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How to Start an Essay: Tips to Consider and Mistakes to Avoid

Believe it or not, but learning how to start an essay with a bang isn't as hard as it seems. All you need is to follow some actionable strategies described in this article. Keep reading this post and find out:

  • Good ways to make your opening powerful
  • Mistakes you should avoid when working on the essay's beginning
  • Decent examples that can be used for reference.

But before we break down the intricacies of crafting a catchy introduction, let's make sure we understand the basics.

How to Begin an Essay: Basics

An excellent opening paragraph is half the battle. Technically, an introduction is the most fundamental part of any academic essay. It presents a topic and makes the first impression about your writing. Make it irresistible, and your reader won't help but soak up the entire piece from cover to cover. Fail to do so, and your audience will put your essay away.

The primary purpose of an introduction is to:

  • Hook your reader
  • Offer context on the subject
  • Introduce your thesis statement

With this in mind, the first paragraph of your essay should be clear, informative, and attention-grabbing. Keep it concise — your intro part should be no more than 5-6 sentences long. Its perfect length allows you to impress the reader and prevents you from waffling.

Good Ways to Start an Essay

Now that you've gained insights about an effective introduction let's run through actionable ways to start an essay. From outlining thoughts to crafting a strong thesis, you will find smart solutions to any challenges you may face. So let's see how to create a jaw-dropping introduction.

1. Create Introduction Paragraph Outline

The writing process should start with building a logical introduction paragraph structure. There are no one-size-fits-all requirements to the outline for an essay. Depending on the type of essay, you can express your position towards the chosen topic (e.g., argumentative essay introduction). Likewise, you can also present an idea for further investigation (e.g., expository essay introduction).

But most academic experts agree on the three important parts every introductory paragraph should include. These are a captivating hook, informative background, and compelling thesis statement. So, before starting your essay, outline the core ideas according to the structure shown below.

Essay Introduction Structure

Since you are already familiar with the crucial introduction elements, let's walk through the other actionable tips.

2. Write a Hook

As mentioned before, you should write a good hook or use powerful words to start an essay. This single sentence defines how successful your piece will be. It helps grab the reader's attention and that’s exactly what you should aim. For this reason, you'll need some extra time to create a catchy hook.

Students who try to amaze their professors by writing long, complex opening sentences make a huge mistake. Instead, you should opt for a succinct and straightforward hook. Your job is to arouse that thirst for reading the rest of your essay.

Here are several hook strategies that can help make your introduction irresistible:

  1. Using an interesting fact. And by interesting details, we mean any shocking information representing your topic in an unusual way. Avoid overused statistics and numbers, though — there is nothing special about facts common in your subject study. Sensational details that seem unrelated at first glance will work; it's about how you connect them together.
  2. Telling the outcome without revealing a secret. Let's say you're sharing your personal experience. While beginning from afar is all well and good, but why not tell what comes in the end first? How did your story finish? As you do so, avoid spoilers — keep your audience intrigued without giving away a surprise.
  3. Provide some space for contrast. Beginning your essay with contrast between opposing opinions can help entice your reader. Don't insult your audience with intense confrontation. Instead, your essay starter should work as an encouraging trigger, making your readers reconsider common stereotypes.

Hooking the Reader: Examples

Let's look at some examples below to get an idea of how weak hooks can be fixed.

Technology is the use of scientific knowledge for developing equipment and practices that can be applied in the modern industries.
Technology has had a groundbreaking effect on the modern industries, including the educational field.

As you can see, the first sentence is a boring definition that will definitely make your reader yawn. The second example is a good essay hook since it clearly states what you will discuss.

Recent trends have caused changes in traditional education.
The COVID-19 pandemic is showing why online education should be a crucial part of the learning process.

While the first example is relatively brief, it lacks precise information. It's not clear from the first sentence what "recent trends" the writer is talking about. The latter sample is more specific.
Besides, it bridges the gap between two separate things — "pandemic" and "online education".

3. Provide Background Information

At this stage, you should figure out what background information is necessary to introduce your topic. Your main point here is to offer some context. You can use any basic information on the subject, such as:

  • Historical, scientific, or geographical facts
  • Brief research question overview
  • Interpretation of critical points

In this section, you should walk a fine line between stating general facts and keeping your writing focused on a specific topic. Avoid unnecessary or too narrow details — you will have a chance to explore your key points in the body part. Remember that your background shouldn't exceed 2-3 sentences.

4. Introduce a Thesis

Now that you know how to give the proper context, we will shed more light on presenting a thesis statement. It should be 1-2 sentences long which is enough to state your main argument.

Be direct and stay on point. A claim that you make in this introduction's part works as a base for the whole essay. Clearly express your viewpoint on the topic or state specific ideas that you will explore. Again, a bold claim (e.g., "In this essay I will tell you about…", or "This essay covers…") isn't something you want to write.

Starting an Essay: Mistakes to Avoid

Chances are you've heard that integrating a quote or asking a rhetorical question are great ways to start an essay. Those students who really believe that these techniques work in 100% of cases are mistaken, and we'll explain why.

There is nothing easier than coming up with a question or copy-pasting some dictionary definitions. In fact, these are just shortcuts that fit more high-school writing. When in college or university, you probably want to approach introduction in a more sophisticated way. In addition, many students misuse these techniques creating perfect opportunities for mistakes.

Let's see what can be wrong with some common strategies and how to fix these issues.

How to Start an Essay with a Quote

If you want to start an essay with a quote and not sound too ordinary, here's an expert tip: pick a unique quotation tailored to the chosen subject. Using quotes in the introduction is a common practice, but the majority misuse them. Consequently, teachers end up reading lots of pieces that begin with irrelevant quotations.

Avoid cliche sayings and proverbs unless you want to exhaust your readers. Find an extraordinary quote related to your thesis statement.

How to Start an Essay with a Question

Another idea to open an essay is posing a rhetorical question. This device is widely taught at school since it's an easy way to engage your readers and provide some food for thought. But don't get trapped in choosing a question with a too evident answer. In addition, such approach may be unsuitable in college-level research; it's more common in narrative writing.

One simple rule you should remember— any question you ask in the introduction should be unusual and resonate with a thesis statement.

Can I Begin an Essay with a Definition

Some students may wonder whether it's worth starting an essay with a definition. The answer is yes and no. Don't define a term that everyone is familiar with. Teachers don't need the interpretation of apparent concepts (such as "friendship" or "education"). After all, you want your reader to take your writing seriously.

It makes sense to include a brief explanation if your essay focuses on a complicated subject or exotic phenomenon.

How to Open an Essay with an Anecdote

An opening sentence for an essay starting with an anecdote, joke, or fun fact is a great way to set a friendly tone. A little fun story serves two purposes: it demonstrates your argument while engaging the reader. Such essay starters are widely used in narrative and descriptive writing. However, using this technique in academic research would be inappropriate.

Begin your essay in a humorous way only when it fits the context and aligns with the main subject.

Final Thoughts

As you can see beginning an essay isn’t that complicated; it just takes some time and practice to nail it. You should get ready for testing which tactic works best. Explore what strategies do help engage your reader and apply them next time. But before submitting an essay, double-check it for grammar mistakes. Believe, no tactic will work if the final piece is full of errors.

In case you don’t have much time to create an appealing introduction or just need extra assistance with academic writing, entrust your assignment to our expert writers. They are always here for you to jump-start any essay and deliver the final piece that’s beyond all expectations.
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Daniel Howard is an Essay Writing guru. He helps students create essays that will strike a chord with the readers.

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