Paragraph 5

I have suggested that the key sentence of the first paragraph of a five-paragraph essay is, either implicitly or explicitly, self-referential. It does not assert the thesis statement of the essay; it asserts that this essay will demonstrate its truth. It refers, not to the world of fact that makes it true, but to the text before us that will show us how true it is. That gives it the task of justifying the writing of the essay by situating it in a practical and theoretical context, outlining the argument, and indicating the consequences for practice or theory or both. I will now suggest that the last paragraph will actually assert the thesis and present (not merely indicate) the consequences.

If the key sentence of paragraph 1 was

In this essay, I will argue that the Great Depression was caused by the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve,

then the key sentence of paragraph 5 will be simply

The Great Depression was caused by the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve.

They do not have to be this obviously similar, but the content should be. Notice that there is no reference to the essay in the latter, no “I have here argued…” or “I have tried to show…” Also, I should say that this is actually best understood as a way of mirroring paragraph 3 of a longer essay with paragraph 39 (out of 40). In a five paragraph essay, the first and last paragraph will do a bit more work than their key sentences make explicit. (You might want to plan this work so that paragraph 1 actually has three key sentences and paragraph five has two, but do remember to maintain a focus.)

Think of paragraph five as having the task of asserting both the thesis and its importance. To begin with, after having written the key sentence, you can just write a version of the key sentence of paragraphs 2-4. You now have four sentences written. Then add three sentences that suggest the consequences of realizing that the Fed’s monetary policy was to blame, whether for scholars or bankers or both (but be clear about who you’re talking about). Presumably, this gives us some guidance about how to avoid similar crises in the future. Tell us what the right policy would have been, perhaps. And what policy we should adopt today.

You have all the material in place. Now work on the paragraph until it feels like a conclusion of your argument. Remember it has three distinct parts or moments: (1) the thesis statement of your essay, (2) a summary of the argument, (3) an assessment of the consequences. It has to make these three moves as though they are one coherent gesture that asserts your overall meaning. One last thing: I’ve given you the steps of a dance or the chords to a song. Please grant that merely following these steps or playing these chords will not necessarily produce a good essay. You have to practice until you can do it well. And you have to have something to say.

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