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His most recent book is A Perfect Mess: Edited by Sam Dresser. Schools and colleges in the United States are adept at teaching students how to write by the numbers. The idea is to make writing easy by eliminating the messy part — making meaning — and focusing effort on reproducing a formal structure.
As a result, the act of writing turns from moulding a lump of clay into a unique form to filling a set of jars that are already fired. Not only are the jars unyielding to the touch, but even their number and order are fixed.
There are five of them, which, according to the recipe, need to be filled in precise order. I trace its roots to a series of formalisms that dominate US education at all levels. The foundation is the five-paragraph essay, a form that is chillingly familiar to anyone who has attended high school in the US.
In college, the model expands into the five-section research paper. Then in graduate school comes the five-chapter doctoral dissertation. Same jars, same order. By the time the doctoral student becomes a professor, the pattern is set. The Rule of Five is thoroughly fixed in muscle memory, and the scholar is on track to produce a string of journal articles that follow from it. Edward M White is one participant in the cycle who decided to fight back. It was the summer of , and he was on the plane home from an ordeal that would have crushed a man with a less robust constitution.
An English professor, he had been grading hundreds of five-paragraph essays drawn from the , that had been submitted that June as part of the Advanced Placement Test in English language and composition. In revenge, he wrote his own five-paragraph essay about the five-paragraph essay, whose fourth paragraph reads:. True to the form, he lays out the whole story in his opening paragraph:.
Note the classic elements of the model. The focus on form: The comfortingly repetitive structure: The utility for everyone involved: The only thing missing is meaning. According to one online document by a high-school English teacher:. S o where does the fetish for five come from?
In part, it arises from the nature of sentences. Language conveys meaning by organising words into an order governed by rules.
These rules are what allows the listener to understand the relationship between these words in the way intended by the speaker. The core unit of conveying meaning via language is the sentence, and the rules that define the structure of the sentence are its syntax. By its nature, syntax — like the five-paragraph essay — is all form and no content. Its entire utility derives from the fact that a particular syntactical structure can be used to convey an infinite number of meanings.
In his lovely book How to Write a Sentence: Think of all the syntactical forms that exist to define different kinds of relationships between words in the service of making a point. Consider key words that signal a particular kind of relationship between words, ideas and sentences:.
In the appendix, they list a set of syntactical templates that extend over 15 pages. Graduate students in my class on writing find these templates very useful. The point is that learning to write is extraordinarily difficult, and teaching people how to write is just as hard.
Writers need to figure out what they want to say, put it into a series of sentences whose syntax conveys this meaning, arrange those sentences into paragraphs whose syntax carries the idea forward, and organise paragraphs into a structure that captures the argument as a whole. Fish distils the message into a single paradoxical commandment for writers: The ability to produce a five-paragraph essay will be at the expense of learning to write persuasive arguments.
The issue is this: As a consequence, form trumps meaning. For example, elementary-school students learn to divide a number by a fraction using this algorithm: This gives you the right answer, but it deflects you from understanding why you might want to divide by a fraction in the first place eg, to find out how many half-pound bags of flour you could get from a pound container and why the resulting number is always larger than the original.
Something similar happens with the five-paragraph essay. The form becomes the product. Teachers teach the format as a tool; students use the tool to create five paragraphs that reflect the tool; teachers grade the papers on their degree of alignment with the tool. The form helps students to reproduce the form and get graded on this form. Content, meaning, style, originality and other such values are extraneous — nice but not necessary.
Assess students on their ability to produce the form of a five-paragraph essay and they will do so, at the expense of learning to write persuasive arguments. The key distinction here is between form and formalism. A form is useful and necessary as a means for achieving a valued outcome.
But when form becomes the valued outcome, then it has turned into formalism. An extreme example of this phenomenon has emerged in the growing field of machine-graded essays. Having experts grade large numbers of papers, such as for the advanced-placement composition exercise that White took part in, is extremely labour-intensive and expensive, not to say mind-numbing. So the Educational Testing Service ETS and other companies have come up with automated systems that can take over this function by deploying a series of algorithms that purportedly define good writing.
The problem, of course, is that these systems are better at identifying the formal characteristics of these essays than at discerning their meaning. They did this by gearing the generator to the ETS algorithms, which allows them to produce the desired measure without all that messy stuff about creating logical and compelling arguments. As you can see, the algorithm rewards big words and long sentences rather than meaning.
O f course, students still need to provide some semblance of subject matter for their essays. But there are plenty of handy resources available to produce relevant content on demand. When I was in school, the key resource for students who needed to write an essay on some topic or other was the encyclopaedia. In my family, it was the World Book Encyclopedia , which offered glossy pages and ample illustrations, and which used fewer big words than the canonical but stuffy Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Look up the topic, read a short summary piece, and then crib it for your paper. Then they need to succeed in school. And the encyclopaedia is the key to school success, the added element that will move your children ahead of their peers. The multivolume encyclopaedia has receded into history; the last hard-copy Britannica was published in The latter serves the same function for students — capsulised and bowdlerised content ready for insertion into the five-paragraph essay.
The perfect tool for gaming the system of producing papers for school. It is possible to teach students how to write as a way to make meaning rather than fill pots. For students, it takes a lot longer to get better at writing this way, and the path to improvement is littered with the discouraging wreckage of dysfunctional sentences and incoherent arguments. And for teachers, the difficulty of teaching the skill this way undermines their sense of professional competence.
In addition, grading papers for meaning takes a lot more time and involves a lot more judgment than grading for form — which, after all, can be done by a computer. Be clear, be concise, be direct, focus on actors and actions, play with language, listen for the music.
Carrying out this kind of teaching calls for concentrating effort at two levels. One is teaching students how to make meaning at the sentence level, using syntax to organise words to say what you want them to say. Books on writing at the sentence level — my favourites are Style: The other is teaching students how to make meaning across an entire text, using rhetorical moves that help them structure a compelling argument from beginning to end.
I use all three in a graduate class I teach on academic writing. One difference is that these are clearly labelled not as rules but rules of thumb.
They are things to keep in mind as you write and especially as you edit your writing , many of which might be in tension with each other, and which you must draw upon or ignore as needed.
Another difference is that they resist the temptation to provide a rigid structure for a text of the kind that I have been discussing here. Deal with issues in the literature where it helps to frame and support your argument rather than confining it to the lit-review ghetto.
Rules of thumb call for the writer to exercise judgment rather than follow the format. Of course, it takes more time and effort to develop writerly judgment than it does to follow the shortcut of the five-paragraph essay. Form is harder than formalism. But the result is a text that does more than just look like a piece of writing; it makes meaning. When students get to college, their skills in writing five-paragraph essays start to pay off big time.
Compared with high school, the number of papers they need to write in a semester grows exponentially, the required length of papers also shoots up, and there is increasing expectation that these papers demonstrate a bit of professional polish. And once again, the Rule of Five comes to the rescue. Nothing aids efficiency better than an easily reproducible template. This leads to two elaborations of the basic model. The first is a simple extension of the model into a format with more than five paragraphs.
The length is greater but the structure is the same: The college version of the model also ups the ante on the kind of content that is deemed acceptable. Increasingly, the generic synthesis sources that were so helpful in high school — variations on the old encyclopaedia — are no longer sufficient. Plug in a topic, and Google Scholar provides you with the most cited pieces on the topic. You need to be organized, and when you have to organize an essay under pressure, the generic five paragraph essay format is your friend.
Just as with every five-paragraph essay you've written at school, your SAT essay should have an introduction, body paragraphs one paragraph for each argumentative technique you discuss , and a conclusion. Your thesis statement which techniques you'll be analyzing in the essay should go in both your introduction and your conclusion, with slightly different wording.
So how do you write an SAT essays in this five paragraph format? I've created an SAT essay template that you can use as a guide to structure your own SAT essays, based on the following prompt:. You can read the full text of the passage associated with the prompt part of Practice Test 5 via our complete collection of official SAT essay prompts.
Since I'm writing in response to a specific prompt, some of the information and facts in the template will only be useful for answering this specific prompt although you should feel free to look for and write about the argumentative techniques I discuss in any of your essays. When responding to any SAT question, however, you can and should use the same format and structure for your own essays. To help you out, I've bolded structural words an d phrases in the below template. In his commentary, Eric Klinenberg conveys a strong stance against the rampant and short-sighted utilization of air conditioning AC nationwide.
He believes AC is a massive unnecessary energy drain, and he implores the reader to reconsider the implications of constant cool comfort.
Next comes the all-important thesis statement that includes a clear outlining of what aspects of the author's argument you'll be discussing. You can be very specific e. To buttress his argument, Klinenberg deftly employs quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language.
In his introductory paragraph, the author points to AC usage statistics to illustrate the grave magnitude of our hedonistic climate control. In this case, the writer linked this body paragraph to the introduction by explaining how his example AC usage statistics relates to one of the persuasive techniques he'll be discussing statistics: Next, provide relevant information about when and how in the passage the author uses this persuasive technique sentences.
Be sure to paraphrase or directly quote the passage for the strongest evidence. Clearly, in the past 20 years, the American population has come nowhere close to doubling - and yet, AC energy use has doubled.
This can only mean utilization per person has skyrocketed. This leads to another profound inference - each American may use almost 10 times more AC energy as the average non-American. These conclusions are grave and thought-provoking. By introducing incontrovertible data, Klinenberg empowers the reader to reason though her own arguments and formulate her own conclusions.
By the virtue of her own logic, the reader is compelled to agree with Klinenberg. In his introductory paragraph , the author points to AC usage statistics to illustrate the grave magnitude of our hedonistic climate control.
Quickly after this data-driven introduction , Klinenberg effectively addresses potential counterarguments to his thesis. Provide at least one specific example of how the author uses the persuasive technique you're discussing in this paragraph sentences.
Instead , Klinenberg quells the most common objection with a swift riposte, stressing that he is not a maniacal anti-AC militant, intent on dismantling the AC-industrial complex. With this addressed, the reader can continue further, satisfied that Klinenberg is likely to be somewhat well-reasoned and objective. Ultimately, this facilitates acceptance of his central thesis. This paragraph is in the same format as Example 2. In the case of the essay we've been using as the backbone of this template, the author had the time to write a third example.
Here it is, broken down in the same way as the previous example, starting with a transition from the previous paragraph 1 sentence:. When he returns to his rebuke of wanton AC use, Klinenberg employs forceful vivid language to magnify his message. Most likely, the reader has been the beneficiary of AC use. We are forced to consider our comfortable abode as a frigid arctic dwelling, prompting the natural question of whether we really do need our hones cold enough to see our breath indoors.
The natural conclusion, in turn, is that we do not. By employing effective visual imagery, Klinenberg takes the reader through another internal dialogue, resulting in stronger acceptance of his message. Overall, the passage effectively weaves quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language to rebuke the excesses of air conditioning.
The reader leaves with the strong conclusion that perhaps a bit of moderation can do the world some good. You may also choose to mention the examples you used if you have time and if it adds anything sentences. In this case, the author of the essay chose not to. This essay contains some inferences about what the reader may experience e.
It also has some minor grammatical and spelling errors. Since there is no way to survey the mind of every reader and see how the majority of them react to the author's arguments, however, graders will go along with any reasonable inferences about how a reader would react to the author's argument. As far as grammatical, spelling, punctuation, or sentence structure issues, the rule is even simpler: Worried about putting this template into practice?
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How much to write on each point will depend on the proposed length of your essay. Next write your introduction paragraph i.e. tell your readers what you are going to tell them. Finally write your conclusion and construct your essay. A simple formula to follow is: .
Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula. Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay. A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections.
The formula can be applied to most of the rhetorical modes, including description, narration, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, illustration, process analysis or explanation, and persuasion. It can also be applied to various levels of writing assignments, including one paragraph, an . Mastering the Essay Formula: How to Write the Perfect 5 Paragraphs Posted on July 7, August 23, by hlcss.ml If you try to think of the greatest challenge that makes college students insecure, the answer would have to involve academic writing.
Essay formula. I'll even later year students to structure your older children. Chapter 3. This is different. Sat essay is no definitive way to use an essay will have an essay formula to place it in several ways. Essay Milk and Formula benefits of different types of formula that are commonly available Breast milk is a natural form of baby food which is perfect for a baby. But there are some people who for different reasons can’t breastfeed, or have chosen not to, formula milk is the next best thing.