Breaking the Mold: Finding Our Own Voice
By Emily York

It doesn’t matter whether you went to public school, private school, or even if you were homeschooled, nearly every American learned the “5 paragraph” method for writing an essay.

Paragraph 1 (Introduction): Lead in with a hook, give a nice introduction, and finish off up with a three-pronged thesis firmly proving your point.
Paragraph 2-4 (Body Paragraphs): For each paragraph, connect the first and last sentences with the thesis and make your point.
Paragraph 5 (Conclusion): Tie your ending with the introduction paragraph by including a reworded thesis and reference to the hook.

I don’t really mean to brag, but I am a master of the “5 paragraph” essay, as evidenced by my successful survival in my English and Writing classes thus far. The clear-cut organization produced by this template serves almost all writing needs and effectively clarifies ideas towards the reader.
Now think back to the last time you have ever seen a classic “5 paragraph” essay. It could be one that you wrote, a child wrote, an article you read… any example. Chances are, you have never seen a “5 paragraph” cookie-cutter essay in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or even here at Portland Book Review. (If you can find an example of such an essay in the Times, please direct me to it.)

There is a good reason why this type of essay does not exist outside of the academic world: it’s just too boring. You confine a lexicon of words, able to describe and convey anything humanly possible, within a rigid frame.

My first college paper for an introductory expository writing class had practically no instructions. We were given a topic – Does privilege shape reality? – and then sent off to write a five page essay within three days based on a reading. Actually, I should say my professor did give us two very specific instructions:

1. Don’t write a three-pronged thesis
2. Don’t write a 5-paragraph essay

Everything I learned from high school and elementary school writing and English classes immediately went out the window. I struggled to formulate a format that would convey my points adequately and would get me a non-failing grade. My friends, from various schools around the country, also struggled with the same issue. We all had no idea how to develop this essay.

Needless to say, I figured it out, and my formula became: introduction, thesis paragraph, 7 body paragraphs, and conclusion. The only thing I can guarantee, is that the next essay I write, will most likely have a completely different formula.

This brings into mind my articles for PBR. The majority of my posts include a summary paragraph followed by a longer commentary section, although one or two articles deviate from this format. At the beginning of my time at PBR, I remember feeling completely overwhelmed because I didn’t know how to write a review. So I threw all caution to the wind and wrote what I thought a review constituted according to the rules for reviewing at PBR.

Needless to say, every reviewer has a different style of reviewing; some write multiple paragraphs, some contain all information within one long block, and others seem to change their style every review. What I find the most amazing is that regardless of how the reviews are formatted, the authors find a way to convey their opinions effectively.

So I guess what I’m trying to say here is that there is no correct way to format your review. Write as many or as few paragraphs as you want, as long as you have the correct ratio of summary to review. To all the reviewers out there, old and new reviewers, have fun and happy reviewing!

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