negative effect on student writing. There are too many variables that factor into the situation, such as the intentions of the writer, the difficulty of the class they are in, etc. Writers will have to make a personal decision on how they prefer to write their cherished essay. Will they play it safe and stick to a simplistic format of five paragraphs, or will they take the plunge into a risky sixth paragraph and dare to offer multiple sides of the argument?

Oddly enough, in the end, this hotly debated decision lies in the hand of the one who holds the pen. Works Cited “formulaic. ” Collins English Dictionary – Complete ; Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 17 Feb. 2013. ;Dictionary. com http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/formulaic;. Graham, Paul. “The Age of the Essay. ” paulgraham. com/essay. html. N. p. , n. d. Web. 10 Feb 2013. Haluska, Jan. “The Formula Essay Reconsidered. ” Education Digest 78. 4 (2012): 25. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 10 Feb. 013. Mary Kendrick, et al. “EJ” Extra: The Five-Paragraph Essay And The Deficit Model Of Education. ” English Journal 98. 2 (2008): 16-21. ERIC. Web. 10 Feb. 2013. Smith, Kerri. “Speaking My Mind: In Defense Of The Five-Paragraph Essay. ” The English Journal 4 (2006): 16. JSTOR Arts & Sciences IV. Web. 10 Feb. 2013. VanDeWeghe, Rick, and Richard Argys. “Research Matters: One More Thing: Can We Teach Process Writing And Formulaic Response?. ” The English Journal 3 (2008): 97. JSTOR Arts & Sciences IV. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

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