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. follow the steps below to catch groove:
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.
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 or he 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 your obesity essay, you might follow your 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 it a broader context. For your vacation essay, you might follow your first sentence with something like this: “I was deep in the jungles of Sambisa, and I was lost in more ways than one.” This sentence tells the reader where the imagery in the first sentence comes from and pulls 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 your obesity essay, you 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.
Optionally, outline the structure of your essay. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to go one stepfurther 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 information upfront. For your obesity essay, you 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.
If necessary, include a thesis statement. In essay-writing, a thesis statement is a single sentence 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 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 your obesity essay, since you’re dealing with a serious topic and writing about it in a clinical, straightforward way, you might be fairly direct with your 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 the exact purpose of the essay.
Set an appropriate tone for your essay. In addition to being your space to discuss what you’re going to talk about, 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 the 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 to the topic at hand. Take a look at the sentences for the 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.
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 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 the sizzle and 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 your obesity essay, you 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.