Nova A.
Nova A.

How to Start an Essay- A Step-by-Step Guide

20 min read

Published on: Oct 2, 2017

Last updated on: Dec 30, 2023

how to start an essay

Starting an essay can be quite a challenge. It's a hurdle many writers stumble over, yet it's a crucial one. 

Crafting an introduction that's not only attention-grabbing but also compelling is the cornerstone of successful essay writing

In this blog, we will explain everything about starting an essay. We will discuss how to begin different types of essays and what are some common ways to start an essay. Additionally, we'll highlight some common mistakes to avoid in your essay's introduction.

So let's get started!

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How to Start an Essay Introduction?

In academic writing, the only chance to make readers stick to your paper is to start off with an interesting and engaging introductory paragraph.

The introduction typically starts by setting the stage and presenting vital background information about your specific topic.

Make your introduction catchy and interesting to both inform and motivate your readers. In this way, you can make your opening of the essay as compelling as possible.

Here are the steps that you need to follow to create an engaging essay introduction: 

  • Start With an Interesting Hook
  • Provide Background Information 
  • Write Your Thesis Statement 
  • Map the Structure of Your Essay 
  • Edit and Revise at the End 

Let’s explain these steps in detail below.

Step 1: Start With an Interesting Hook 

An essay hook is an opening statement that strives to grab people’s interest and attention. Always start an essay introduction with a hook to make your essay appealing. 
 
Here are different types of hooks that can be used in your introduction paragraph:

  • Quotation
  • Question
  • Anecdote
  • Rhetorical Questions
  • Statistics
  • Or a random funny statement

The kind of hook that should be used in the essay depends on the topic and type of your essay. If addressing a serious and sad issue, do not use a casual or funny statement. It would be better to use quotations or anecdotes for such essays. 

Likewise, if your topic is casual and humorous, try to open your essay lightly and casually.  You can ask a funny question or start with a random funny statement. 

You can also go through an interesting hook example and learn how to start a paragraph with interesting hooks. 

Step 2: Provide Background Information

After starting the introduction with a compelling hook, you need to provide background information about your topic. 

The background information is provided to familiarize your audience with the topic and the main argument. 

Example of Background Information 

“Blind people have long been excluded from society, but Louis Braille was the first person to create a writing system specifically for them. Many existing systems were difficult to learn or use by those with no sight, and these individuals had very limited opportunities in school, work, and life.”

Providing background knowledge in the introduction is not as easy as it seems. You have to stop yourself from sharing excess information in the introductory paragraph. This will bore your audience, and they will stop reading for sure. 
 
Just slightly give an idea about your topic and move on. You should not spoil the surprise coming for readers in the body paragraphs. 

Step 3: Write Your Thesis Statement

The last component of an introduction is the thesis statement. It is a 1-2 line sentence statement that sums up the main concept and the argument of your essay. 
 
A thesis statement is considered a road map for your essay and provides your reader with an idea about the essay. It sets the tone of the essay, and the reader gets a slight hint about what they are going to read further. 

Example of a Thesis Statement
 
“For the first time, blind people were able to communicate with others without relying on sight. The Braille writing system is one of a kind. It did not just provide practical benefits but also helped change the cultural status of blindness in society by allowing those who are visually impaired to feel more included and less alienated.”

The rest of the paragraphs that come before the conclusion are the body of your essay. They contain all the reasons and shreds of evidence that support and back your thesis statement. 

Quick Tip: Always firmly present your argument in the thesis statement. Do not fill it with excessive information. The thesis statement is meant to convey your stance!

Step 4: Map the Structure of Your Essay

This is especially helpful for longer essays as it informs the readers about what is to come in each section of the essay. Keep this part concise and to the point, and give your readers a clear direction of your essay.

Example

“This essay begins by discussing how difficult life was for blind people during the nineteenth-century European period when there wasn't any braille technology yet. It then describes "braille" - an alphabet made up entirely of small dots on paper so that one can read when touching them without sight. In the end, it discusses how groundbreaking the invention was and the way it helped in alleviating the status of the blind and deaf in society.”

If your essay is short or discusses fewer ideas, this step may not be necessary. But, in the case of a longer essay, the mapping will inform the readers about the things being further discussed in the essay.

Step 5: Edit and Revise at the End

Once done with the writing, edit and revise the introduction. Make sure that you have added a compelling hook, adequate background information, and a thesis statement.

Furthermore, keep in mind that your introduction should be according to the type of essay that you are writing. 

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How to Start an Essay With a Quote?

Here is how to start your essay with a quote:

  • Begin with a relevant quote that ties directly to your essay's topic.
  • Provide context for the quote to help readers understand its significance.
  • Properly cite the author, source, and publication date of the quote.
  • Transition smoothly from the quote to your thesis statement.
  • Analyze the quote's meaning and how it supports your argument.
  • Ensure the content of your essay's body aligns with the quote and analysis.

Example of a Quotation as a Hook

"Q: What did Eve say to Adam on being expelled from the Garden of Eden? A: 'I think we're in a time of transition.' 

The irony of this joke is not lost as we begin a new century, and the anxieties about social change seem rife. The implication of this message, covering the first of many periods of transition, is that change is normal; there is, in fact, no era or society in which change is not a permanent feature of the social landscape...." 
(Betty G. Farrell, Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture. Westview Press, 1999)

Here are some expert tips for putting a quote at the start of an essay:

  • Avoid adding frequently used quotes that are familiar to everyone.
  • Explain how the quote relates to your main point.
  • Select a quote that your target audience can easily understand and relate to.

How to Start an Essay With a Question?

The easiest way to start an introduction is to ask a question to your readers to engage them immediately. Asking questions gives an image of a one-on-one conversation, which is super effective. 
 
Seeing a question first will make your audience look for the answer in the content. 

A rhetorical question is a good kickstart to your essay, as such a type of beginning is attractive to readers. 

Example of a Question as a Hook

 "What is the charm of necklaces? Why would anyone put something extra around their neck and then invest in it with special significance? A necklace doesn't afford warmth in cold weather, like a scarf, or protection in combat, like chain mail; it only decorates. We might say it borrows meaning from what it surrounds and sets off, the head with its supremely important material contents, and the face that registers the soul. The face is the jewel in the crown of the body, and so we give it a setting." 

(Emily R. Grosholz, "On Necklaces." Prairie Schooner, Summer 2007)

If you start with an intriguing question, the answer of which is not clear, then you should provide the answer within the text. Keep in mind that the rhetorical question does not require any specific reply. 

How to Start an Essay With a Fact?

Including interesting facts or statistics in your introduction helps you to take hold of your readers. Facts and stats are good attention grabbers for any piece of writing. Everyone gets entertained by the interesting and fun facts as they provide the context and background information of the topic. 

For serious issues that are global, you can present shocking statistics or news to instantly grab your reader’s attention. 

Example of Facts of Statistics as a Hook

"The peregrine falcon was brought back from the brink of extinction by a ban on DDT, but also by a peregrine falcon mating hat invented by an ornithologist at Cornell University. If you cannot buy this, Google it. Female falcons had grown dangerously scarce. A few wistful males nevertheless maintained a sort of sexual loitering ground. The hat was imagined, constructed, and then forthrightly worn by the ornithologist as he patrolled this loitering ground, singing, Chee-up! Chee-up! and bowing like an overpolite Japanese Buddhist trying to tell somebody goodbye...." 

(David James Duncan, "Cherish This Ecstasy." The Sun, July 2008)

Choose facts and figures from credible and trustworthy sources. Your facts should support or prove your point of view or argument being presented later on in the essay. 

Starting an essay with a shocking fact from a credible source is an effective way to start an essay, followed by explanations to convince the readers.

How to Start an Essay With an Anecdote?

Another interesting way to start an essay is with a brief anecdote. It is about setting a short story at the start to show how it reveals the important features of your theme. 

This hook is appropriate to use if you are writing descriptive or narrative essays. The anecdote should be short, simple, and to the point. Make sure it relates to the central idea of your essay. 

Example of an Anecdotal Story as a Hook 

“I once had a border collie. She was so smart! Every morning, I'd open up the front door, and she'd run out, pick up the newspaper, and deliver it to my husband at the breakfast table.”

Words To Start An Essay Introduction

Here are some effective words and phrases to begin an essay introduction:

  • Intriguingly: Intriguingly, the concept of...
  • Unquestionably: Unquestionably, the most critical issue is...
  • Surprisingly: Surprisingly, the data reveals...
  • Notably: Notably, this phenomenon has far-reaching implications.
  • Evidently: Evidently, the evidence suggests...
  • Arguably: Arguably, one of the most contentious topics is...
  • It is imperative to: It is imperative to address the issue of...
  • Historically: Historically, this problem has persisted for centuries.
  • In today's context: In today's context the relevance of this cannot be overstated.
  • To illustrate: To illustrate, consider the following example….
  • In contemporary society: In contemporary society, the issue of...
  • Remarkably: Remarkably, few have explored the implications of...
  • Undoubtedly: Undoubtedly, this problem warrants immediate attention.
  • Consequently: Consequently, this leads us to question...
  • In light of this: In light of this, it becomes evident that...
  • Fundamentally: Fundamentally, the core issue revolves around...
  • In recent years: In recent years, there has been a growing interest in...
  • In an ever-changing world: In an ever-changing world, it is crucial to consider...
  • To shed light on: To shed light on this matter, we will delve into...
  • As a result: As a result, we are compelled to explore the implications of…

Sentences To Start An Essay

Here are some interesting sentences to start an essay: 

  • Have you ever wondered about the impact of climate change on our planet?
  • In a remote village nestled among the mountains, a young girl's journey began.
  • "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," said Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Shockingly, 70% of marine life is threatened by plastic pollution.
  • While some embrace technology, others yearn for a simpler, analog life.
  • Democracy, the cornerstone of modern societies, is often misunderstood.
  • A tranquil dawn, with the sun's first rays painting the sky in hues of gold.
  • Did you know that octopuses have three hearts and blue blood?
  • As a child, I often marveled at the stars, wondering about the cosmos.
  • Society teeters on the brink of a digital revolution that will redefine human existence.

How to Start an Essay - Examples

Examining various essay introduction examples provides valuable insights into captivating your reader's interest right from the start. 

Check out these examples for guidance on crafting powerful opening lines.

How to Start a Paragraph in an Essay?

The best way to start a paragraph in an essay is to write the topic sentence. The topic sentence tells the reader what the paragraph is going to be about. After the topic sentence, the supporting details are further provided.

Read this example to know how to start a paragraph. 


How to Start a Conclusion in an Essay?

To start a conclusion in an essay, you should write a rephrased thesis statement first. As it is the crux of your whole essay. Further on, the points discussed in the essay can be summarized one by one in the concluding paragraph. 

Here is an example of how to write a conclusion to help you understand this better. 

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Other Common Ways of Starting an Essay

Besides the ones given above, here are some common ways of beginning your essay on a strong and engaging footing.

Stating the Thesis Statement Briefly

Instead of adding your thesis statement plainly, make the tone engaging and keep it brief.

Example: “It is time, at last, to speak the truth about Thanksgiving, and the truth is this. Thanksgiving is really not such a terrific holiday...." (Michael J. Arlen, "Ode to Thanksgiving." The Camera Age: Essays on Television. Penguin, 1982)

Beginning with an Interesting Discovery

Discoveries and little-known details always interest the readers. They are curious and they want to know more. This makes this kind of essay very interesting and irresistible for your readers.

Example: "I've finally figured out the difference between neat people and sloppy people. The distinction is, as always, moral. Neat people are lazier and meaner than sloppy people." (Suzanne Britt Jordan, "Neat People vs. Sloppy People." Show and Tell. Morning Owl Press, 1983)

Describe the Setting of Your Essay

Presenting the setting of your essay to set the mood of your audience. This helps them know where your essay is heading.

Example: "It was in Burma, a sodden morning of the rains. A sickly light, like yellow tinfoil, was slanting over the high walls into the jail yard. We were waiting outside the condemned cells, a row of sheds fronted with double bars, like small animal cages. Each cell measured about ten feet by ten and was quite bare within except for a plank bed and a pot of drinking water. In some of them, brown silent men were squatting at the inner bars, with their blankets draped around them. These were the condemned men, due to be hanged within the next week or two." (George Orwell, "A Hanging," 1931)

Recount an Event

Recount an event to add drama to your essay. This also helps the readers to connect with you on a deeper level.

Example: "One October afternoon three years ago while I was visiting my parents, my mother made a request I dreaded and longed to fulfill. She had just poured me a cup of Earl Grey from her Japanese iron teapot, shaped like a little pumpkin; outside, two cardinals splashed in the birdbath in the weak Connecticut sunlight. Her white hair was gathered at the nape of her neck, and her voice was low. “Please help me get Jeff’s pacemaker turned off,” she said, using my father’s first name. I nodded, and my heart knocked." (Katy Butler, "What Broke My Father's Heart." The New York Times Magazine, June 18, 2010)

Use the Narrative Delay Technique

This technique works best in piquing your audience’s interest and keeping them on the edge of their seats. However, do not linger on it too much and use this technique carefully.

Example: "They woof. Though I have photographed them before, I have never heard them speak, for they are mostly silent birds. Lacking a syrinx, the avian equivalent of the human larynx, they are incapable of song. According to field guides the only sounds they make are grunts and hisses, though the Hawk Conservancy in the United Kingdom reports that adults may utter a croaking coo and that young black vultures, when annoyed, emit a kind of immature snarl...." (Lee Zacharias, "Buzzards." Southern Humanities Review, 2007)

Present a Historical Event in the Present Tense

Use historical present tense to add weightage to your narrative. It makes the readers feel as if the event is taking place at the present moment.

Example: "Ben and I are sitting side by side in the very back of his mother’s station wagon. We face the glowing white headlights of cars following us, our sneakers pressed against the back hatch door. This is our joy—his and mine—to sit turned away from our moms and dads in this place that feels like a secret, as though they are not even in the car with us. They have just taken us out to dinner, and now we are driving home. Years from this evening, I won’t actually be sure that this boy sitting beside me is named Ben. But that doesn’t matter tonight. What I know for certain right now is that I love him, and I need to tell him this fact before we return to our separate houses, next door to each other. We are both five." (Ryan Van Meter, "First." The Gettysburg Review, Winter 2008)


Describe a Process Briefly

Describe a process briefly that leads to your main essay topic.

Example: "I like to take my time when I pronounce someone dead. The bare minimum requirement is one minute with a stethoscope pressed to someone’s chest, listening for a sound that is not there; with my fingers bearing down on the side of someone’s neck, feeling for an absent pulse; with a flashlight beamed into someone’s’s fixed and dilated pupils, waiting for the constriction that will not come. If I’m in a hurry, I can do all of these in sixty seconds, but when I have the time, I like to take a minute with each task." (Jane Churchon, "The Dead Book." The Sun, February 2009)

Reveal a Secret

“How to start an essay about yourself for college?”

People are always interested in knowing secrets. This is what makes this technique so good. Use it to reveal some secrets about yourself, if you are writing an essay about yourself.

Example: "I spy on my patients. Ought not a doctor to observe his patients by any means and from any stance, that he might more fully assemble evidence? So I stand in the doorways of hospital rooms and gaze. Oh, it is not all that furtive an act. Those in bed need only look up to discover me. But they never do." (Richard Selzer, "The Discus Thrower." Confessions of a Knife. Simon & Schuster, 1979)

Present a Comparison between the Past and Present

It is a very effective technique as it helps the readers see the comparison between past and present situations.

Example: "As a child, I was made to look out the window of a moving car and appreciate the beautiful scenery, with the result that now I don't care much for nature. I prefer parks, ones with radios going chuckawaka chuckawaka and the delicious whiff of bratwurst and cigarette smoke." (Garrison Keillor, "Walking Down The Canyon." Time, July 31, 2000)

Give a Contrast between Virtual & Actual Reality

There are many things that we believe to be true, a.k.a. Virtual reality. This technique helps you in presenting what a myth is and what reality is. Breaking the myths is an effective technique to grab someone’s attention.

Example: "They aren’t what most people think they are. Human eyes, touted as ethereal objects by poets and novelists throughout history, are nothing more than white spheres, somewhat larger than your average marble, covered by a leather-like tissue known as sclera and filled with nature’s facsimile of Jell-O. Your beloved’s eyes may pierce your heart, but in all likelihood, they closely resemble the eyes of every other person on the planet. At least I hope they do, for otherwise he or she suffers from severe myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), or worse...." (John Gamel, "The Elegant Eye." Alaska Quarterly Review, 2009)

Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an Essay

Here are a few mistakes that should be avoided for writing a great essay introduction. 

  • Starting Without a Plan: Launching into your essay without a clear outline is a recipe for confusion.
  • Weak, Generic Hooks: Using clichés or dull openings that fail to grab your reader's attention.
  • Excessive Formality: Overloading your intro with formal language can bore your audience.
  • Info Overload: Bombarding readers with too much background information can overwhelm them.
  • Unclear Thesis: Failing to state your essay's purpose upfront leaves readers puzzled.
  • Irrelevant Quotes: Using quotes that don't connect directly to your topic is a misstep.
  • Ignoring Your Audience: Neglecting your audience's interests can lead to disengagement.
  • Procrastinating Intro: Leaving the intro for last often results in rushed, ineffective beginnings.
  • Repetitive Content: Repeating what's in the body of your essay makes the intro redundant.
  • Skipping Proofreading: Overlooking errors in grammar and punctuation undermines your intro's credibility.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a good introduction sentence for an essay?

A good instruction sentence for an essay is one that captures the reader's attention with an interesting hook. After writing the hook, give them some context by providing background information that will help set up what is to come in later paragraphs or sections of the paper/essay.

Finally, conclude your introduction with a thesis statement that states both concisely and specifically what main point(s) are being made about this topic along with why it matters.

What are 3 ways of starting your essay?

The three most recommended ways to start off an essay are: 

  • Quotation: By a famous person that fits the context of your essay. 
  • Question: That engages the reader to find the answer in your essay. 
  • Facts or Statistics: That is startling so that the reader’s attention can be grabbed. 

What words can you use to start an essay?

Some words that can be used to start an essay are once, next, then, in fact, similarly, or a time word like first, second, third. You can also use sequential transitions to merge your hook to the rest of the introduction paragraph. These transition words include, for example, consequently, for this reason, or another addition transition.

What is a good paragraph starter?

A good paragraph starter is a brief yet complete topic sentence. The topic sentence should adequately give the reader an idea about what is going to be discussed in the rest of the paragraph. The topic sentence should also prove your thesis statement.

Nova A.

WRITTEN BY

Nova A. (Literature, Marketing)

Nova Allison is a Digital Content Strategist with over eight years of experience. Nova has also worked as a technical and scientific writer. She is majorly involved in developing and reviewing online content plans that engage and resonate with audiences. Nova has a passion for writing that engages and informs her readers.

Nova Allison is a Digital Content Strategist with over eight years of experience. Nova has also worked as a technical and scientific writer. She is majorly involved in developing and reviewing online content plans that engage and resonate with audiences. Nova has a passion for writing that engages and informs her readers.

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