How to start an essay

How to Start an Essay: Your Ultimate Guide to a Winning Introduction

When I was a student, I read and wrote a lot of essays, more essays than I could count until I learned how to write them successfully.

I cannot name a single professor who tried to make the process easier. Once, one of them even told me that he didn’t bother reading the rest of my essay because the opening was not good enough.

That was embarrassing, you know.    

This brought me to an important point: when you don’t even know how to start an essay, it’s impossible to write a successful one.

When no one teaches you how to start the paper, you’re left in a miserable situation of consistent efforts that don’t deliver good results.

Let’s change that! This is a detailed guide on how to compose essay introductions that work. Once you get that first paragraph written, it will be easier to move on.

How to start an essay guy working gif

Why It’s Important to Learn How to Start an Essay

  • It’s your only chance to make a first impression. If the intro is not catchy enough, the reader might stop wasting their time.
  • The introduction exposes your main argument. It tells what the essay is about.
  • This is the section that reflects your writing style and the overall quality of the essay. It’s where you position the most important part (the thesis statement).
  • In the introduction, you get a chance to trigger the reader’s interest in an intellectual conversation.

Before You Start Your Essay, There’s an Important Issue to Think about: The Topic

Make sure your essay has a good topic

Before you start writing the essay introduction, you have to think about the actual topic.

You cannot just name your essay An Essay on the U.S. Educational System. Are you wondering why?

  • That essay topic is boring.
  • What could you possibly write in an essay named An Essay on the U.S. Educational System? Can you tackle each and every issue related to the system in a single paper?

Of course not! You could write an entire book and you’d still have other issues to cover.

You have to narrow down the title of your essay!

You need to think about aspects related to the general theme.

What gets your interest in the U.S. educational system?

At this point, you could brainstorm.

These are only a few examples of the ideas you could come up with:

    • Free education / benefits and disadvantages
    • Drawbacks of online courses
    • Uniforms at college
    • Do academic grades reflect true knowledge and skills?

If, for example, you like the theme Uniforms at college, you could make it even more specific:

    • Would uniforms contribute towards greater equality among college students?
    • Do college uniforms kill a student’s individuality?

Now we’re really getting somewhere.

I reached out to Michael Ivanoff, expert writing tutor from Superior Papers, asking for the ultimate tip on how to pick an essay topic.

Here’s what he said:

“When students wonder how to start an essay, they usually think about the introduction. It’s the wrong approach. First and foremost, you have to think about the topic. It should meet a few expectations:

1. The topic should get your interest;

2. It should give you a good foundation to write captivating content;

3. It should inspire you to start writing the essay ASAP, and

4. It must give you enough sources to retrieve information from.”

Steps on How to Start an Essay Introduction

Step by step to writing an essay introduction

1. Start by Thinking

Before you get to the actual writing, there is an important prewriting stage to go through: you need to think.

Even if the title of your essay is not set in the form of a question, it still implies a question that the reader expects to be answered.

Your entire essay will be an answer. The introduction should get the reader’s attention by making the main point of your answer.

You could use some brainstorming.

  • What do you know about this topic? Write it down without much research; just rely on your current state of knowledge.
  • As you write down your opinions, you’ll realize how you want to answer this question. From that point on, you can conduct research and find sources that would support your point of view.

2. Find Your Essay Hook

The hook is an attention grabber that instantly makes your reader excited about the paper they are going to read.

Here are a few suggestions on cool attention grabbers:

  • Intriguing facts that not many people know of. If you’re writing an essay about U.S. education, you can start with something like “More than 44 million borrowers in the USA collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student debt.”
  • Start with a cool quote! Do not quote the dictionary; that’s just too boring. You can easily find a good quote on Goodreads. Don’t forget to reference its author.
  • Use an incident from the past to shed light on the topic. Rely on historical present tense to achieve a magnetic effect. Your reader will know you’re sharing something from the past, but the present tense will get them into the story.
  • Ask a thought-provoking question. If you’re writing about the need of school uniforms, you may start the intro with a question like “How did we get to the point of needing school uniforms to show we’re equal?”
  • Bust a myth. “Many people think that British is the pure form of English, but the fact is that the British altered their language after they brought it to America.”
  • Tell a joke or an anecdote. You may share something from your own experience. You may find an anecdote involving a celebrity. Or you may find a real anecdote on Reddit and use it to start the paper.
  • Tell a personal story. If you have any experience on the matter, share it. It will make your arguments much more believable.
  • The Moment Between the Hook and the Thesis Statement

So you have your essay hook. Now what? You can’t simply head off with a thesis statement. You need something in between.

You need the transition.

3. Make the Essay Transition

In these sentences, you will narrow down the focus of your essay topic.

You may define some key concepts that the reader might not be aware of, or you may offer background information to introduce the topic a bit better.

Here’s an example of a transition based a hook I mentioned above:

How did we get to the point of needing school uniforms to show we’re equal? School uniforms were first introduced in England in 1222. Their intention was to give a modest appearance to the students, so they would fit into the formal classroom setting. By the middle of the 20th century, school uniforms became associated with private schools that distinguished the upper class from the poor. Today, we consider school uniforms as the stamp of equality.

4. Write the Essay’s Thesis Statement

Now, you come to a really important point: writing a good thesis statement. This is essential in the essay writing process. 

Here’s an example of a thesis statement that could follow the transition from the example above:

However, school uniforms do not make us equal; they are simply an imposed concept that limits a student’s individuality and doesn’t contribute towards any feeling of equality.

This is the controlling idea of the essay. It must be as concise as possible. The best-case scenario involves a bold thesis statement that gives you tons of space for good arguments. The thesis must present not only the topic that you’re discussing, but your precise position on it. Most of all, it should answer the essay question.

Now take a look at how the parts of this introduction link together:   

Essay introduction parts: hook, transition, thesis

5. Don’t Ramble

When you don’t have something meaningful to write, you fill in the space with sentences that don’t tell anything significant.

You don’t want to do that!

The introduction should only include facts, relevant quotes, and bold opinions that are in direct relation to your thesis statement. There’s no place for empty talk there!

6. Don’t Use Clichés!

When thinking about how to start an essay, many students just don’t bother a lot. They choose the easiest way to inform the reader of their topic and put it the following way: “In this essay, I will talk about the need of school uniforms at colleges.”

Yes, your introduction should immediately tell what the essay is about without wandering, but it doesn’t mean you should literally say that. There’s a big difference between informing and poor announcements. Your style should be informative instead of announcing.  

7. List Only Your Main Points

The introduction should inform the reader what the following paragraphs are about. This doesn’t mean you should elaborate on every argument you’ll mention in the paragraphs. Just list the main points, and you’ll address them in detail later on.

8. Make Your Essay as Brief and as Clear as Possible

If the essay should be 500-words long and you have five paragraphs to write, it means that each paragraph should contain around 100 words. Otherwise, you’ll have one chunky paragraph that doesn’t look like it belongs there.

In addition to keeping things brief, the introduction should also be clear and concise. If there’s a simple word for something you want to say, use it.

9. Ask for Feedback on Your Essay

You have your introduction, but how do you know it works?

This is the time to get some feedback. Read it to your friend or your parent. The feedback will help you adjust the tone and style. It might also get you thinking about adding information or getting rid of some points.

10. You Don’t Have to Write It First

When you don’t really know how you’ll write the body paragraphs, it is difficult to introduce the reader to them.

Well, you don’t have to write the introduction first. You may choose to start from the beginning, but it’s not a mandatory rule.

What you really need at first is the thesis statement. As for the hook and the transition that leads to the thesis, you may leave them for later.

Personally, I find that writing the introduction after I write the body paragraphs is a better way to overcome a writer’s block.

I’m not saying it’s a technique that works for everyone, but it’s certainly something you can try.

In Conclusion

starting your essay. Ready, set, go

All beginnings are hard.

But you have to make that first step, sooner or later.

The introduction is your first step towards writing a great essay, and hopefully, you’ll go through it.

Let’s sum it up. These are the main steps on how to start an essay:

  1. Think
  2. Find your hook
  3. Make the transition
  4. Write the thesis statement
  5. Don’t ramble
  6. Don’t use clichés!
  7. List only your main points
  8. Make it as brief and as clear as possible
  9. Ask for feedback
  10. You don’t have to write it first

Are you ready to start? What did you think? Anything I could include to make this article better?

Please let me know in the comments below!

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Sophia Sophia Anderson Anderson

Sophia Anderson is an educator, language tutor and freelance writer who is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experience with her students. When out of hours she is looking for her voice as a novelist. She believes in the driving force of positive attitude and constant development. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter.

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