How to Write the 5 Paragraph Essay: Different Kinds of Essays

As you can tell, my “ice cream” essay in the previous post answered the question, “What kinds of ice cream flavors do you like?”  My body paragraphs answered that question, listing and explaining in depth three kinds of ice cream flavors.

But let’s say you change the question to “When did you first taste ice cream, and what was it like” or “How is ice cream made?” or “Why should I give up ice cream in order to lose weight?”  You won’t have the same body paragraphs as the essay that I wrote.  The body paragraphs for those other questions will be VERY different because you’ll be giving DIFFERENT answers.

This is why Invention/Prewriting is CRUCIAL.  Depending on the question that you’re trying to answer and the thesis statement that you develop as a quick answer to that question, you’ll end up with material for body paragraphs that will explore in depth one question but not another.   It’s only in the pre-drafting stages (Prewriting and Arrangement) where you can spot whether you’ve stuck to the question or accidentally wandered off into Digression Land, answering different questions that your essay wasn’t supposed to answer.

Different questions (also called “the essay’s purpose”) call for different body paragraphs and, therefore, different kinds of essays.  For instance:

  • If the question is “What happened?” you’ll answer with a Narrative essay.
  • If the question is “What does it look, hear, smell, feel, or taste like?” you’ll answer with a Descriptive essay.
  • If the question is “How do I do that?” you’ll answer with a Process essay.
  • If the question is “What are the different kinds of that person, place, thing, or idea?” you’ll answer with a Classification/Division essay – which my Ice Cream Flavors essay sample happens to be.
  • If the question is “What examples are there of that person, place, thing, or idea?” you’ll answer with an Exemplification essay.
  • If the question is “What causes that?  What are the consequences of that?” you’ll answer with a Cause and Effect essay.
  • If the question is “What are the similarities between these two persons, places, things, or ideas?  What are the differences?” you’ll answer with a Comparison and Contrast essay.
  • If the question is “Why is this wrong?  Why is this right?  What proof do I have to defend my belief?” you’ll answer with an Argument essay.

Many Composition textbooks explain these different kinds of essays in depth.

But no matter what kind of essay you end up writing, ALL essays follow the Writing Process (even the long ones).  If you remember this and apply it to all of your writing needs, you’ll produce a good essay.  Really.  So… happy writing! 🙂

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