How to Write an Essay Introduction

When it comes to telling a story, the beginning is an important part. Whether it’s the opening scene of a movie or the first chapter of a book, beginnings need to be interesting to get people’s attention. The same is true when it comes to writing an essay. This is especially true if you are writing an essay like a personal narrative for college admissions or a topical piece for scholarships.

An essay’s introduction needs three things: a hook, some general background knowledge on your topic, and a thesis statement. Each of these elements are important to include in your introduction. They play a significant role in giving a type of “first impression” for your reader of you as a person or you as a writer. Here is a guide for how to write an essay introduction.

How to Write an Essay Introduction

1. Find THE HOOK:

A hook, as you might gather from the name, is something that will catch the reader’s interest early on in the writing. Good hooks often come in the form of rhetorical questions, interesting quotes, shocking statistics, unique facts, a short anecdote, a descriptive image, and so on. You wouldn’t want to start your essay the way you might start a conversation with someone new, like “Hi, my name is John Doe.” This won’t engage your reader’s attention or make them want to keep reading. Similarly, if you are writing a topical essay, you wouldn’t want to start with “This essay is about this topic.” Again, this is too straightforward and simple, and doesn’t show depth as a writer or a thinker.

2. KNOW THE BACKGROUND:

In your introduction, you want to provide background information on the topic you are writing about. If this is an admission essay, it might be a personal narrative about yourself, which means you’ll have to set up some of the story. You may have to introduce yourself as the main character or detail the setting in which a major life moment for you took place. If this is a topical piece about a subject provided by the school, then you’ll want to clearly present that topic in the first paragraph.

3. Formulate THE THESIS:

The thesis statement looks a little bit different in an introductory narrative essay than in an argumentative essay or analysis. The main point of a thesis is to give a clear idea or direction on where the rest of the essay is going. A thesis in an argumentative or analytical essay might preview the main points that are present in the body paragraphs. The thesis of a personal narrative essay may give insight into an overall theme or lesson or storyline that is in the rest of the essay.

AFTER THE INTRODUCTION:

After writing the introduction, finish writing your essay and then step away from it for a moment. Then later, go back and reread your entire essay in one quick sitting. This will allow you to review your introduction and make sure you properly introduced the rest of your essay. Your introduction may need a few tweaks or edits based on where your writing went in the following paragraphs.

TIPS FOR COLLEGE ESSAYS IN PARTICULAR:

While most essays do follow a pretty general set of rules or guidelines, here are a few tips for college essays for admissions or scholarship in particular. They are a bit more unique than your routine English class homework assignment, so there are a few things to keep in mind:

PRO TIP: Remember your word count

Always double check your word count before you get started writing so that you know exactly how much you can spend on introduction. Because these are often short essays, the introduction itself should not be too long. It does need to be long enough to interest the reader, give general background on what is being discussed, and then give a clear thesis statement that previews the rest of the essay. Depending on the word count, this might be three short simple sentences.

PRO TIP: Don’t write what you think colleges want to hear

So many students write essays that they think a college admissions board member might want to hear. In high school, we are told to know our audience and write for them, but sometimes we don’t know our audience the way we should. Many students will try to write essays about how “hard working and dedicated” they are because they think that is what colleges want to hear about their incoming applicants. In reality, colleges want to hear about what makes you unique and what makes you YOU. Instead of writing a bland piece about what a good student you are, tell them a good story in descriptive details that showcases an important part of your life that has shaped you into the person you are today.

PRO TIP: Don’t repeat your resume/application

Because you have a limited word count, try to avoid repeating things that are already present on your résumé or application. Try to find a story that does not appear anywhere else in your application. Give people something new, exciting, and interesting to read about and to learn about you.

PRO TIP: Avoid cliches

Try to avoid the cliché or overly written essay topics that everyone is writing. There are lots of essays about trips that changed someone’s view of the world or sports that taught someone how to work well on a team. Topics like travel and athletics themselves are not completely off the table, but be aware of the way you are writing about them. Try to always approach your topic in a fresh and unique way.

PRO TIP: Show don’t tell

Show don't tell in your college application essays

Flickr user Kristina D.C. Hoeppner

Use strong adjectives and verbs to paint an image in the reader’s mind rather than simply telling them what happened. Instead of telling them you like to travel, walk them through all the colors and faded smudges of your passport. Or instead of telling them that your grandmother is your role model, paint them the picture of the two of you cooking in the kitchen. Give them details of flour in your hair and a pale yellow apron around her waist as you learned your love of baking from her.

PRO TIP: EDIT, EDIT, EDIT

An essay is a representation of yourself. Therefor you want to put your best foot forward and that includes clean, accurate and precise writing. You can use a free and easy app to help you review your work. Try the Hemmingway App to give you a quick edit.

Remember that an essay is one of the only places in an application where you get to showcase your voice. This is different from a standard expository essay or research paper. The main purpose of this essay is to reveal something important about you. Transcripts and GPAs and resumes are simply facts without any context or conversation.

But the essay is a place for you to show off some of your personality as an individual. It is also an opportunity to show off your skill as a writer and thinker. Because of this, it’s important to know how to write an essay introduction. Give your essay — especially the beginning of your essay — a little more time and attention to make the best first impression possible.

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