Having trouble coming up with essay starters? Guest writer Lora Wegman gives us some tips and examples on how to effectively hook your readers into your piece.
Sometimes, the beginning isn’t the best place to start—at least when it comes to writing essays. Composing a great first paragraph is important, but tackling it before your ideas are fully formed can lead to trouble. Don’t let your essay start with a whimper. Instead, put it on the fast track to success with these four tips for writing compelling introductory paragraphs:
1. Don't write your introduction first
Maybe you have the perfect anecdote in mind for your introduction, or maybe you’re experiencing the anguish of a stubbornly blank computer screen. Either way, a wiser approach is to outline your thesis statement and your main points first—then you can flesh out your introduction. End your first paragraph with a strong thesis statement that summarizes the central idea of your essay clearly and succinctly. Once you know where your destination is, it’s much easier to decide on the direction for your opening paragraph.
2. Incorporate a bit of intrigue
What was the most interesting thing that you learned while studying this topic? Is there a way to use this information to introduce your essay? Starting off with a “wow” factor that’s relevant to your overall argument can be a powerful writing strategy.
However, no matter how interesting your topic is, resist the urge to cram too many ideas or facts into your first paragraph. Your introduction is vital because it frames your writing as a whole. It should hint at what’s to come without giving away every detail. Try these two simple steps to lead into your thesis sentence at the end of your introductory paragraph:
● Start with one compelling fact or observation that will keep the reader engaged enough to read more.
● Then, add another sentence or two to show how you are linking that introductory idea to your thesis statement.
It’s that simple. Don’t try to make it more complicated. You have the rest of your essay to fill in the details and give the broader context.
3. Avoid obvious statements
Don’t use broad generalizations that tell the reader nothing about where your essay is headed. Avoid clichés like, “Since the beginning of time... ” or, “The dictionary defines (term) as …” or, worst of all, “This essay will cover…” Those statements don't tell your audience anything new, and worse, they can appear unoriginal.
4. Finally, revise your work
Once you have your introductory paragraph drafted, it's time to review it with a critical eye. Try doing a word count of your paragraph, and then cutting that down by 20 percent. Your introduction may be longer or shorter depending on the overall length of your essay, but for an essay that’s a few pages long, challenge yourself to keep your first paragraph to 100 or fewer words.
Consider this example:
Original draft: The residents of the island of Puerto Rico have been U.S. citizens for 100 years, yet they do not have the right to cast their votes for the nation’s president every four years. Twice in the past five years, people who voted in elections in the Caribbean territory have favored the idea of statehood, yet a deep divide remains over what is the right course of action. The decision to make Puerto Rico the 51st U.S. state would help to stabilize the island’s dire financial situation while benefiting the nation as a whole, both in terms of the economy and the culture. (104 words)
After editing: Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens for 100 years, yet they do not have the right to vote for their nation’s president. Twice in the past five years, voters in the Caribbean territory have favored the idea of statehood, yet a deep divide remains over the right course. Making Puerto Rico the 51st U.S. state would help to stabilize the island’s economy, while benefiting the nation as a whole financially and culturally. (74 words)
See how much stronger self-editing can make your introductory paragraph, just by cutting a few extra words? The faster you can get to your interesting facts and your overall point, the more grateful (and impressed!) your readers will be.
Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
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