How to Begin an Essay

The first paragraph or so of an essay is usually the most important part of the whole essay to get “just right”. Not only is it an opportunity to grab the reader’s attention, but also a chance to set the agenda for the rest of the essay in terms of tone and content. Strictly speaking, there is no single “right” way to begin an essay — just as it’s possible to write essays about countless subjects, so too is it possible to begin an essay in countless ways. However, most good beginnings to essays share certain qualities which, if taken into account, can greatly improve essay intros that may otherwise be lacking. See Step 1 below to get started!

Essay Template and Sample Essays
Essay Template
Sample Ozymandias Essay

Laying the Roadmap for Your Essay
Start with an attention-grabbing sentence. While your essay may (or, admittedly, may not) be interesting to you, the writer, it’s not necessarily interesting to the reader. Readers, by and large, are somewhat picky about what they read and what they don’t. If a piece of writing doesn’t immediately catch their attention in the first paragraph, there’s a good chance they won’t bother to read the rest of it. Because of this, it’s often a good idea to begin an essay with a sentence that commands the reader’s attention from the get-go. So long as this first sentence is logically connected to the rest of the article, there’s no shame in being attention-grabbing right out of the gate.
You may want to start with a fascinating, little-known fact or statistic to grab your reader’s attention. For instance, if we’re writing an essay on the growing danger of childhood obesity worldwide, we might start with this: “Contrary to the popular idea that childhood obesity is only a problem for rich, pampered Westerners, the WHO reports that in 2012, over 30% of preschool-age children in developing countries were overweight or obese.”[1] On the other hand, if it fits into your essay more logically, you may want to start with a particularly gripping image or description. For an essay on your summer vacation, you might start with this: “When I felt the Costa Rican sun filtering through the jungle canopy and heard the sound of howler monkeys far off in the distance, I knew that I had found someplace very special.”

Draw your reader into the “meat” of your essay. A great first sentence can get the reader’s attention, but if you don’t keep pulling the reader into your essay, she can still easily lose interest. Follow your very first sentence with a sentence or two that logically link the attention grabbing “hook” in the first sentence to the rest of the essay as a whole. Often, these sentences will expand on the narrow scope of the first sentence, placing the specific snapshot you present initially in some sort of larger context.
For example, in our obesity essay, we might follow our first sentence as follows: “In fact, childhood obesity is a growing problem that is increasingly affecting rich and poor countries alike.” This sentence explains the urgency of the problem described in the first sentence and gives a broader context.

For our vacation essay, we might follow our first sentence with something like this: “I was deep in the jungles of Tortuguero National Park, and I was lost in more ways than one.” This sentence tells the reader where the imagery in the first sentence comes from and leads the reader into the rest of the essay by teasing that it will eventually be revealed how the narrator is “lost”.

Tell the reader what your essay is about. Most of the time, essays aren’t purely descriptive — they don’t exist solely to tell you what something is in basic, factual terms. Usually, they have a specific purpose beyond this. This can be almost anything. The essay may aim to change the reader’s mind about a certain topic, persuade the reader into taking action for a specific cause, shed light on something that’s not well understood, or simply tell a thought-provoking story. In any case, the basic purpose of the first paragraph or so of an essay is to tell the reader what the purpose of the essay is. This way, the reader can quickly choose whether to continue to the rest of the essay or not.
In our obesity essay, we might sum things up by proceeding like this: “The purpose of this essay is to analyze current trends in childhood obesity rates worldwide and recommend specific policy initiatives to combat this growing problem.” This clearly and plainly tells what the essay aims to do. There is no confusion here.

For our vacation essay, we might try something like this: “This is thestory of my summer in Costa Rica, a summer that neither spider bites nor rotten plantains nor Giardia could keep from being life-changing.” This tells the reader that they’ll be reading an account of one person’s journey to a foreign country while teasing specific details about what’s in store in the body of the essay.

Optionally, outline the structure of your essay. Sometimes, it’sappropriate to go one step further in the intro to describe how your essay plans to achieve its purpose. This can be useful if your essay can easily be broken down into distinct, specific sections in a way that will make the topic easier to grasp for the reader. It’s also useful to know how to do this if you’re a student because some teachers will require you to do so. However, specifically outlining the different pieces of your essay in the introduction isn’t always a good idea. In some cases, especially for light-hearted essays, this can read as somewhat mechanical and can intimidate the reader by presenting too much info upfront.
For our obesity essay, we might continue like this: “This essay addresses three main global health concerns: the rising availability of high-calorie food, the decline in physical exercise, and the growing popularity of sedentary leisure activities.” For a straightforward research essay like this, outlining the main topics of discussion is a good idea because it allows the reader to immediately understand the essay’s justification for the purpose explained in the previous sentence.

On the other hand, for our vacation essay, we probably wouldn’t outline our essay in this way. Since we’ve established that our essay is lighthearted and playful, it would sound somewhat bizarre to continue with, for instance: “By experiencing both city life in the capital of San Jose and rural life in the jungles of Tortuguero, I changed as a person during my trip.” It’s not a terrible sentence, but it doesn’t flow well with the other ones we’ve used so far because it applies a strict, rigid structure where none is needed.

If necessary, include a thesis statement. In essay-writing, a thesis statement is a single sentences that describes the “point” of the essay as clearly and concisely as possible. Some essays, especially five-paragraph essays written for academic assignments or as part of a standardized test, more or less require you to include a thesis statement as part of the opening paragraph. Even essays that don’t require this convention can benefit from the concise purpose-defining power of a bold thesis statement. Generally, thesis statements are included at or near the end of the first paragraph, though there are no hard and fast rules about where, specifically, thesis statements must be.
For our obesity essay, since we’re dealing with a serious topic and writing about it in a clinical, straightforward way, we might be fairly direct with our thesis statement: “By analyzing available survey data, this essay aims to pinpoint specific policy initiatives as likely paths to global obesity reduction.” This thesis statement tells the reader in relatively few words exactly what the purpose of the essay is.

We probably wouldn’t include a single thesis statement for our vacation essay. Since we’re more interested in setting a mood, telling a story, and illustrating personal themes, a direct, clinical statement like “This essay will describe my summer vacation to Costa Rica in great detail” will sound oddly forced and unnecessary.

Set an appropriate tone for your essay. In addition to being your space to discuss what you’re going to talk about in your essay, your first paragraph or so is also a space to establish how you’re going to talk about it. The way you write — your writing voice — is part of what encourages (or discourages) your readers from reading your article. If your tone in the beginning of your essay is clear, pleasing, and appropriate for the subject matter, your readers will be more likely to read than if it’s muddled, varies greatly from sentence to sentence, or is mismatched with the topic at hand. Take a look at the sentences for our example essays above. Notice that, while the obesity essay and the vacation essay have very distinct voices, both are clearly written and are appropriate for the subject matter. The obesity essay is a serious, analytical piece of writing dealing with a public health problem, so it’s reasonable for the sentences to be somewhat clinical and to-the-point. On the other point,the vacation essay is about a fun, exciting experience that had a major effect on the writer, so it’s reasonable that the sentences are a little more playful, containing exciting details and conveying the writer’s sense of wonder.

Cut to the chase! One of the most important rules when it comes to introductions is that shorter is almost always better. If you can convey all the information that you need to convey in five sentences rather than six, do it. If you can use a simple, everyday word in place of a more obscure word (e.g., “start” vs. “initiate”), do it. If you can get your sentence’s message across in ten words rather than twelve, do it. Wherever you can make your introductory passages shorter without sacrificing quality or clarity, do so. Remember, the beginning of your essay serves to get your reader into the meat of the essay, but it’s not the meat of the essay itself, so keep it short. As noted above, while you should strive for brevity, you shouldn’t shorten your introduction so much that it becomes unclear or illogical. For instance, in our obesity essay, we shouldn’t shorten this sentence: “In fact, childhood obesity is a global problem that is increasingly affecting rich and poor countries alike.” …to this: “In fact, obesity is actually a big problem.” This second sentence doesn’t tell the whole story — the essay is about the rising global incidence of childhood obesity, not the fact that obesity is bad for you in general.

Tailoring Your Intro to Your Essay
For argumentative essays, sum up your argument. Though all essays areunique (besides plagiarized ones), certain strategies can help you make the most of your essay based on the specific type of writing you’re doing. For instance, if you’re writing an argumentative essay — that is, one that argues a specific point with the hope of persuading the reader into agreement — it can be helpful to focus on summarizing your argument in the introductory paragraph (or paragraphs) of the essay. Doing this gives the reader a quick rundown of the logic you’re going to use to support your argument. For instance, if we’re arguing against a proposed local sales tax, we might include something like the following in our first paragraph: “The proposed sales tax is regressive and fiscally irresponsible. By proving that the sales tax puts a disproportionate tax burden on the poor and that it has a net negative effect on the local economy, this essay intends to prove these points beyond a shadow of a doubt.” This approach tells the reader right away what your main arguments are going to be, which gives your argument legitimacy from the very first paragraph.

For creative writing, be attention-grabbing. Creative writing and fiction can be more emotionally charged than other pieces of writing. For these types of essays, you can usually get away with beginning your essay with a metaphorical bang. Making an effort to be exciting or memorable in your first few sentences is a great way to draw readers into your work. Also, since creative writing doesn’t require some of the more mechanical aspects of argumentative writing (like outlining your essay’s structure, stating its purpose, etc.), you have room to get creative here.
For example, if we’re writing a thrilling short story about a girl on the run from the law, we might start with some exciting imagery: “Sirens echoed through the cigarette-burnt walls of the flophouse. Red and blue flashed like paparazzi’s cameras on the shower curtain. Sweat mingled with rusty water on the barrel of her gun.” Now this story sounds exciting!

It’s also worth noting that your first few sentences can be compelling without being action-packed. Consider the first few lines of J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” This raises intriguing questions right away: What is a hobbit? Why does it live in a hole? The reader has to keep reading to find out!

For arts/entertainment writing, tie specific details to your overall theme. Writing in the area of arts and entertainment (like movie reviews, book reports, etc.) carries fewer rules and expectations than technical writing, but the beginnings of essays written in this style can still benefit from an overarching strategy. In these cases, while you can get away with a little playfulness in the beginning of your essay, you’ll usually want to take care to ensure that you describe your essay’s overall theme or focus even as you pinpoint small, specific details.
For example, if we’re writing a review and analysis of P.T. Anderson’s film The Master, we might start like this: “There’s a moment in The Master that’s small, but hard to forget. Speaking to his teenage paramour for the very last time, Joaquin Phoenix’s naval washout suddenly tears through the window screen that’s separating them and embraces the girl in a passionate kiss. It’s at once beautiful and perverse, and perfectly emblematic of the twisted depiction of love the film presents.” This opening uses a small, compelling moment from the film to enlighten the reader the essay’s main theme in a compelling way.

For technical/scientific essays, stay clinical. Of course, not all writing can be wild and exciting. Wit and whimsy have no place in the world of serious analytical, technical, and scientific writing. These types of writing exist for practical purposes — to inform relevant individuals about serious, specific topics. Since the purpose of essays written in these topics is to be purely informative (and occasionally persuasive), you should not include jokes, colorful imagery, or anything else that’s not directly related to the task at hand.
For instance, if we’re writing an analytical essay on the strengths and weaknesses of different methods of protecting metal from corrosion, we might begin like this: “Corrosion is an electrochemical process by which metals react with their environment and degrade. Since this poses a serious problem to the structural integrity of metal objects and structures, various means of protecting against corrosion have been developed.” This beginning is blunt and to-the-point. No time is wasted on style or flash.

Note that essays written in this style often contain abstracts or summaries before the essay itself which succinctly tell the reader what the essay is about in broad strokes. See How to Write an Abstract for more information.

For journalism, address the most important info first. Journalistic essay writing differs somewhat from other essay styles. In journalism, there is usually a great effort made to focus on the pure facts of the story, rather than the writer’s opinion, so the introductory passages of a journalistic essay can tend to be somewhat descriptive, rather than argumentative, persuasive, etc. In serious, objective journalism, writers are often encouraged to put the most important information in the article in the very first sentence so that readers can learn the essentials of a story within seconds of reading the headline.
For instance, if we’re a journalist tasked with covering a local fire, we might begin our piece like this: “Four apartment buildings on the 800 block of Cherry avenue suffered a severe electrical fire Saturday night. While there were no fatalities, five adults and a child were rushed to Skyline Hospital for injuries sustained in the blaze.” By beginning with the absolute essentials, we give the majority of the readers the information they want to know immediately.

In the subsequent paragraphs, we can dive into the details and context surrounding the event so that the readers who stick around past the first paragraph can learn more.

Using Intro-Writing Strategies
Try writing your intro last, rather than first. When the time comes tobegin their essay, many writers forget that there’s no rule that says that you have to write the beginning of the essay first. In fact, it’s acceptable to start anywhere in the essay that suits your purposes, including in the middle and the end, so long as you eventually tie the entire essay together. If you’re unsure of how to start or don’t even know exactly what your essay is about yet, try skipping the beginning for the time being. You’ll eventually need to write it, but once you’ve written the rest of your essay, you may have a much firmer grasp on your topic than when you began.

Brainstorm. Sometimes, even the best writers run out of ideas. If you’re having a hard time even getting started with your intro, try brainstorming. Get a fresh sheet of paper and write down ideas as they come to you in a rapid-fire fashion. These don’t necessarily have to be good ideas — sometimes, seeing ideas that you definitely shouldn’t use can inspire you to think up ideas that you definitely should.
You may also want to try a related exercise called free-form writing. When free-form writing, you begin writing anything — absolutely anything — and keep writing sentences in a stream-of-consciousness fashion to get your juices flowing. The end result doesn’t have to make sense. If there’s a tiny kernel of inspiration in your ramblings, you’ll have benefited.

Revise, revise, revise. First drafts that can’t be improved in some way by editing and reviewing are very, very rare. A good writer knows never to turn in a piece of writing without going over it at least once or twice. Reviewing and revising allows you to spot spelling and grammar errors, fix portions of your writing that are unclear, omit unnecessary information, and much more. This is especially important in the very beginning of your essay, where otherwise minor errors can reflect negatively upon your status as a writer, so be sure to give your essay’s beginning a thorough revision. For example, consider an essay in which the very first sentence contains a small grammar error. Though the error is minor, the fact that it occurs in such a prominent place may lead the reader to assume that the writer is careless or unprofessional. If you’re writing for money (or a grade), this is a risk you definitely don’t want to take.

Get another person’s opinion. No writer writes in a vacuum. If you’re feeling uninspired, try talking to someone whose opinion you respect to get their perspective on the beginning of your essay. Because this other person isn’t as invested in your writing as you are, s/he may be able to offer an outsider’s point of view, pointing out things that may not have occurred to you precisely because you were focused on writing the perfect beginning to your essay.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to teachers, professors, and other types of people who may have assigned you the essay in the first place. Most of the time, these people will take the fact that you’re asking for advice as a sign that you view the essay seriously. In addition, because these people will most likely have an image in their mind of what the final product should be like, they can give you advice to help you write your essay exactly as they want it.

Be sure that you can write enough on a topic and mix up your sentences a bit. Nothing is worse than reading one boring paper after another. Excitement is a single key if you can’t get into your subject your reader can’t and this will result in a poor grade.

When selecting a topic write a thesis statement if you can’t you may need to narrow/widen your topic or change an unusable topic.

When asking for editing help be polite and respectful. The best person to ask editing help from is the assigning teacher/professor.

The kid with all A’s probably has some form of help from the/a teacher/professor.

If you do too poorly on an essay your teacher/professor might be tempted to lean the grade in your favor.

Editing is your friend, save your work so you don’t have to rewrite the entire thing. All essays no matter how bad the punctuation, spelling, or grammar can easily be fixed.

If you don’t do your essay, you may fail the class.

Related wikiHows
How to Begin a Persuasive Essay

How to Write an Analytical Essay

Sources and Citations

Cite error: tags exist, but no tag was found



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s