College students write many papers, but what's the best way to compose an essay introduction? Learn how to come up with an interesting hook and thesis.

How to Write an Essay Introduction


  • A good essay introduction sets up the rest of your paper and grabs your reader's attention.
  • All introductions should include a hook, a thesis, and an organizational plan.
  • Knowing the rhetorical situation can help you write an effective introduction and thesis.

The computer screen remains blank, and my mind freezes every time I return to my philosophy 201 assignment: "Discuss the ethics of stealing." I know I'll need a great introduction for my paper, but where should I start? What should I include?

Writing a college essay shouldn't be scary, but getting started can often feel overwhelming and even intimidating at times. If you divide the essay-writing process into clearly defined steps, though, you'll find that it's a relatively straightforward process.

This might come as a surprise, but introductions are often crafted last, after you've written the main content of your essay. Even expert essayists expect to have to reframe their claims and essay organization as they write the bodies of their essays.

This article will go over how to write an effective college essay introduction and set you on the path to producing excellent and engaging papers.

Table of Contents

General Guidelines for Writing an Essay Introduction

Before you begin writing your essay, read the instructions carefully to determine the assignment's expectations. You should also take some time to determine the essay's genre and what kind of thesis statement it requires. For example, will you have to make a strong argument for something using evidence? Or will you just need to explain a theory or concept?

Once you've done this, you can start to draft a very rough introduction to act as a general guide for the rest of your essay.

As you conduct research and work on your rough introduction, review what you know about the subject to start developing a thesis statement, i.e., the essay's main driving claim. Don't worry about sticking to this exactly — your thesis will likely change slightly with the more research and writing you do.

Basic Steps for Writing an Essay Introduction

  1. Determine the essay's genre and what type of thesis it requires
  2. Write a rough introduction
  3. Come up with a rough thesis statement
  4. Use your introduction to lay out how your essay will be organized
  5. Adapt your thesis and organizational plan as needed as you write your essay
  6. Add a hook to your introduction
  7. Edit and proofread

Next, come up with one or two potential organizational plans. You'll want to have a clear idea of the topics your essay will discuss to prove your thesis statement, as well as the order in which these points will appear.

As you write your essay, return to your rough introduction so you can adapt your thesis and organizational plan to reflect any alterations you might have made as you researched and wrote the body of your essay. It's recommended that you allow the content of your paper to influence your rough thesis; a more developed thesis will lead to a stronger essay.

Once you've finished writing your essay, return to your introduction to polish it off. Add a hook — something that captures the reader's attention — to engage your reader and make your paper more compelling. Finally, don't forget to proofread your entire essay, including your introduction, before submitting it.

The Rhetorical Situation and Why It's Useful

The term "rhetorical situation" refers to the relationship the writer wishes to strike with their reader. Understanding the rhetorical situation is key because it should undergird your essay. To have mastery over this relationship, the writer must understand their message or text, its purpose, and the setting in which they're writing.

The usual defaults for college writing are that the writer is a budding scholar in the field (you) and the reader is an established expert (e.g., your professor), unless the assignment expressly states otherwise.

Understanding the rhetorical situation is key because it should undergird your essay.

The message or text (your claim and the essay) will vary with each assignment. The purpose (why the essay is important) is normally to improve your knowledge and skills, and the setting (the context in which you're writing) is the field of study.

In the case of my philosophy 201 essay prompt, "Discuss the ethics of stealing," the target reader is someone who understands the process of philosophizing about moral dilemmas. The writer could be the real me or a different persona, so long as my arguments are consistent with one another.

The message of this essay is how our society functions or how it could or should function. The purpose is to demonstrate to my professor my understanding of how ethics and ethical thought work. Finally, the setting is college-level thinking and philosophizing. Knowing this information equips me to construct a successful introduction and thesis.


The 3 Major Types of College Essays

Before drafting your introduction, you should figure out what type of essay you've been assigned and the skills this paper is meant to evaluate. There are several kinds of essays, but most fall into one of three major categories: report, exploratory, or argumentative.

Report

  • Summary: Requires you to extract and condense content from a larger piece of writing
  • Lab Report/Lesson Plan: Shows whether you are informed about the protocols that are required by your discipline and whether you can follow them appropriately
  • Descriptive: Requires you to convey evocative ideas about a topic and choose the most effective vocabularies for them

Exploratory Essay

  • Exploratory: Requires you to explore a topic in depth and examine possibilities without necessarily taking a position
  • Analytical: Determines whether you're able to perceive patterns, understand symbols and symbolism, and recognize allusions to arrive at a justifiable conclusion
  • Explanatory: Highlights your ability to explain something in a precise and direct way, choose relevant information, and organize this information in an easy-to-follow manner

Argumentative Essay

  • Expository: Adds debate to the exploratory paper and reveals whether you're able to choose effective and relevant information, logically organize and develop this information, pick a side, and offer justification for your choice
  • Position: Determines whether you're able to select a position many may disagree with, successfully present your opinion, argue for it using solid evidence, and convince the reader your position is better than the other option
  • Argument: Adds research to the expository essay and shows whether you're able to defend a claim, offer convincing evidence to support your claim, and acknowledge and dispel potential counterarguments

Writing Your Essay's Thesis Statement

Armed with the knowledge of what kind of essay you must write, you can now start to draft your thesis statement and determine the organization for the body of your essay. The thesis answers the following question for readers: "What will this essay prove?" The organizational plan explains how and in what order the essay will prove this claim.

Generally speaking, the thesis statement should appear near the end of your introduction. As for organizing your essay, try to lay out in the introduction the main points you'll be discussing in the order in which they'll appear in the body of your paper. This will facilitate not only your writing process but also your audience's reading experience.

Get more tips on how to write an effective thesis statement in our complete guide.


Why Every Essay Needs a Hook

All that remains now is grabbing your reader's attention. A strong introduction builds affinity with the reader and eases them into your essay.

The hook is the first thing (after the title, of course) your audience will read. It's a small scrap of informal writing that's relevant to your topic and that your reader will recognize easily. It has one foot in the real world, where the reader is, and the other in your essay, and works by convincing the reader to shift from one foot to the other willingly.

For your hook, you can tell a story, crack a joke, or quote something from a book or movie. Mention an anecdote or an incident from sports, recite lyrics or poetry, refer to history, or remark on a controversy. Use pop, high, or low culture. It can be personal or universal. Just remember to insert a clear transition between your hook and your thesis statement.

Here's an example of a good essay introduction with a memorable hook:

Perhaps when you were a child, your parents, like mine, urged you to share your toys or clothes with your younger sibling. And perhaps, like me, you thought it was extremely unfair because you were older. Yet it seems as if the seventh-century civilization of XXX knew what your parents and mine were trying to teach us: that sharing ensures survival much better than the exploitation of weaker or lower classes.

The hook here is the first two sentences about shared childhood, and part of the third sentence. Note the repeated use of the second-person pronouns "you" and "your." Its function is to build camaraderie between the reader and the writer. The writer further solidifies this connection with the first-person pronouns "me" and "us."

The hook also reminds the reader of simpler, happy times. The final sentence begins as the transition from childhood and sharing to the essay's main argument: how sharing was critical to the survival of the XXX civilization. After the colon, the introduction drops the hook entirely and becomes a full-fledged thesis statement.

The Value of Writing a Stellar Essay Introduction

Go back to the beginning of this article and look for the hook, the transition, the thesis statement, and how I establish the rhetorical situation. Consider as well the genre of this article and how I set up the organization of it.

Seasoned academic writers know a strong introduction can go a long way toward producing an effective and compelling paper. No matter what you choose to write about, you should always follow these basic rules. Not only will you earn better grades on your essays, but you'll also become a more efficient and confident writer.


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