How to write a five-page essay

Some thoughts on how to write a five-page essay (with special comments from John Sheehy).

Anatomy of a Five-Page Essay

  1. Introduction: In which you briefly state your argument using concrete terms about a specific situation. The specifics may pertain to a real-world situation (i.e. fear about declining energy resources) or to a specific passage in a philosophical text (Leopold’s insights on development of a community ethics).


  1. The Questions Raised: In which you consider the ethical or political problems posed by the issue described in the introduction.


  1. The Theorists’ Response: What would DuBois or Marx say about the situation? What vocabulary would they use to describe the various ethical or political problems outlined in the previous section?


  1. Development of Argument: In which you use the theorist to help us to see the complexities of the situation and how we might go about changing it.


  1. Consideration of Counter-Argument: In which you take seriously a competing argument.


  1. Conclusion: In which you make us see why your argument is the right one.

Things to Keep In Mind:

  • Be aware making big claims that a five-page essay can’t support;
  • Mine the theory texts for useful terms and then use those terms consistently;
  • Be aware letting the theorist take over. Here is some advice from John Sheehy for a student in a political theory class: 

Your job here is not to follow Aquinas around and show us how smart he was (he was smart, and he was also fat, but neither of those things is important to your discussion); your job is to use the framework of his ideas to help us (a) understand the situation in Brazil, and (b) see what it might take to change it.  Of those two, for this paper, (a) is probably the most important:  Aquinas can help us see past our initial impressions, and your job is to use him as a tool to help us do that.




Last modified: Friday, September 28, 2012, 2:21 PM