Dear Dr. Linda,

Let’s begin by saying that I hate to write and writing papers was a nightmare for me in school and college. Our kids are now in seventh and 10th and required to write papers. My husband, a math teacher, told me that he’s probably a worse writer than I am, so he doesn’t touch any paper they have to write. He always teases them and says, “You want a C or maybe even a D? Then I’m your man.” Unfortunately, our kids have inherited our lack of writing skills. Is there any formula that I can teach them, that will help them?

Poor Writers

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Dear Poor Writers,

The five-paragraph paper is the way to go. It’s also been called the five-finger essay and has been presented in many different ways, but the basic idea is the same. And it’s a standard for the writing sections of most college entrance exams.

Here’s the way it works:

The five-paragraph paper has, well, five paragraphs—each with its own role to play. The first paragraph introduces the topic and three different points that support the position or argument. (Hence, it’s called the “introduction.”) For example, if your topic is “It’s Good for a Child to Have a Pet,” you would write down three facts, or topic sentences, that support your idea that it’s good for a child to have a pet.

For example:

  1. Pets are fun to play with.
  2. Having a pet teaches responsibility.
  3. Pets are friends.

The three middle paragraphs (paragraphs 2, 3 and 4) each deal with one of your arguments or topic sentences that “back up” or support what you wrote in your introductory paragraph:

  • Paragraph 2—Your topic sentence is: Pets are fun to play with. Now, write down three reasons, examples, or facts that support your idea that pets are fun to play with.
  • Paragraph 3—Your topic sentence is: Pets teach responsibility. Under this, write down three reasons, examples, or facts that support your idea that pets teach responsibility.
  • Paragraph 4—Your topic sentence is: Pets are friends. As before, think of and write three reasons, examples, or facts to support your idea that pets are friends.

Paragraph five is your concluding paragraph, which, like the introduction, restates the topic (it’s good for a child to have a pet) and recaps the main points from paragraphs 2, 3 and 4.

It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. You now have an outline from which to write your essay or paper. Note: If you can’t come up with three reasons, examples or facts to support your topic or topic sentences, use two. If you can’t come up with at least two, choose another topic.

Dr. Linda