Shmoop's Guide to Writing the Perfect Essay
In a five-paragraph essay, you will have three points in support of your thesis. Each of these points should have one body paragraph devoted to it. A simple formula for making sure each of these does its job is P.I.E., or Point, Information, Explanation. (We know, we know, a formula within a template is pushing it. Bear with us though; it will help.) Each body paragraph should include all three of the following components.
Also known as a "topic sentence." It should state one reason the thesis statement is true and preview the content of the rest of the body paragraph. Think of it as a miniature thesis statement for the body paragraph. It should make an assertion and preview its support, but the focus will be narrower than the big thesis up top. “We call him… Mini-Thesis.”
Winston and Keefa are both writing body paragraphs in support of a thesis claiming that The Bachelor is a pop-culture version of the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Winston's topic sentence fails because it doesn't make a point or assertion in support of the thesis. Instead, it just describes some aspect of the show. (This sentence might work well in the "Information" section, but not as a topic sentence.)
Keefa, on the other hand, has written a mini-thesis, a point in support of the thesis that previews the content of the paragraph. Notice how Keefa's point narrows the focus; this point, and this paragraph, focus on the women in the show who have power.
Winston's Painfully Horrible Example:
In The Bachelor, the women must line up and wait for a rose from the bachelor at the end of each episode; those who don’t receive a rose must go home.
Keefa's Astonishingly Good Example:
Much like the young men designated as "guards" in the Stanford Prison Experiment, the women who find themselves in a position of power on The Bachelor are transformed, wielding their influence brutally, even though mere weeks prior, back home, they were standard-issue American "nice girls."
Where you provide, well, information. You've made an assertion in the topic sentence, and now it's time to give us the cold, hard facts that prove it's true. These facts could include your own observations. It could be quotations from experts on the subject. It could be data you've dug up in your research. It could be common knowledge. It could be engraved into the interior of a bathroom stall (probably not the most reliable source.) No matter where it comes from, it is the evidence that proves your case.
Jenny and Levar are both trying to back up a claim made in a topic sentence asserting that reading and writing skills are even more important in the digital age than they were before it. Jenny's information is weak; it's vague, based on conjecture and opinion. Levar delivers the evidentiary one-two punch of some solid stats and a concrete personal observation. His does the better job of actually proving the claim.
Jenny's Painfully Horrible Example:
I know reading and writing skills are more important because it completely makes sense. We use words a lot whenever we communicate now, even if they are on the screen rather than on a page. I would guess that employers are pretty interested in someone who can read and write because, while back in the day you needed to know how to put stuff together in a factory or use a shovel, today you need to fill out tons of forms and whatnot.
Levar's Astonishingly Good Example:
Any casual observer would acknowledge that our worlds are now virtually saturated with text. From traditional sources like print media to instant messaging, email, and social media, we are surrounded by language. Moreover, the statistics back up the centrality of literacy to the information economy. According to a Business Report study conducted in 2011, every field deemed "very desirable" for workers with graduate degrees—including high-tech, education, business, and the law—"highly developed reading and writing skills" ranked as the number-one desirable qualification, above "familiarity with current technology." In my own experience, I have seen this dynamic play out. Recently, a close acquaintance of mine applied for work as a web designer at a Silicon Valley start-up. Despite being highly qualified, he wasn't even granted an interview. When he asked the potential employer why, he was informed that the poor quality of the writing in his cover letter made the employer question his professional-communication capabilities—even though the position itself did not require writing skills.
Unfortunately, you can't let the information do all the work for you. You've dropped down some facts, but you still have to connect the dots for your reader through explanation. Why does that evidence prove your point? How do those stats about the health dangers of smoking prove that we should raise taxes on cigarettes? The explanation is where you bring in your own interpretive, analytical mojo to show how the "I" proves the "P."
Successful paragraphs can be structured as P, I, E. That is, you can have a topic sentence, then a big chunk of info, then an explanation of that info. Other successful paragraphs can go P, I, E, I, E, I, E, etc. Which we’re pretty sure is the bakery that Old McDonald owned. You can introduce a piece of evidence and then interpret it, then another piece of evidence and explain that evidence, and so on.
Both Gary and Quentin are working on essays asserting that Leonardo DiCaprio is superior to Matt Damon as an actor. Obviously, they are intent on tackling the most critical issues of our time. They've begun solid supporting paragraphs with topic sentences and evidence showing that DiCaprio is more versatile than Damon.
Now it's time to explain how that evidence proves their point. Gary flubs it by not really connecting the dots for the reader and merely summarizing the evidence. Quentin, on the other hand, explains why DiCaprio's versatility makes him the better actor.
Gary's Painfully Horrible Example:
As we can see, DiCaprio has played a mentally challenged teenager, Howard Hughes, a ruffian on the Titanic, and a host of other characters. Rarely have the roles he has inhabited been similar to one another. DiCaprio demonstrates that he is a very versatile actor through the wide variety of roles he's played.
Quentin's Astonishingly Good Example:
Versatility is central to the craft of the actor. What are actors there for, anyway? To transport us, to make us feel as though we're seeing another person, in another time and place, come to life in a version of reality on the screen. When we enter into one of these alternate universes, we don't want to see Matt Damon looking and sounding like Matt Damon. We want the actor to disappear behind the character, as DiCaprio does in so many of his roles. True versatility is the paramount skill of the true actor, which is why DiCaprio's versatility makes him the superior performer.