How to Start an Essay: 7 Tips for a Knockout Essay Introduction
Sometimes, the most difficult part of writing an essay is getting started. You might have an outline already and know what you want to write, but struggle to find the right words to get it going. Don’t worry; you aren’t the first person to grapple with starting an essay, and you certainly won’t be the last.
Writing an essay isn’t the same as writing a book. Or writing a poem. Or writing a scientific research paper. Essay writing is a unique process that involves clear sequencing, backing up your positions with quality sources, and engaging language. But it’s also got one important thing in common with every other type of writing: You need to hook your reader’s attention within the first few sentences.
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Intriguing ways to start an essay
There are many different ways to write an essay introduction. Each has its benefits and potential drawbacks, and each is best suited for certain kinds of essays . Although these essay introductions use different rhetorical devices and prime the reader in different ways, they all achieve the same goal: hooking the reader and enticing them to keep reading.
To “hook” a reader simply means to capture their attention and make them want to continue reading your work. An essay introduction that successfully hooks readers in one essay won’t necessarily hook readers in another essay, which is why it’s so important for you to understand why different types of essay openings are effective.
Take a look at these common ways to start an essay:
Share a shocking or amusing fact
One way to start your essay is with a shocking, unexpected, or amusing fact about the topic you’re covering. This grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to read further, expecting explanation, context, and/or elaboration on the fact you presented.
Check out these essay introduction examples that use relevant, engaging facts to capture the reader’s attention:
“More than half of Iceland’s population believe that elves exist or that they possibly can exist. Although this might sound strange to foreigners, many of us have similar beliefs that would sound just as strange to those outside our cultures.”
“Undergraduate students involved in federal work-study programs earn an average of just $1,794 per year. That’s just slightly more than the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in our city.”
Relevance is key here. Make sure the fact you choose directly relates to the topic you’re covering in your essay. Otherwise, it will feel random, confusing, or at best, shoehorned into the essay. In any case, it will undermine your essay as a whole by making it seem like you don’t have a full grasp on your topic.
If you’re writing an expository or persuasive essay , including a shocking or amusing fact in your introduction can be a great way to pique your reader’s curiosity. The fact you present can be one that supports the position you argue in the essay or it can be part of the body of data your expository essay explains.
Ask a question
By asking a question in your essay opening, you’re directly inviting the reader to interact with your work. They don’t get to be a passive consumer; they’re now part of the conversation. This can be a very engaging way to start an essay.
Take a look at these examples of essay openings that use questions to hook readers:
“How many times have you been late to class because you couldn’t find parking? You’re not alone—our campus is in desperate need of a new parking deck.”
“How frequently do you shop at fast fashion retailers? These retailers include H&M, Zara, Uniqlo and other brands that specialize in inexpensive clothing meant for short-term use.”
Asking a question is an effective choice for a persuasive essay because it asks the reader to insert themselves into the topic or even pick a side. While it can also work in other kinds of essays, it really shines in any essay that directly addresses the reader and puts them in a position to reflect on what you’re asking.
Dramatize a scene
Another effective way to write an essay introduction is to dramatize a scene related to your essay. Generally, this approach is best used with creative essays, like personal statements and literary essays. Here are a few examples of essay introductions that immerse readers in the action through dramatized scenes:
“The rain pounded against the roof, loudly drowning out any conversations we attempted to have. I’d promised them I’d play the latest song I wrote for guitar, but Mother Earth prevented any concert from happening that night.”
“Imagine you’ve just gotten off an airplane. You’re hot, you’re tired, you’re uncomfortable, and suddenly, you’re under arrest.”
Beyond creative essays, this kind of opening can work when you’re using emotional appeal to underscore your position in a persuasive essay. It’s also a great tool for a dramatic essay, and could be just the first of multiple dramatized scenes throughout the piece.
Kick it off with a quote
When you’re wondering how to write an essay introduction, remember that you can always borrow wisdom from other writers. This is a powerful way to kick off any kind of essay. Take a look at these examples:
“‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’ —William Faulkner. In his novel Requiem for a Nun , our changing perspective of the past is a primary theme.”
“‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ —Nelson Mandela. Before I joined the military, boot camp seemed impossible. But now, it’s done.”
Just as in choosing a fact or statistic to open your essay, any quote you choose needs to be relevant to your essay’s topic . If your reader has to perform a web search for your quote to figure out how it relates to the rest of your essay, it’s not relevant enough to use. Go with another quote that your text can easily explain.
State your thesis directly
The most straightforward kind of essay introduction is one where you simply state your thesis. Take a look at these examples:
“Fraternity culture is dangerous and contrary to campus values. Banning it is in the campus community’s best interest.”
“We can’t afford to ignore the evidence any longer; we need climate action now.”
How to write an essay introduction
Pick the right tone for your essay.
You probably shouldn’t use a funny quote to start a persuasive essay on a serious subject. Similarly, a statistic that can evoke strong emotions in the reader might not be the right choice for an expository essay because it could potentially be construed as your attempt to argue for a certain viewpoint, rather than state facts.
Read your essay’s first paragraph aloud and listen to your writing’s tone. Does the opening line’s tone match the rest of the paragraph, or is there a noticeable tone shift from the first line or two to the rest? In many cases, you can hear whether your tone is appropriate for your essay. Beyond listening for the right tone, use Grammarly’s tone detector to ensure that your essay introduction—as well as the rest of your essay—maintains the right tone for the subject you’re covering.
When you’re stuck, work backwards
Starting an essay can be difficult. If you find yourself so caught up on how to write an essay introduction that you’re staring at a blank screen as the clock ticks closer to your deadline, skip the introduction and move onto your essay’s body paragraphs . Once you have some text on the page, it can be easier to go back and write an introduction that leads into that content.
You may even want to start from the very end of your essay. If you know where your essay is going, but not necessarily how it will get there, write your conclusion first. Then, write the paragraph that comes right before your conclusion. Next, write the paragraph before that, working your way backwards until you’re in your introduction paragraph. By then, writing an effective essay introduction should be easy because you already have the content you need to introduce.
Polish your essays until they shine
Got a draft of a great essay? Awesome! But don’t hit “submit” just yet—you’re only halfway to the finish line. Make sure you’re always submitting your best work by using Grammarly to catch misspelled words, grammar mistakes, and places where you can swap in different words to improve your writing’s clarity.
Is It Good To Start An Essay With A Question?
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Can I Start An Essay With A Question
An effective introductory paragraph lets the reader know what your essay is about and it encourages them to keep reading. At iWriteEssays.com we will give you some ways that you can use to start your essay effectively. We also specialize in custom essay writing and we write all essays and term papers for all academic levels.
Different ways to start your essay include:
- Pose a question related to your subject and then answer it or invite your readers to answer it.
- State your thesis briefly and directly but avoid making a bald announcement.
- State an interesting fact about your subject.
- Present your thesis as a recent discovery or revelation.
- Briefly describe the place that serves as the primary setting of your essay.
- Recount an incident that dramatizes your subject.
- Use the narrative strategy of delay: put off identifying your subject just long enough to pique your reader’s interest without frustrating them.
- Using the rhetorical present tense, relate an incident from the past as if it were happening now.
- Briefly describe a process that leads into your subject.
- Reveal a secret about yourself or make a candid observation about your subject.
- Open with a riddle, joke or humorous quotation, and show how it reveals something about your subject.
- Offer a contrast between past and present that leads to your thesis.
- Offer a contrast between image and reality, that is, between a common misconception and the opposing truth.
- Write something controversial at the start of the essay.
- Say something short and shocking.
- Cite a famous quote.
- Present a short narrative.
- Start by quoting a surprising statistic.
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How to Begin an Essay: 13 Engaging Strategies
ThoughtCo / Hugo Lin
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
An effective introductory paragraph both informs and motivates. It lets readers know what your essay is about and it encourages them to keep reading.
There are countless ways to begin an essay effectively. As a start, here are 13 introductory strategies accompanied by examples from a wide range of professional writers.
State Your Thesis Briefly and Directly
But avoid making your thesis a bald announcement, such as "This essay is about...".
"It is time, at last, to speak the truth about Thanksgiving, and the truth is this. Thanksgiving is really not such a terrific holiday...." (Michael J. Arlen, "Ode to Thanksgiving." The Camera Age: Essays on Television . Penguin, 1982)
Pose a Question Related to Your Subject
Follow up the question with an answer, or an invitation for your readers to answer the question.
"What is the charm of necklaces? Why would anyone put something extra around their neck and then invest it with special significance? A necklace doesn't afford warmth in cold weather, like a scarf, or protection in combat, like chain mail; it only decorates. We might say, it borrows meaning from what it surrounds and sets off, the head with its supremely important material contents, and the face, that register of the soul. When photographers discuss the way in which a photograph reduces the reality it represents, they mention not only the passage from three dimensions to two, but also the selection of a point de vue that favors the top of the body rather than the bottom, and the front rather than the back. The face is the jewel in the crown of the body, and so we give it a setting." (Emily R. Grosholz, "On Necklaces." Prairie Schooner , Summer 2007)
State an Interesting Fact About Your Subject
" The peregrine falcon was brought back from the brink of extinction by a ban on DDT, but also by a peregrine falcon mating hat invented by an ornithologist at Cornell University. If you cannot buy this, Google it. Female falcons had grown dangerously scarce. A few wistful males nevertheless maintained a sort of sexual loitering ground. The hat was imagined, constructed, and then forthrightly worn by the ornithologist as he patrolled this loitering ground, singing, Chee-up! Chee-up! and bowing like an overpolite Japanese Buddhist trying to tell somebody goodbye...." (David James Duncan, "Cherish This Ecstasy." The Sun , July 2008)
Present Your Thesis as a Recent Discovery or Revelation
"I've finally figured out the difference between neat people and sloppy people. The distinction is, as always, moral. Neat people are lazier and meaner than sloppy people." (Suzanne Britt Jordan, "Neat People vs. Sloppy People." Show and Tell . Morning Owl Press, 1983)
Briefly Describe the Primary Setting of Your Essay
"It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages. Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped round them. These were the condemned men, due to be hanged within the next week or two." (George Orwell, "A Hanging," 1931)
Recount an Incident That Dramatizes Your Subject
"One October afternoon three years ago while I was visiting my parents, my mother made a request I dreaded and longed to fulfill. She had just poured me a cup of Earl Grey from her Japanese iron teapot, shaped like a little pumpkin; outside, two cardinals splashed in the birdbath in the weak Connecticut sunlight. Her white hair was gathered at the nape of her neck, and her voice was low. “Please help me get Jeff’s pacemaker turned off,” she said, using my father’s first name. I nodded, and my heart knocked." (Katy Butler, "What Broke My Father's Heart." The New York Times Magazine , June 18, 2010)
Use the Narrative Strategy of Delay
The narrative strategy of delay allows you to put off identifying your subject just long enough to pique your readers' interest without frustrating them.
"They woof. Though I have photographed them before, I have never heard them speak, for they are mostly silent birds. Lacking a syrinx, the avian equivalent of the human larynx, they are incapable of song. According to field guides the only sounds they make are grunts and hisses, though the Hawk Conservancy in the United Kingdom reports that adults may utter a croaking coo and that young black vultures, when annoyed, emit a kind of immature snarl...." (Lee Zacharias, "Buzzards." Southern Humanities Review , 2007)
Use the Historical Present Tense
An effective method of beginning an essay is to use historical present tense to relate an incident from the past as if it were happening now.
"Ben and I are sitting side by side in the very back of his mother’s station wagon. We face glowing white headlights of cars following us, our sneakers pressed against the back hatch door. This is our joy—his and mine—to sit turned away from our moms and dads in this place that feels like a secret, as though they are not even in the car with us. They have just taken us out to dinner, and now we are driving home. Years from this evening, I won’t actually be sure that this boy sitting beside me is named Ben. But that doesn’t matter tonight. What I know for certain right now is that I love him, and I need to tell him this fact before we return to our separate houses, next door to each other. We are both five." (Ryan Van Meter, "First." The Gettysburg Review , Winter 2008)
Briefly Describe a Process That Leads Into Your Subject
"I like to take my time when I pronounce someone dead. The bare-minimum requirement is one minute with a stethoscope pressed to someone’s chest, listening for a sound that is not there; with my fingers bearing down on the side of someone’s neck, feeling for an absent pulse; with a flashlight beamed into someone’s fixed and dilated pupils, waiting for the constriction that will not come. If I’m in a hurry, I can do all of these in sixty seconds, but when I have the time, I like to take a minute with each task." (Jane Churchon, "The Dead Book." The Sun , February 2009)
Reveal a Secret or Make a Candid Observation
"I spy on my patients. Ought not a doctor to observe his patients by any means and from any stance, that he might the more fully assemble evidence? So I stand in doorways of hospital rooms and gaze. Oh, it is not all that furtive an act. Those in bed need only look up to discover me. But they never do." ( Richard Selzer , "The Discus Thrower." Confessions of a Knife . Simon & Schuster, 1979)
Open with a Riddle, Joke, or Humorous Quotation
You can use a riddle , joke, or humorous quotation to reveal something about your subject.
" Q: What did Eve say to Adam on being expelled from the Garden of Eden? A: 'I think we're in a time of transition.' The irony of this joke is not lost as we begin a new century and anxieties about social change seem rife. The implication of this message, covering the first of many periods of transition, is that change is normal; there is, in fact, no era or society in which change is not a permanent feature of the social landscape...." (Betty G. Farrell, Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture . Westview Press, 1999)
Offer a Contrast Between Past and Present
"As a child, I was made to look out the window of a moving car and appreciate the beautiful scenery, with the result that now I don't care much for nature. I prefer parks, ones with radios going chuckawaka chuckawaka and the delicious whiff of bratwurst and cigarette smoke." (Garrison Keillor, "Walking Down The Canyon." Time , July 31, 2000)
Offer a Contrast Between Image and Reality
A compelling essay can begin with a contrast between a common misconception and the opposing truth.
"They aren’t what most people think they are. Human eyes, touted as ethereal objects by poets and novelists throughout history, are nothing more than white spheres, somewhat larger than your average marble, covered by a leather-like tissue known as sclera and filled with nature’s facsimile of Jell-O. Your beloved’s eyes may pierce your heart, but in all likelihood they closely resemble the eyes of every other person on the planet. At least I hope they do, for otherwise he or she suffers from severe myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), or worse...." (John Gamel, "The Elegant Eye." Alaska Quarterly Review , 2009)
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- How to write an essay introduction | 4 steps & examples
How to Write an Essay Introduction | 4 Steps & Examples
Published on February 4, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 23, 2023.
A good introduction paragraph is an essential part of any academic essay . It sets up your argument and tells the reader what to expect.
The main goals of an introduction are to:
- Catch your reader’s attention.
- Give background on your topic.
- Present your thesis statement —the central point of your essay.
This introduction example is taken from our interactive essay example on the history of Braille.
The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.
Table of contents
Step 1: hook your reader, step 2: give background information, step 3: present your thesis statement, step 4: map your essay’s structure, step 5: check and revise, more examples of essay introductions, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about the essay introduction.
Your first sentence sets the tone for the whole essay, so spend some time on writing an effective hook.
Avoid long, dense sentences—start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader’s curiosity.
The hook should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of the topic you’re writing about and why it’s interesting. Avoid overly broad claims or plain statements of fact.
Examples: Writing a good hook
Take a look at these examples of weak hooks and learn how to improve them.
- Braille was an extremely important invention.
- The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.
The first sentence is a dry fact; the second sentence is more interesting, making a bold claim about exactly why the topic is important.
- The internet is defined as “a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities.”
- The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education.
Avoid using a dictionary definition as your hook, especially if it’s an obvious term that everyone knows. The improved example here is still broad, but it gives us a much clearer sense of what the essay will be about.
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a famous book from the nineteenth century.
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement.
Instead of just stating a fact that the reader already knows, the improved hook here tells us about the mainstream interpretation of the book, implying that this essay will offer a different interpretation.
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Next, give your reader the context they need to understand your topic and argument. Depending on the subject of your essay, this might include:
- Historical, geographical, or social context
- An outline of the debate you’re addressing
- A summary of relevant theories or research about the topic
- Definitions of key terms
The information here should be broad but clearly focused and relevant to your argument. Don’t give too much detail—you can mention points that you will return to later, but save your evidence and interpretation for the main body of the essay.
How much space you need for background depends on your topic and the scope of your essay. In our Braille example, we take a few sentences to introduce the topic and sketch the social context that the essay will address:
Now it’s time to narrow your focus and show exactly what you want to say about the topic. This is your thesis statement —a sentence or two that sums up your overall argument.
This is the most important part of your introduction. A good thesis isn’t just a statement of fact, but a claim that requires evidence and explanation.
The goal is to clearly convey your own position in a debate or your central point about a topic.
Particularly in longer essays, it’s helpful to end the introduction by signposting what will be covered in each part. Keep it concise and give your reader a clear sense of the direction your argument will take.
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As you research and write, your argument might change focus or direction as you learn more.
For this reason, it’s often a good idea to wait until later in the writing process before you write the introduction paragraph—it can even be the very last thing you write.
When you’ve finished writing the essay body and conclusion , you should return to the introduction and check that it matches the content of the essay.
It’s especially important to make sure your thesis statement accurately represents what you do in the essay. If your argument has gone in a different direction than planned, tweak your thesis statement to match what you actually say.
To polish your writing, you can use something like a paraphrasing tool .
You can use the checklist below to make sure your introduction does everything it’s supposed to.
Checklist: Essay introduction
My first sentence is engaging and relevant.
I have introduced the topic with necessary background information.
I have defined any important terms.
My thesis statement clearly presents my main point or argument.
Everything in the introduction is relevant to the main body of the essay.
You have a strong introduction - now make sure the rest of your essay is just as good.
- Literary analysis
This introduction to an argumentative essay sets up the debate about the internet and education, and then clearly states the position the essay will argue for.
The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts is on the rise, and its role in learning is hotly debated. For many teachers who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its critical benefits for students and educators—as a uniquely comprehensive and accessible information source; a means of exposure to and engagement with different perspectives; and a highly flexible learning environment.
This introduction to a short expository essay leads into the topic (the invention of the printing press) and states the main point the essay will explain (the effect of this invention on European society).
In many ways, the invention of the printing press marked the end of the Middle Ages. The medieval period in Europe is often remembered as a time of intellectual and political stagnation. Prior to the Renaissance, the average person had very limited access to books and was unlikely to be literate. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century allowed for much less restricted circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.
This introduction to a literary analysis essay , about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein , starts by describing a simplistic popular view of the story, and then states how the author will give a more complex analysis of the text’s literary devices.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale. Arguably the first science fiction novel, its plot can be read as a warning about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, and in popular culture representations of the character as a “mad scientist”, Victor Frankenstein represents the callous, arrogant ambition of modern science. However, far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to gradually transform our impression of Frankenstein, portraying him in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:
- An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
- Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
- A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.
The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .
The “hook” is the first sentence of your essay introduction . It should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of why it’s interesting.
To write a good hook, avoid overly broad statements or long, dense sentences. Try to start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader’s curiosity.
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:
- It gives your writing direction and focus.
- It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.
Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.
The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.
The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.
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Can You Ask Questions in an Essay? (What You Should Know)
by Antony W
February 28, 2023
Essays are argumentative in nature. You must take a stance on an issue and use evidence and reason to convince an audience that your point of view if ultimately the most convincing. But can you ask questions in an essay?
You can ask questions in an essay provided they lead to an idea or concrete answers. If you don’t intend to give an answer to a question, don’t ask. Also, instead of asking a direct rhetorical question, consider using a rhetorical statement.
We tend to shy away from asking questions in essay because it’s hardly the intention. We emphasize more on answering questions and investigating issues, as these are what readers want.
However, there may be instances when it makes sense to ask questions. So we’ll look at two things in this guide:
- Why you should not ask questions in an essay
- When it makes sense to ask questions in an essay
What is the Goal of Essay Writing?
An essay is a type of an assignment intended to draw people to engage to your argument and consider your position, even if what you stand for conflicts with their beliefs.
If you can get your audience to read your essay, you’ll have communicated and met your goal.
Essay writing is a process that starts with in-depth research, identification of relevant sources, and development of an outline to organize thoughts and ideas. Moving further, you have to grab readers’ attention with a strong and arguable hook and develop a strong statement of declaration that gives them the spark to read on.
Because essay writing is about drawing readers in on a significant issue, asking questions may add little value to the context. Still, it helps to learn when to ask a question and when not to do so at all.
Can You Ask Questions in an Essay?
Sometimes the temptation to ask questions in an essay feels almost irresistible. However, including questions in formal writing is a bad idea and it’s therefore something you want to avoid.
From an academics standpoint, here’s why it’s a bad idea to ask questions in an essay:
1. Don’t Ask Questions You Don’t Intend to Answer
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when writing an essay is to ask questions you don’t have the intention to answer.
It leaves a reader with a why or so what question, which is annoying.
Readers need answers to the research question that you proposed to explore. Therefore, every idea you introduce, every word you write, and every answer you give must contribute toward answering the question.
2. Questions Make Readers Lose Focus
If you ask questions in an essay and not answer them, you leave every reader hanging on a cliff with no clear direction.
So if you raise a question in your assignment, ensure you tell your reader why your essay cannot resolve or give a convincing response to the question.
Don’t just give a general answer simply because you don’t want to provoke the reader. Instead, focus on giving useful insights to the arguments you’re trying to build.
- Can You Start an Essay with a Quote?
When to Ask Questions in an Essay
While we maintain a strong stand that you should avoid asking questions in an essay, there are instances when it makes sense to do so.
In the Introduction
An introduction is the most important part of an essay. It’s also the hardest part of the assignment.
If you think about it, the human attention span dropped from 12 to 8 seconds , which means you have a small window of opportunity to convince your audience that your essay is worth reading.
The best and the most effective way to grab their attention fast for the first 8 seconds is to start your essay with a hook. Asking a question can come in quite handy here since it can easily hook them in. Then, you can give a clear answer to the question in the body part of your essay.
If Followed by an Answer
Don’t be the student who asks questions in an essay and then leave it to the readers to figure out the answer. That can be so provocative that it forces your instructor to a point of losing the interest to read the essay. If you have to ask a question, make sure you follow it with an answer.
Remember, questions without answers are just but filler words in an essay. Not to mention that sometimes they can act as a trap that transfers the responsibility of answering the question from a writer to a reader, which is very unacceptable.
One last thing to keep in mind is that you should ask questions only if it’s necessary. Often, less is more, and given that your audience needs answers more than they expect to see questions in your essay.
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About the author
Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.
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Step 6: Introductory Paragraph
- Step 5 Essay Thesis Statement
- 2: Research
- 3: Planning
- 6: Introduction
- 8: Conclusion
- 9: Quotes/Citations
- 10: Works Cited Page
- 12: Samples
- 14: Downloads
- Step 7 Essay Body
The essay introduction paragraph is the first impression that your reader has of your work, so it's important to start it off on the right foot. The main purpose of an introduction is to give the reader a brief overview of the topic at hand and then address how you plan on addressing the question or proving your point. Exactly how it's written or what needs to be in there heavily depends on the length of the essay and type. But the sample essay introduction paragraphs showed should be enough guidance to get you going in the right direction. This section of the Ultius essay writing guide is going to go over the most common and best type of introduction: the funneling method.
When you write your essay introduction paragraph, make sure your paragraph is focused and contains just the right amount of information. To keep your writing focused, select a length for your introduction and stick to it when you draft your essay. Exactly how long should your introduction be? This will depend on the total length of your paper and the essay type. For essays that are longer than ten pages, you will most likely need a longer introduction paragraph to fully introduce your topic. Technical essays or research-intensive essays might also require additional length to clearly explain complex topics. In both cases, your introductory paragraph still should not exceed one full double-spaced page. If you are writing an essay that is shorter than five pages and that is introducing a very simple subject, it is better to limit your introduction to half of a double-spaced page. Once you have decided on your paragraph length, you can organize your paragraph so that it fits within the selected parameters.
Tip: As a rule of thumb, your introduction should always be less than 20% of your total paper.
Writing an Essay Introduction - The Funneling Method
This style for writing an intro is exactly as it sounds: it funnels from broad to specific. The funneling method starts broadly and then narrows down the time/place, any relevant key terms or historical information and then gives the reader your main point, or thesis statement. The subject matter of each sentence therefore gets more specific as you go. If you're curious about how long your introduction should be, the rule of thumb is that it should be 20% of your total paper. So, a five page essay should have an introduction that is roughly one page. Anything less than 5 pages should not be more than 1 paragraph. It may seem tempting to include a longer introduction with more "fluff," but this isn't a good idea as your professor can sniff it out and it will reduce the overall quality of your writing.
The Funneling Method
1. Start with a broad statement
2. Narrow down to a time and place
3. Define key terms or give important background information
4. Thesis statement
To see how the funneling method works, think about how you would write your paragraph line-by-line. When you use the funneling method, you will start with a broad statement for your opening sentence. The key is to make a general statement about the essay topic in your sentence. Here is an example of a broad sentence that could be used to introduce an essay on the War on Terrorism:
“The War on Terror is a critical component of United States national security strategy.”
This sentence serves as a broad opening because it addresses the topic, the War on Terror, without being too specific in its focus. The second step in the funneling method is to narrow your topic to a specific time or place.
Tip: Use freewriting to generate ideas for topics. Write down any ideas you have that relate to the topic and just write about them for a few minutes.
The following sentence demonstrates this step using our War on Terror example:
“Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, counterterrorism has become a central focus of United States foreign policy.”
This sentence of the essay introduction focuses the topic by specifying that the topic addresses the time period following September 11, 2001. It also narrows down the place by signaling that the paper will focus on United States foreign policy. The third step in the funneling method is to define key terms or provide important background information. This sentence fulfills this step by defining the concept of terrorism:
“While terrorism has many definitions, it is commonly understood as the use of violence targeting civilians to achieve a political goal.”,
Keep in mind that it might take several sentences to provide the necessary definitions and background information to your reader. For this step, it is important to consider everything that your reader will need to know to understand your topic and appreciate the argument in your thesis.
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Tip: Having a difficult time focusing your thoughts? Take a break and write down the main points you are trying to make and compare it to the structure of your introduction. If you're going off topic, you need to keep things concise.
After you have carefully brought your reader up to speed on the background of your topic, the final step of the funneling method is to write your thesis statement. The thesis statement, the last part of the essay introduction, simply highlights the arguments that you will make in your essay. The following sentence is a thesis statement for our War on Terror topic:
“Though counterterrorism is critical to saving civilian lives, the War on Terror can be considered a failure in foreign policy because it precipitated unnecessary wars, galvanized pro-terrorist organizations, and alienated the United States from its allies.”
As this example demonstrates, the thesis statement can be written in one sentence. While the thesis can be written in multiple sentences, it is advisable to keep it as short as possible to avoid confusing your reader.
By following the four steps of the funneling method, you will introduce your reader to your topic, specify the focus of your topic, clarify any confusing terms, and present the argument of your essay. When you use the funneling method, you ensure that every sentence is put to good use in your essay introduction.
Getting the Reader to Pay Attention
When your grade is on the line, you don’t want your professor yawning before he or she even reaches the body of your essay. A bored professor might rush through grading your essay or overlook your main points, which could cause you to receive a lower grade. Using an attention grabber will engage your reader and make your essay more enjoyable. Consider these strategies to grab your professor’s attention from the first sentence:
Ask a Question
Will asking a question grab your reader’s attention? Yes. When you begin your introduction paragraph with a thought-provoking question it forces the reader to pause and consider the answer. By asking questions in your essay introduction, you force your reader to pay closer attention to your writing. If you use this strategy, just be sure to keep your question simple and related to the topic of the essay. Though you want to slow your reader down, you also don’t want to confuse them or distract them from the rest of your essay.
Use a Quotation
A profound quote from an expert on your topic can serve the dual purposes of capturing your reader’s attention and building your credibility. Quotations in your introductory paragraph will stand out simply because the voice of the person who is quoted will contrast with your writing style. Who the quotation is from is often more important than what the quotation is saying. When you select a quotation, be sure to quote renowned figures. For example, if you were writing an essay on the Supreme Court, a quote from a Supreme Court justice would be more interesting to your reader than a quote from an unknown law professor.
Tip: Unclear on how to effectively integrate quotes and citations? Visit our page on essay quotes and citations for further explanation.
A hook is an interesting statement that piques the interest of your reader. As the name suggests, the purpose of the hook is to figuratively “hook” your reader and compel them to continue reading your essay introduction. Startling statistics are among the most effective hooks. For example, if your paper is on obesity, you might include a shocking statistic that demonstrates the high prevalence of obesity in the United States. When you open your essay with an interesting fact, you can return to your hook and refer to it in the body of your essay. An effective hook can be referred to repeatedly in order to regain the attention of your reader. It takes practice to write an effective hook, but once you get it down, you will keep your reader hanging on to your essay until the very last word.
Use an Anecdote
Many times, it is more effective to show rather than tell your reader the importance of your topic. An anecdote is a story that can be used to illustrate a point that you are trying to make in your introductory paragraph. For example, if you want to explain the importance of cancer research, you might begin your introduction with a story about a cancer survivor who benefited from treatment. An essay on the importance of fraud protection laws might begin with a story about a senior citizen who was swindled out of his retirement savings by a con artist. A carefully selected anecdote can appeal to the emotions of your reader and increase their interest in your topic.
Though any one of the attention grabbers will improve your essay introduction, you should use a combination of attention grabbers to really strengthen the impact. In longer introductions, several well-placed attention grabbers will keep your professor awake and interested in your essay.
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Essay Writing: Everything You Need to Know and Nothing You Don’t—Part 1: How to Begin
Essay Writing Part 1: How to Begin
This guide will explain everything you need to know about how to organise, research and write an argumentative essay. It is also available as a video on Capstone Editing's YouTube channel .
I developed this method as a tertiary student and perfected it as an academic. I have taught this system to hundreds of students who have used it successfully to improve their grades and refine their writing skills.
If you are a first-year student, you might think it is easier to skip some of these steps now when you are writing essays as short as 1,000 words. For example, you might be able to read a few sources without noting them and still remember what you read and where. However, it is important to develop sound research and writing skills and practices now so they are already in place as you progress in your studies and start working on longer and more complicated essays.
One of the benefits of using this method is that every step builds on the one before it, so you don’t feel as if you are starting from scratch when it comes to actually writing the first draft of your essay. Another is that it allows you to use your time effectively. You will not end up repeating work, for example, going back to search for page numbers. Importantly, it will also help you to avoid unintentional plagiarism, which can occur when students use poor research practices.
An argumentative essay (mostly used in the humanities and social sciences) is an essay that puts forward an academic argument, called a thesis statement, in answer to an essay question. This argument must be supported by academic sources (references). You are expected to form your own opinion and argue why it is correct.
This is a different type of essay to an explanatory or descriptive essay, which explains or describes a process or topic in answer to an essay question.
Analyse the question
It is very important that you understand what is being asked of you before you begin researching and writing your essay.
- Example: argue, discuss, compare or analyse.
- Example: What were the most significant logistic issues confronting European armies in the period 1100–1815 and how were these resolved?
- Example: Are there ‘ eastern ’ and ‘ western ’ schools of military strategy? Why? Do you know what period you are being asked to write about? What countries or what themes? Does ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ refer to Eastern and Western Europe, or to Europe and China?
If you are writing your own essay question, you need to design a question that allows you to make an argument to answer it. The questions above invite an argument. A question that would not allow an argument to be made in answer is: ‘What are two definitions of eastern and western military strategy?’ (This would be an explanatory or descriptive essay instead.)
If there is anything you are unsure about in relation to the essay question, it is vital that you clarify this with your lecturer or tutor before beginning any work.
Draft your rough essay plan
Developing a rough essay plan prior to beginning your research will provide you with direction and ensure you use your time effectively.
This plan will indicate the word count of sections you will write on particular topics, which will give you an idea of how much research you need to conduct to write those sections. It will also give you a structure that you can use to organise your research.
It is not intended that you will write a definitive essay plan at this point since you may not have in-depth knowledge of your topic yet. However, having attended lectures and (possibly a tutorial) on the topic, you will know enough to make a rough plan.
Below is an example of a rough essay plan. It lists the components of the essay (introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion), what the topics to be discussed are likely to be and in what order, and the approximate word count of each section. Note that in essays of fewer than 5,000 words, the introduction and conclusion are each normally 10% of the total word count of the essay. The remaining word count is usually divided evenly between the topics, which should be discussed in order of importance.
Question: ‘Was indigenous culture completely decimated in the Americas as a result of Spain’s colonisation in the 16th century?’ (1,000 words) Introduction (100 words) Thesis statement: Spain’s colonisation had a negative effect on the indigenous population of the Americas but some aspects of the culture of some indigenous groups survived—it was not completely decimated. Introduce main points or topics to be discussed: disease, language, art and craft, religion Topic 1: Disease and demographic impact (200 words) Topic 2: Language (200 words) Topic 3: Art and craft (200 words) Topic 4: Religion (200 words) Conclusion (100 words) Concluding statement: Thus, while Spain’s colonisation of the Americas had a negative impact on the culture of its indigenous peoples, it was not completely decimated, as some aspects survived. Sum up main points or topics that have been discussed: disease, language, art and craft, religion
You will develop and improve your rough plan as your research progresses so that once your research stage is completed, you will have a detailed, comprehensive and well-structured essay plan before you begin writing your first draft.
Planning your introduction and conclusion
As shown in the example essay plan above, for essays under 5,000 words, it is typical to allocate 10% of the word count of the essay (e.g. 100 words for an essay of 1,000 words) to both the introduction and the conclusion. This leaves 80% of the word count for the body of your essay.
An introduction must do two things: 1) make a clear statement that answers the essay question (i.e. your thesis statement) and 2) introduce the main points that your essay will make in support of your argument. You must introduce ALL the main points you will make. You cannot discuss any main point or topic in your essay that you have not included in your introduction. These topics should be listed in the order that you will discuss them in your essay.
Your conclusion must include the following information: 1) your thesis statement and 2) a summary of the main points that your essay made in support of your argument. Your conclusion is a reflection of your introduction but it should not repeat it exactly. Your conclusion must not contain any new information.
Planning the body of the essay and topic sentences
As mentioned above, if your introduction and conclusion will be 10% of your word count each, your body text should be around 80% of your word count. How these words are divided between the main topics depends on the relative importance of each topic. If your topics are equally important, you will devote an equal number of words to each and discuss them in the order that is most logical. If one of your topics is more important than the others, you will discuss it first and spend more words on it compared to the other topics. Likewise, if one of the points is less important than the others, it will be discussed last, in fewer words. Note that in addition to informing how you should divide your word count, the relative importance of your topics will also inform how long you spend researching them.
It is essential that each new paragraph begins with a topic sentence, to ensure your essay is well structured and that your reader can easily follow your arguments. A topic sentence must 1) introduce the new topic to be discussed and 2) clearly link the new topic to your thesis statement, making it obvious how the topic supports your argument.
By starting your research process with a clear understanding of the purpose of writing, and with some idea about the shape of the final essay, you will be in a better position to identify important information to include, what can be excluded, and how your argument can be refined and improved. This process of researching and refining is explained in detail in ‘ How to Organise Your Research ’, the second article in this series.
Essay writing part 2: how to organise your research.
Organising your research effectively is a crucial and often overlooked step to successful essay writing.
Essay Writing Part 3: How to Finalise Your Essay Plan
The key to successful essay writing is to finalise a detailed essay plan, carefully refined during the research stage, before beginning to write your essay.
How to Write the First Draft
By this stage, you will have a clear plan and all the information you need to write a well-structured essay, in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take.
Part 5: How to Finalise and Polish Your Essay
Before handing in any assignment, you must take the time to carefully edit and proofread it. This article explains exactly how to do so effectively.