Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Article of the Day: List of N Things

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 10, 2010

Today’s article is by essayist Paul Graham, and is about all those essays you see that are made up of a list of N things. He discusses the advantages and disadvantages that such essays carry. The part that really interested me was the section near the end, regarding the five-paragraph essay that I have many times found myself required to write:

Because the list of n things is the easiest essay form, it should be a good one for beginning writers. And in fact it is what most beginning writers are taught. The classic 5 paragraph essay is really a list of n things for n = 3. But the students writing them don’t realize they’re using the same structure as the articles they read in Cosmopolitan. They’re not allowed to include the numbers, and they’re expected to spackle over the gaps with gratuitous transitions (“Furthermore…”) and cap the thing at either end with introductory and concluding paragraphs so it will look superficially like a real essay.

It is unfortunate that the only type of essay that I have been required to write for the last three years at least has been the five-paragraph essay. Such a format is acceptable, and is very effective under some circumstances, but is hardly a blanket to cover every possible topic. When I think of all the essays that I’ve written on my blog, only a handful can be put into the five-paragraph format. A lot of that is probably due to the nature of blogs, which tend to be longer and have shorter paragraphs. Still, though, there is wide variety of ways to write a blog post, and only a few of those ways involve five paragraphs, an introduction, and a conclusion.


2 Responses to “Article of the Day: List of N Things”

  1. LRFLEW said

    To me, there are two types of writing:

    Formal Writing
    Creative Writing

    Formal Writing is essays. This mostly covers graded papers and research papers. For these five paragraph is not only acceptable, but the easiest way to get them done.

    Creative Writing is fictional writing and blogging. These AREN’T MENT to have form, so just writing works here (especially when nobody visits your site 🙂 (by “your site”, I mean mine, in case you didn’t get it)).

  2. […] Comments (RSS) « Article of the Day: List of N Things […]

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