Essays are the most common academic writing assignment you will receive. From middle school onward, essays become a primary means by which the instructor can assess you level of learning or content mastery.
This article will help you understand essay basics, including how many paragraphs are in an essay. You will learn that the five-paragraph essay format is the most common and most important type of essay, but not at all the only type of essay you will write.
You are reading this article probably because you have been asked to write an essay and do not really know where to begin or how to do it properly.
If you want to improve your essay writing, understand how many paragraphs are in an essay and why, or to make sure you get the best possible grades on your essays, you have come to the write—and the right—place!
An essay is a formal piece of writing that tends to be expository in nature. In other words, an essay thoroughly explains a specific topic in some depth. Some essays are opinionated—such as persuasive or argumentative essays.
However, some essays are supposed to be totally objective and simply informative in nature.
An essay can be about almost any topic at all—in any subject. You could be asked to write an essay in a mathematics class, such as an essay about a particular mathematician, or about the history and evolution of a mathematical concept. Similarly, you could be asked to write about how mathematics principles are applied in practical settings like engineering or product development.
History, music, political science, art, psychology, nursing, and of course, literature are only a few of the subject areas in which essays are assigned.
Essays seem scary at first, but don’t worry. It gets much easier to write essays when you understand why they exist and what function they serve.
If also helps to learn how many paragraphs are in an essay and how to structure and format your essay before you begin.
The more essays you write, the better you will get, and the more confident you will become in your writing skills. You will also learn how to manage your time better, and write your essays on time and according to the instructions given to you by the class.
Your instructor may also ask you to write an essay to help you improve your English writing or English language skills.
Essays are sometimes timed tests, but more often they are take-home assignments. Some essays require you to do additional research, while others can be written creatively.
When you write an essay, you tell your reader that you have learned about and critically analyzed a subject. You can use an essay to inform someone about an important event, or to explain about something that happened in history.
An essay offers clues to your own points of view, interests, and opinions. Do not be afraid you put your own “voice” into your essay, but you always do need to use formal academic language. One of the main purposes of the academic essay is to improve your writing and make it more professional and polished. Good essay writing skills are critical to your success in undergraduate and graduate schools, and even beyond, in your career.
The real answer to this question is: There are as many paragraphs in an essay as that essay needs.
Sorry if you were seeking an absolute answer. The truth is that unless your instructor told you that your essay must have exactly five paragraphs, your essay can consist of three paragraphs or thirty.
Most essays are short to medium length. Something that is only one paragraph long cannot really be considered an essay.
Likewise, something that needs to be extended into multiple chapters is no longer an essay but a research paper or a dissertation.
When you first start out writing essays, such as when you are learning English as a second language or when you are in middle school, you may at some point be told to write a “five paragraph essay.”
In these cases, the assignment literally asks you to write five and only five paragraphs. As rigid as this structure may seem, you will soon learn that the five-paragraph essay format teaches you how to structure every single essay you will ever write even when the essay is shorter or longer than five paragraphs!
An essay that is brief and simple would require far fewer paragraphs than one that goes more in depth or explains a complicated issue.
The number of paragraphs in a single page of writing depends on many factors, including the margins, typeface, and other elements of formatting your work.
In most academic essay assignments, you will be using double-spaced paragraphs, one-inch margins, and a standard 12-point typeface like Times New Roman.
Using these basic formatting guidelines, you will generally aim for two to three paragraphs per page.
If you find that a single paragraph takes up an entire page, it could be that you are squeezing too many ideas into one paragraph and could confuse your reader. Try breaking that paragraph up into two.
Similarly, if you have five or more paragraphs on your page, those paragraphs might only have one or two sentences. Paragraphs that are too sparse might be better off being condensed.
Paragraphs are blocks of text—and they are also blocks of ideas or information. A paragraph should be a self-contained unit of thought that conveys a single idea. That idea can be complex, but the whole point of dividing your essay into paragraphs is to keep your writing focused.
You should also make sure that the paragraphs in your essay all relate fully to the main idea of the essay itself. The main idea of the essay will be your thesis statement.
A paragraph should be about one idea that links back to your thesis statement in the essay.
Essentially, you do want to make sure that all the paragraphs in your essay relate in some way to the thesis statement.
Each paragraph should also flow into the next one, creating a nice cohesive essay.
Even if each paragraph is about one main idea, you do not want your essay to be a bunch of mini-essays pasted together into one. Instead, find the flow in your writing by making sure each paragraph is a link in a giant chain.
You do not want to bore or annoy your reader in your essay. To avoid common pitfalls, make sure you stay focused on the main idea and cut out any extraneous material.
The information in each paragraph of an academic essay will include an assessment of the facts, references to sources that you used to acquire any facts and data, and the conclusions drawn from those facts. You will be continually analyzing and critiquing throughout your essay.
A paragraph can compare and contrast two issues, or a paragraph could go more into depth about one issue instead. You could use each paragraph to argue a specific point in your argumentative essay, too.
The five paragraph essay is the most basic of all academic writing assignments. You should master the five paragraph essay in the same way that you need to learn how to walk before you learn how to run.
A five paragraph essay will help you keep your writing tight, formal, and focused throughout the rest of your academic career.
The five paragraph essay consists of an introduction, body, and conclusion. These three structural elements will also be the same for any essay you write, of any length. Every essay does need some type of introduction, the meat or body, and a conclusion that wraps everything up.
The basic structure of the five paragraph essay looks something like this:
I. Introduction Paragraph
II. Body Paragraph One
III. Body Paragraph Two
IV. Body Paragraph Three
V. Conclusion Paragraph
Remember, a five paragraph essay has a thesis statement: a point you are trying to make or the main idea in the paper.
You could make things easier for yourself by writing a thesis statement that has three ideas contained within it, so that each of those ideas become the focus for one of your three body paragraphs.
If you write a thesis statement with three constituent parts, you will find that it is easier to write in a five-paragraph essay format.
For example, consider the following thesis statement:
To improve time management, undergraduate students should avoid using social media until they are done with work, prioritize tasks, and take regular breaks.
Notice how that thesis sentence reveals three main ways to improve time management: to avoid social media, to prioritize, and to take breaks.
Each of these three ideas would then become the topic sentences of the body paragraphs in the essay as such:
Topic Sentence 1: Students should avoid using social media until their daily work is complete.
Topic Sentence 2: Prioritizing tasks helps the student to complete the most important or pressing tasks first.
Topic Sentence 3: Taking regular breaks ensures that the student does not get burned out and is able to meet deadlines in a healthy way.
Some five-paragraph essays are actually five pages, nothing more, nothing less.
Other essays are “five paragraph format” essays. Five paragraph essay format papers follow the same structure of the five-paragraph essay even though they are longer than five pages.
When you write any academic essay, try to stick to the five paragraph essay format in which you have an introduction, body, and conclusion. Your essay will be clearer, more organized, and more impressive when you do so.
In a five-paragraph essay format, your outline could look something like this:
I. Introduction Paragraph
Thesis statement broken down into three main issues
II. Body Topic One
A. Paragraph One
B. Paragraph Two
III. Body Topic Two
A. Paragraph One
B. Paragraph Two
IV. Body Topic Three
A. Paragraph One
B. Paragraph Two
The length of each paragraph will depend on the essay. Some essays will have longer paragraphs than others. The more important issue is consistency. The paragraphs in your essay should be about the same length to one another.
A general rule of thumb is to aim for at least three sentences per paragraph. About five sentences is recommended as the upper limit, but it depends on the sentence length and complexity, too.
If you were only asked to write five full paragraphs in your essay, most likely the entire essay will only reach two pages.
Therefore, if the assignment is for a five page essay, naturally this would mean at least ten but likely more paragraphs. The length of each paragraph would then depend on how in depth you need to write about each main idea.
A paragraph should generally not run more than a page. If you find that your paragraphs run to about a page in length, then you may want to consider breaking down those paragraphs into two or to pare down the paragraphs by removing any unnecessary material.
By the same token, if you write a paragraph of only two or three sentences, you might consider whether that idea could be blended with another or expanded in some way.
A paragraph should be just long enough to convey the single idea.
Think of topic sentences as mini-thesis statements guiding each and every one of your paragraphs in the essay. A topic sentence is usually the first sentence of a paragraph. There are no rules about using topic sentences except that your paragraphs should be organized and focused.
When you first start writing academic essays, you will be taught that you need effective transition sentences connecting each paragraph with the next.
Transition sentences or transition phrases help to create fluidity between your thoughts and ideas. With transitions, your essay will flow and you will receive better marks on your work overall.
A transition does not even have to be an entire sentence, but just a word at the beginning of the topic sentence in the following paragraph.
Some of the more common transitional words used to indicate the start of a new idea/new paragraph include the following:
In spite of that…
On the contrary…
As you know, there are many different types of academic essays. For example, you may be familiar with the compare/contrast essay, the expository essay, the persuasive essay, the informative essay, the argumentative essay, and the narrative essay.
Each of these essays can be five-paragraph essays. Alternatively, each of these types of essays could also be longer than five paragraphs.
Therefore, the number of paragraphs depends more on the length of the entire essay than on the topic or the type of essay.
The bottom line when writing an academic essay is to follow the instructions. If the instructions were for a five-paragraph essay, then stick to five full paragraphs. Any more or any less could mean a failing grade.
If, on the other hand, the instructions call for an essay of five to six pages in length, you will want to consider writing about fifteen individual paragraphs. Each page of writing in your essay will include at least two paragraphs.
Writing essays is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many students struggle with writing academic essays. If you are one of them, know that you are not alone. There are always resources available to help you write essays, improve your writing, and to receive ongoing support.
If you are learning English as a second language, it may be helpful to use a writing tutor who can help you convey your content mastery in the formal language your instructors expect.
When writing academic essays, keep in mind always that each instructor has different ideals and expectations. Always confirm first before starting your essay how many paragraphs the essay should include or how long it should be.