how to start an essay

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

When you don’t even know how to start an essay, it’s impossible to write a successful one. More so when no one teaches you the proper way to do it. You’re left in a miserable situation of consistent efforts that don’t deliver good results. This is quite unfortunate because an essay is a common academic requirement and often submitted when you apply for college or join scholarship competitions.

Let’s try to solve your problem right here! 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.

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

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, an 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

1. Start by thinking

Before you get to the actual writing, there is an important prewriting stage to go through: you need to think. This is also crucial if you would like to become a freelance writer since you need to be able to organize your thoughts.

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. Research your topic

The next crucial step on how to write an essay is researching your topic. It is sometimes impossible to rely on your own knowledge especially if you are not an expert on the field you are writing about. Doing quick research would not only help you figure out your thesis statement but would also guide you in outlining the content of your essay. 

Just be mindful of the facts that you will include in your introduction. Make sure that they are accurate and up to date. You don’t want your readers to think that you did not spend enough time on writing your essay

3. Understand what you should avoid

If you want to write an interesting essay introduction, make sure you know what to avoid. This rule applies not only to the intro but to the other parts of your essay as well. 

In the introduction, do not go into too many details to the point that the reader will no longer read your work. You are not writing a newspaper article and your essay introduction is not a lead that should contain pretty much everything they’re going to see in the body.

It should also not be overflowing with citations to the point that it already looks like a research paper literature review. Use citations sparingly especially if it is a personal essay.

4. 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 the 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 for 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.
  • Compare and contrast the past and the present to provide the relevance of your essay

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.

5. 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.

6. 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 to 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:

7. Don’t ramble

When you don’t have something meaningful to write, you fill in 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 an empty talk there! Take note of this because this is particularly helpful in improving your SAT essay.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. Revise your introduction if needed

Revising your introduction is necessary if you feel like it doesn’t really lead the reader to finish your essay. If you have received constructive criticism from your instructor or someone who is good at writing essays, make sure that you consider them if you find them helpful.

13. 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 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

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 write an introduction:

  1. Think
  2. Research your topic
  3. Understand what you should avoid
  4. Find your hook
  5. Make the transition
  6. Write the thesis statement
  7. Don’t ramble
  8. Don’t use clichés!
  9. List only your main points
  10. Make it as brief and as clear as possible
  11. Ask for feedback
  12. Revise your introduction if needed
  13. You don’t have to write it first

Are you ready to start? What did you think? Can you now write a good essay?

Please let me know in the comments below if you have any more tips on how to write an introduction.

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!
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