Skip to content

Schaffer Essays

The Jane Schaffer paragraph is a five-sentence paragraph developed by Jane Schaffer, used to write essays.[1] The paragraph only makes up one of many paragraphs in an essay, most of which have a non-Schaffer-like introduction and conclusion. The structure is utilized because it is thought to help students who struggle with paragraph structure and is taught in some U.S. middle schools and in early high school classes.[2][3]


General Schaffer paragraphs have some requirements as follows:

  • Must not be written in first person
  • Every paragraph must be at least five sentences long; however, there can be more as long as the same ratio of two CMs to every CD is kept [4]
  • Each section (TS, CD, CM, CS) is only one sentence in length
  • Each section should also avoid past tense and only be written in present tense

Paragraph Structure[edit]

  • Topic Sentence (TS)
  • Concrete Detail (CD)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Closing/Concluding sentence (CS)

A basic Schaffer paragraph begins with the topic sentence—stating what the paragraph is about, then followed by a concrete detail, two commentary sentences, and a closing sentence. This is called a one-chunk body paragraph and is the most basic Schaffer model.

One of the key elements in the Schaffer program is what is called the "ratio." Ratio is the amount of Concrete Detail in a paragraph compared to the amount of commentary. In the above paragraph the ratio is 1:2. The actual ratio for response to literature is 1:2+, which means there must be at least two sentences of Commentary for each sentence of Concrete Detail like so:

  • Topic sentence (TS)
  • Concrete Detail (CD)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Concrete Detail (CD)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Commentary (CM)
  • Closing/Concluding sentence (CS)

Note that the ratio is still 1:2+ (At least twice as much Commentary as there is Concrete Detail)

Topic sentence/statement (TS)[edit]

This sentence should state the main point of the paragraph and be straight to the point

Example 1: Cinderella lives a miserable life.
Example 2: Global warming is a world problem and needs to be stopped.

Concrete detail (CD)[edit]

This sentence is the "what" is happening. It should be either facts, examples, illustrations, evidence, support, plot references, paraphrases, citations, quotations, plot summary, etc. It should be a concrete detail and should start with 'for example' or a different transition.

Example 1: For example, she does all the cooking, cleaning, and sewing.
Example 2: If it is not stopped, statistics show that the world will be drastically hurt.


There are one or two commentary sentences in each chunk. They contain no facts, rather, comments from the paragraph writer about the fact presented in the CD. This sentence contains analysis, interpretation, character feelings, opinions, inference, insight, reasons, or color commentator. It is important that the commentary explain how the concrete detail helps prove the writer's point (the TS).

Example 1:
CM1: This shows that she feels taken advantage of by her selfish stepmother and stepsisters.
CM2: This is important because her horrible life gives her a present, her fairy godmother.
Example 2:
CM1: Global warming should be man's greatest worry.
CM2: This is because the Earth can become negatively and drastically affected world wide.
CM3 Commentary sentence is an opinion and a reaction.

General practice is that commentary sentences often start with a transition such as the following:

  • This (also) shows that
  • This is (important) because
  • In addition
  • Furthermore,
  • Therefore,
  • Also
  • For example,

Concluding sentence / closing sentence (CS)[edit]

The Concluding Sentence (CS) is the closing sentence that wraps up the TS and sums up the paragraph. It closes up the thoughts and gives insight to the next paragraph. Emotional or connotative words are preferred here usually beginning with "As a result" or another concluding sentence.

Example 1: As a result, she becomes a princess.
Example 2: Therefore, global warming is top priority and cannot be ignored.


External links[edit]

The Schaffer method is a research-based writing formula commonly taught in middle and high school settings. The multi-paragraph essay structure was coined by Jane Schaffer in an effort to provide students and teachers with a consistent and proven formula for constructing essays. The method is backed by Schaffer's own research on the most effective means of crafting an essay as well as the best techniques to use in order to generate high paper scores.

Schaffer's format ensures that each paragraph is fully developed by designating specific types of sentences, a set number for these sentences (5-8 to be exact) and a specific order when composing them. In addition to these details the Schaffer method also suggest approximately how many words should go in each section as well as the ratio or sentence distribution depending on the type of paper that is being written.

The schaffer paragraph

When writing an essay using the Schaffer method, effective paragraph construction is essential. And the key terms to remember in doing so are concrete detail and commentary. These are two of the five basic sentence types that are to be included in Schaffer's paragraph format. This method calls for the following order of sentence writing; (a) topic sentence (b) concrete detail (c) two commentary sentences (d) and a concluding sentence. And as mentioned earlier there may be some variants with this as well as changes in the order of the sentences (for example, two detail sentences and then a concrete sentences) based on the subject or type of essay.

And though this formula is generally introduced and utilized amongst high school students, others may also benefit from it as well (possibly if faced with a blank page and no idea where to start!). But like many formulas, with specific guidelines and structures, you may be tempted to ask the questions; All of this for an essay? What's the benefit?

Excellent benefits of the Schaffer method

Though often criticized for stifling creativity and limiting many aspects of student writing, formulaic writing methods such as the five-paragraph-essay or the Schaffer method definitely have their share of benefits as well. With the Schaffer method in particular some features do stand out; which make it a desirable writing tool for students and teachers alike. A few are mentioned below.

  1. Since the formula breaks down the key sentences in every paragraph it really forces students to hone in on the most important parts of any essay. They can separate the important points of their essay from any 'fluff' that they may gather up when writing. It also helps to take away any type of ambiguity or confusion surrounded around grading; the student knows exactly what the teacher is looking for and what to do in order to correct a poor score.
  2. The method is also especially useful for inexperienced students that may find it difficult to put together an essay or really any form of writing (*this is by far may be the greatest advantage it offers). The instructions are plain and simple and hard to misinterpret.
  3. The distinction between 'commentary' sentences and 'concrete' ones really helps students to understand that essays are made up evidential support such as facts and raw data and a writer's input such as evaluations, 'comments', or states and claims.

Likewise, the placement of the commentary sentences after the concrete ones also indicates to students that it's necessary for them to evaluate or expand upon the evidence that they present and not to just leave it 'in the air' for the audience to decipher its relevance on their own.

Understanding Schaffer's terminology

When constructing an essay following the Schaffer method, by choice or due to the request of an instructor, it's important to understand the exact meaning of each of term that Schaffer utilizes. Though some are obvious, some may need a little clarification. The following terms relate to Schaffer's paragraph structure and are listed in the order that they should appear when written.

1. Topic Sentence

The topic sentence of a paragraph is simply the main idea and should reflect the primary concept or message that is being conveyed. The topic sentence of the essay differs in that it is being used to introduce the entire essay and therefore may be broader, but should still be connected to the thesis statement or central purpose/objective of the essay.

2. Concrete Detail

The concrete detail that is provided after the topic sentence is simply a statement that supports what was previously mentioned. It may include several things and is essentially a fact, or something know to be true as it relates to the topic. For instance, for a concrete detail you may choose to provide...

  • Statistics
  • Direct quotes
  • Paraphrases
  • Plot references
  • Illustrations
  • Examples
  • Or other researched facts

Along with providing supportive evidence the concrete detail sentence should also be properly written. Meaning that the detail is not simply placed alone in the paragraph. Its a good idea to first introduce it by providing a signal or transitional phrase. Examples can be seen below (these can be placed directly in front of your concrete detail);

  • For instance
  • For example
  • To illustrate
  • Illustrated with
  • In this case
  • Specifically

3. Commentary

The third sentence that is used with this formula refers to the author's opinion or evaluation of the concrete detail that was presented. There can be several commentary lines depending on the length of your paragraphs. The commentary sentences should not introduce any new evidence but rather work with the information that has already been provided by analyzing, interpreting, and expanding upon it. The main objective of the commentary is to explain how the evidence supports the writer's primary point, argument or objective. So along with interpreting this information more detail can be also be extracted by looking at 'deeper issues' that may be present for instance, trying to understand the true meaning of it, or even looking at it in a more abstract or alternative manner (depending on the nature of the subject).

4. Concluding Sentence

Finally, each paragraph should end with a formal conclusionary statement. Your conclusion statement should properly synthesize all of the information in the paragraph and relate back to the topic sentence. The conclusion sentence of a paragraph should be insightful but does not have to be as comprehensive as the ones found in the conclusion of an essay. Likewise, a good conclusion sentence should also be a connecting one; therefore it will sufficiently prepare the reader for the next topic sentence that is to come.