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The formal parts of the five-paragraph can be found all over, and of course on Wikipedia:
- Introduction: Introducing a topic. An important part of this is the three-pronged thesis.
- Body paragraph 1: Explaining the first part of the three-pronged thesis
- Body paragraph 2: Explaining the second part of the three-pronged thesis
- Body paragraph 3: Explaining the third part of the three-pronged thesis
- Conclusion: Summing up points and restating thesis
Looking for the origin of the five-paragraph format takes us back in time past the nuns who taught me, past John Dewey, past McGuffey Readers; we have to look back to the first century CE, to a work that was mistakenly attributed to Cicero.
Rhetorica ad Herennium ["Rehetoric: for Herennius"] was a very popular early book on rhetoric. Because Cicero wrote a well-known book on rhetoric (called De inventione ["Concerning the art of discovery"], he was given credit (right up through the Renaissance) for writing this more-complete book. In it, the author offers a format for an argument that may sound familiar to you:
- Exordium — Exhorting your reader to listen to your topic
- Narratio — Narrating/explaining what your topic is
- Divisio — Dividing your topic into main points
- Confirmatio — Confirming your points with arguments (usually three)
- Refutatio — Offering opposing arguments & refuting them
- Conclusio — Concluding your essay with a summary of your arguments
- Paragraph 1: Narratio + Divisio
- Paragraph 2-4: Confirmatio
- Paragraph 5: Conclusio
You can read the Rhetorica ad Herennium here.