Date of Award

Winter 5-1-2018

Thesis Access

Open Access Honors Thesis

Degree Name



English Education

Faculty Advisor

Dr. Christopher Crowley


An ongoing debate in education-specifically the language arts discipline-is regarding the five-paragraph essay and its role in writing instruction. The five-paragraph essay is considered a staple in school writing curricula, but has recently been under great scrutiny due to its perceived lack of effectiveness. Everyone from secondary educators to curriculum experts to university professors has an opinion on this writing genre. Is it an effective tool in teaching writing and honing important writing skills? More importantly, is it effective in enabling students to be successful writers in the real world? This paper is an effort to answer these questions through an exploration of the current literature available on the five-paragraph essay. To better understand the genre and its intended purposes, this paper begins by examining the origins and evolution of the five-paragraph essay and two theories of writing behind it- transparent transmission theory and traditional formalism. Both sides of the ongoing debate are also explored, in addition to why the five-paragraph essay is so commonly and persistently used in classrooms today. Surprisingly, teachers’ own experiences as students play a major role in perpetuating the usage of this genre. This paper also attempts to establish common ground in this debate by examining alternatives to this formulaic style of writing. While the five-paragraph essay has its merits in writing instruction, it has its limitations as well. As educators, we need to be able to see beyond these limitations and renew our writing pedagogy to meet the demands of 21st century communication.