© 2015 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Five-Paragraph Essay

Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Want to be published in The New Yorker? Vanity Fair? Your school's lit magazine? Your mom's annual Christmas letter? Well, you have to start somewhere. And that somewhere is here.

This course will walk you through the basics of the five-paragraph essay: we're talking argument, analysis, and descriptive to boot. From messy brainstorming to pristine revisions, you'll be creating a masterpiece worthy of, um, handing in to your teacher.

And hey, even if it doesn't get published, we have a feeling it'll at least get you an A.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. The Five-Paragraph Essay

These 15 lessons will be your ticket to an A-grade (and grade A) essay.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 2: Argument Essay

Now that you're convinced that writing is a useful skill to have in your day-to-day life, we're going to bring things back to the classroom—those pesky essays you have to write for school. We promise, they'll help you on your path to world domination.

First up? The Argument Essay.

Who doesn't love to take part in a good argument? You get to air your grievances or stand up on your soapbox. You have a chance to speak in raised tones, and, well...it just makes you feel so good. All righteous and right.

The Argument Essay, which is also often called the Persuasive Essay, is the most common type of essay that you will be writing in your academic career and beyond. In fact, most essays feature at least some element of persuasion and are a variation of this essay type. Not a believer? Allow us to persuade you. (Don't worry—we won't use any outlawed forms of physical torture. We work purely on a psychological level.)

What Is an Argument Essay?

An argument essay persuades your readers to make a change. This change could be a mental change—a different way of thinking—or an actual change in a policy or practice. It's wide open. As long as you are taking your reader's mind, turning it into jelly, warping and reforming it into one that more adequately suits your own personal agenda, and then popping it back into the reader's skull. (Make sure you have the right tools and a scrub nurse handy.)

Here are a couple examples:

  • You could argue that "homework serves no purpose because all the answers can be found on the Internet." Ugh. If only the Internet would show all its work. Are we right or are we right?
  • Or how about this? "I'm sixteen years old and just got my license. Therefore, I'm clearly more than capable of driving your new Porsche." Good luck with that one. The fact that you just barely passed your behind-the-wheel test after parallel parking two feet from the curb and sideswiping a newspaper boy doesn't bode well for your chances of success.

Most essays have some element of argumentation, even if it isn't immediately obvious. After all, why are you writing anything at all if it isn't to convince someone of something?

The personal statement that you will be writing to get a foot (or both feet) into college? It's an argument that you're awesome. That long Facebook status you just posted about how Taken 2 is the best movie of all time? That's right. You're trying to persuade your reader that the oft-derided film is, in fact, misunderstood. If you're going to turn anyone to your side in this instance, though, let's hope you have a very particular set of skills.

How Do I Know I'm Writing an Argument Essay?

Most of the time, you won't really have to read between the lines to figure out if the paper you're writing is an Argument Essay (good thing, too, since it's already in a pretty small font), because your teacher will let you know. And if for some reason your teacher is on strike from, well, telling you things, here are some words to look out for in the assignment description that will point to this type of essay: 

  • Persuade
  • Argue
  • Convince
  • Prove
  • Evaluate
  • Propose
  • Appraise

Writing an Argument Essay

Even if you're writing an argument essay, you're not actually yelling at anyone. Avoid the ALL CAPS, please. In writing especially, arguing has nothing to do with the decibel level of your voice and everything to do with the quality of your supporting points. Bad news if you suffer from voice immodulation.

By stacking up your awesome supporting points until you have a heaping, steaming pile of them, you'll leave your readers no choice but to agree with you. They won't be able to mentally combat your intelligent barrage of effectively persuasive arguments. They'll buckle like a Pilgrim's hat.