Preliminary Essay Examples

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When it comes to writing essays in college, we all need a place to start. Think of the five-paragraph essay as just that. Some students may find this to be a simple process, while others may spend a greater amount of time understanding this basic building block of college writing. Whatever the case, use the following guidelines to strengthen your knowledge of this preliminary essay format. Five-paragraph essays are incredibly useful in two situations — when writers are just starting out and when a writing assignment is timed.

The five-paragraph essay has three basic parts: introduction, body, and conclusion.

The introduction is the first paragraph of the essay, and it serves several purposes. This paragraph gets your reader's attention, develops the basic ideas of what you will cover, and provides the thesis statement for the essay. The thesis statement is usually only one sentence and is made up of the topic, focus, and three main points of the essay.

Each body paragraph should start with a transition — either a word or phrase, like First, or Another important point is. Then, the first sentence should continue with your topic sentence. The topic sentence tells your reader what the paragraph is about, like a smaller-level thesis statement. The rest of the paragraph will be made of supporting sentences. These sentences, at least four of them, will explain your topic sentence to your reader.

Be sure that each sentence in the paragraph directly addresses both your topic sentence and your thesis statement. If you have a point to make that is not directly connected to the topic sentence, it does not belong in the paragraph. You might write a different paragraph on that other point, but you may not stick it into any old paragraph just because you thought of it at that point. (You can't stick a red towel into a load of white laundry without causing damage to the rest of the clothes, and you can't stick a point that' off-topic into a paragraph without doing damage to the rest of the essay. Keep your laundry and your paragraph points separate!)

The conclusion is the last paragraph of the essay. This paragraph brings the essay to a close, reminds the reader of the basic ideas from the essay, and restates the thesis statement. The conclusion should not contain new ideas, as it is the summation of the content of the essay. The restatement of the thesis is a simpler form that the one originally presented in the introduction.

An outline is often used to demonstrate the content of most five-paragraph essays:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body
    1. First Point
    2. Second Point
    3. Third Point
  3. Conclusion

Before we finish, it is important to remember that the format of the five-paragraph essay is the foundation of nearly every other essay you'll write. When you get ready to write longer papers, remember that the job of the introduction and conclusion are just the same as they are in the five-paragraph essay. Also, when you write longer papers, change your idea of support from three body paragraphs to three (or two or four) body sections, with as many paragraphs as necessary in each section (just as you had as many sentences you needed in each body paragraph).

Below is an example of a 5-paragraph essay. Notice how the essay follows the outline.

Outline of this essay:

  1. Introduction about camping, with three main points and thesis statement
  2. Body
    1. bad weather
    2. wildlife
    3. equipment failures
  3. Conclusion reviewing three main points and thesis statement

Enjoying Your Camping Trip

Each year, thousands of people throughout the United States choose to spend their vacations camping in the great outdoors. Depending on an individual's sense of adventure, there are various types of camping to choose from, including log cabin camping, recreational vehicle camping, and tent camping. Of these, tent camping involves "roughing it" the most, and with proper planning the experience can be gratifying. Even with the best planning, however, tent camping can be an extremely frustrating experience due to uncontrolled factors such as bad weather, wildlife encounters, and equipment failures.

Nothing can dampen the excited anticipation of camping more than a dark, rainy day. Even the most adventurous campers can lose some of their enthusiasm on the drive to the campsite if the skies are dreary and damp. After reaching their destination, campers must then "set up camp" in the downpour. This includes keeping the inside of the tent dry and free from mud, getting the sleeping bags situated dryly, and protecting food from the downpour. If the sleeping bags happen to get wet, the cold also becomes a major factor. A sleeping bag usually provides warmth on a camping trip; a wet sleeping bag provides none. Combining wind with rain can cause frigid temperatures, causing any outside activities to be delayed. Even inside the tent problems may arise due to heavy winds. More than a few campers have had their tents blown down because of the wind, which once again begins the frustrating task of "setting up camp" in the downpour. It is wise to check the weather forecast before embarking on camping trips; however, mother nature is often unpredictable and there is no guarantee bad weather will be eluded.

Another problem likely to be faced during a camping trip is run-ins with wildlife, which can range from mildly annoying to dangerous. Minor inconveniences include mosquitoes and ants. The swarming of mosquitoes can literally drive annoyed campers indoors. If an effective repellant is not used, the camper can spend an interminable night scratching, which will only worsen the itch. Ants do not usually attack campers, but keeping them out of the food can be quite an inconvenience. Extreme care must be taken not to leave food out before or after meals. If food is stored inside the tent, the tent must never be left open. In addition to swarming the food, ants inside a tent can crawl into sleeping bags and clothing. Although these insects cause minor discomfort, some wildlife encounters are potentially dangerous. There are many poisonous snakes in the United States, such as the water moccasin and the diamond-back rattlesnake. When hiking in the woods, the camper must be careful where he steps. Also, the tent must never be left open. Snakes, searching for either shade from the sun or shelter from the rain, can enter a tent. An encounter between an unwary camper and a surprised snake can prove to be fatal. Run-ins can range from unpleasant to dangerous, but the camper must realize that they are sometimes inevitable.

Perhaps the least serious camping troubles are equipment failures; these troubles often plague families camping for the first time. They arrive at the campsite at night and haphazardly set up their nine-person tent. They then settle down for a peaceful night's rest. Sometime during the night the family is awakened by a huge crash. The tent has fallen down. Sleepily, they awake and proceed to set up the tent in the rain. In the morning, everyone emerges from the tent, except for two. Their sleeping bag zippers have gotten caught. Finally, after fifteen minutes of struggling, they free themselves, only to realize another problem. Each family member's sleeping bag has been touching the sides of the tent. A tent is only waterproof if the sides are not touched. The sleeping bags and clothing are all drenched. Totally disillusioned with the "vacation," the frustrated family packs up immediately and drives home. Equipment failures may not seem very serious, but after campers encounter bad weather and annoying pests or wild animals, these failures can end any remaining hope for a peaceful vacation.

These three types of camping troubles can strike campers almost anywhere. Until some brilliant scientist invents a weather machine to control bad weather or a kind of wildlife repellant, unlucky campers will continue to shake their fists in frustration. More than likely, equipment will continue to malfunction. Even so, camping continues to be a favorite pastime of people all across the United States. If you want camping to be a happy experience for you, learn to laugh at leaky tents, bad weather, and bugs, or you will find yourself frustrated and unhappy.

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Below is my example for the preliminary essay assignment.  I went a little long.  The essay comes out to two and a half pages.  I've tried to fulfill the assignment by saying what I like about the poem and by supporting this opinion with as precise a reading as possible.  So I've quoted important words and phrases and tried to attend both to where the poem surprises us and to what the poems says--in as specific and nuanced terms as I can--about its subject.  rm

Strange Range: Perspectival Shift in Frost's "Range Finding"

Robert Frost's "Range Finding" was published in 1916, during World War I.  The poem is compelling for its strange, muted response to the war.  It puts human violence in the background and foregrounds instead the natural landscape in which that violence occurs.  Although this reversal perhaps fails to do justice to the horrible carnage of the war, the surprise and ambiguity the poem's reversal creates its own value.  The reversal ultimately suggests that human violence is neither meaningful nor glorious.

The 1916 publication date of "Range-Finding" and the reference to a "battle" (line 1) clearly indicate the poem is about World War I.  Yet a distinctive quality, and value of the poem, lies in its use of surprise.  This is no conventional poem about the war, either patriotically praising it (for example in stories of heroism) or critically describing the horrors of war that render such patriotic praise superficial.

Rather, "Range-Finding" largely turns away from human consequences.  Though human death is mentioned in the phrase "stained a single human breast," most of the first half of the poem lingers on the consequences of the battle to nature: a cobweb "rent" (1), a flower "cut" (2), a bird's nest disturbed (2), a butterfly "dispossessed" of it home in the flower (6).  And the second half of the poem continues this focus by describing how nature reacts to this destruction: the bird still visits her young (5), the butterfly clings to the flower anyway (8), the spider respins its web (9-11).

This surprising reversal of focus is valuable for its originality.  More importantly, it is also valuable in the thought that it provokes.  Does Frost mean to suggest that if we turn our eyes to nature and its powers to restore itself we will be cheered about human violence?  In this case, the surprising focus of the poem might be encouraging us to take a new, broader focus on the war, and find some assurance in a world that contains the natural as well as the human.  Perhaps the poem even suggests that people, like the creatures in the poem, will eventually reconstruct their world (for example, go home from the war like the birds "revisiting" their nests).

But the poem is valuable because it contains a second surprise as well.  The last example of restorative nature--the recreated spider's web--is itself an instrument of violence.  Accordingly, our last view of nature in the poem is a dark one, unlike what has come before.  A spider "sullenly" finds that it has not captured a fly in its web (13-14).  Once again the poem changes our perspective, asking us whether there is really anything hopeful in nature either.  From this perspective human violence appears as just one part of a natural world--not even the central one, at that--that can be violent as well.

We are left at the muted, ambiguous end of the poem looking for some meaning--either redemptive or perhaps even critical--and find rather, like the poem's spider, "nothing" (14).  Perhaps readers preferring either strong praise or stronger condemnation of the war would find this "nothing" a cop-out.  I might have preferred a poem that more directly condemned war's violence.  But the poem seems to me to succeed to the extent that it captures a feeling of helplessness and confusion about war, when "range finding"--understanding how far down violence goes, and how best to write about it--is exactly what one cannot do.


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