And you have to find perfect hooks for an essay even when you don’t know what to write about.
When you are asked to write an essay, it doesn’t mean that you don’t get to express your own thoughts and creativity. An essay shouldn’t be boring or too formal. As a writer, your first priority is to make sure that you are keeping your audience in mind and writing for them and to them. That means grabbing and keeping their attention so that they want to read every word.
This is exactly why the essay hook exists and is such an important tool.
The use of hooks in writing goes far beyond just essays and college papers. Every writer, copywriter, screenwriter, and storyteller uses this device to draw in readers and keep them hooked. For example, world-famous ad executive, David Ogilvy, relied on a list of 29 “magic words” that he used in titles in order to hook a client’s attention.
College essay hooks can be difficult to generate, especially when you are still working on clarifying what your essay is going to say. So, the very first step in writing a strong essay hook is to do some planning.
This type of hook is appropriate when you are writing about a particular author, story, literary phenomenon, book, etc. Using a quote will make your essay sound fresh and establish your authority as an author.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” These words of Nick Carraway perfectly describe…”
“Not all those who wander are lost.” And yes, indeed, every person is so…”
“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” Agree or not, but these words from The Alchemist determine…”
Including a quote from an authoritative and influential person can help support your argument and create an intriguing hook. The key is to make sure that you clearly show how the quote is relevant to your essay.
“John Wooden once said, ‘Never mistake activity for achievement.'”
“Learn to laugh” were the first words from my kindergarten teacher after Ralph Thorsen spilled paint on my daffodil picture.
Don’t be afraid to employ this type of hook. Remember, even if you start with a humorous anecdote, it doesn’t mean that your entire essay has to be funny. A bit of humor can help you grab readers’ attention and spark their interest in the topic.
“As my cousin and I pedaled our new bikes to the beach, 6 years old, suntanned and young, we met an old, shaggy-haired man weaving unsteadily on a battered old bike.”
“When I was a young boy, my father worked at a coal mine. For 27 years, he made it his occupation to scrape and claw and grunt his way into the bowels of the earth, searching for fuel. On April 19, 2004, the bowels of the earth clawed back.”
Keep in mind that most essay assignments will ask you to avoid using the first person. Be sure to check any requirements before using “I” in your writing.
Almost nothing can attract interest better than a well-constructed question. Readers will want to continue reading your essay in order to discover the answer. Be sure to avoid simple “Yes” or “No” questions and try to pose questions that ask reader to consider the other side or engage in some critical thinking.
“What would you do if you could play God for a day? That’s exactly what the leaders of the tiny island nation of Guam tried to answer.”
“Have you ever wondered, whether Anna Karenina still loved Alexei if she hadn’t decided to commit a suicide?”
People respond well to visual cues. Taking the time to set a detailed scene will help your reader have a clear picture in their minds and create an effective hook. You can describe an incident or detail the particular features of a person or a character to help the readers become immersed in your writing.
“The day of his birth began with Hurricane Charlie pounding at our door in Charleston, South Carolina.”
“Deciding to attend Hampton Roads Academy, a private school, was one of my most difficult decisions.”
These types of hooks start by surprising the reader with something that may not have known. Provide an interesting fact about something you are going to discuss in your essay’s body and your audience will want to keep reading to learn more.
“Spain, though hardly a literary juggernaut, translates more books in one year than the entire Arab world has in the past one thousand years.”
“Amiable is the best way to describe Elizabeth’s personality: she was friendly and caring.”
There is no harm in getting right to the point. Start with your main argument and use the rest of your essay to support your point of view. If you have an interesting take on a subject, readers will want to see where you came up with your idea.
“It is time, at last, to speak the truth about Thanksgiving, and the truth is this. Thanksgiving is really not such a terrific holiday. . .”
“Humans need to invest more time and money into space exploration because Earth is on a certain path to destruction.”
The most interesting essays will teach the readers something new. If you start your introduction by showing that a commonly accepted truth is actually false, your readers will be instantly hooked.
“Any parent will tell you that goldfish are a great first pet for a child. They hardly need any attention, and they won’t be around for too long. Flushing a goldfish in its first week is pretty common—it even happened to my first goldfish. But it turns out that goldfish aren’t as helpless as we all think.”
“While most coffee enthusiasts would tell you that their favorite drink comes from a bean, they would be wrong. Coffee is actually made from a seed that is simply called a bean.”
By listing proven facts at the very beginning of your paper, you will create interest that can be carried throughout the rest of the essay.
“The average iceberg weighs over 100,000 metric tons.”
“70% of all jobs found today were got through different networking strategies”
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Depending on the style of essay you are writing (narrative, persuasive, personal, critical, argumentative, deductive, etc.), the type of hook you will want to use will vary. Remember, your essay hook is just a tip of an iceberg and it will not guarantee that the rest of your essay will work. Be sure to organize your research and start with an outline before deciding on the best hook to start your essay. The right choice can make your paper truly interesting and worth reading.
Written by Lesley J. Vos, our blog writer and essay proofreader. Lesley is a big fan of reading, and she is always ready to help students come up with good ideas for their papers and reach their academic goals. You can always find her on Facebook and Google+.
Most essays don’t begin by stating the thesis in the first sentence. The reader needs to be warmed up first. You wouldn’t ask someone out on a date without introducing yourself first, right? Right. Likewise, you wouldn’t jump right to the thesis without an attention-getter and background information in the introduction.
An attention-getter is often referred to as the “hook” of the essay. A good hook makes the reader want to keep reading. It gets the reader interested in the topic. You can then set the stage with some background information on your topic. Once the reader is hooked, he or she will be warmed up for the thesis.
What makes a good attention-grabber? There are a variety of ways to grab the reader’s attention. Some include
Story or anecdote
History on the subject
Quote (not from research; save those for the body)
The US prison population in 2000 was 6,331,400. In 2010, the prison population rose to 7,225,800, a whopping 14.13 percent increase, and rising much faster than the rate of the regular population. If we continue at this rate, the prison population in 2030 will be an astronomical 9,412,08. The US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but it has almost one quarter of the world’s prisoners.
Actually, there are several startling statistics in this paragraph, but each one is more startling than the previous, concluding with the most shocking. We obviously know where the writer is going with this, and the stats that open the essay immediately grab the reader’s interest. I want to know the writer’s proposed solution, don’t you?
Story or Anecdote
As Tammie Schnitzer came to a stop at the intersection near the synagogue in Billings, Montana, she noticed something on the stop sign. She got out of her car to take a closer look, and a shiver shot down her spine. A sticker showed a swastika over a Star of David and the words “Want more oil? Nuke Israel.”(from Not in Our Town! By Edwin Dobb)
Narrative stories paint vivid images for the reader, as this great attention grabber does. In this case, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words, and the writer has shown the reader a shocking scene, which immediately grabs the reader’s attention.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law legislation that would make it easier for states to track down fathers who fail to make their child support payments. As a result of this legislation, the paychecks of delinquent fathers can be garnisheed in order to recover child support payments. The problem of deadbeat dads is larger than most people suspect. (“Deadbeat Dads”)
Persuasive essays can benefit with historical background to educate the reader, offering them information they may not be familiar with. History can take the form of legal, social, medical or political background information. It’s often an effective way to lead into the thesis. In the example above, we immediately understand what the problem is, and our interest is piqued.
Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” seems contrary to the way he actually lived his life, bringing into question the difference between the man’s public and private lives….
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” but has US race relations come any further than when Dr. King first uttered these words?
Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” and this is still true today.
Historical quotes (save research quotes for the body of your paper) are an effective way to draw the reader into your essay. Quotes are often familiar and emotional, and appeal to a reader’s pathos. Note that in the above examples, the quotes don’t merely stand alone, but the writer goes on to derive meaning from them. The writer’s ability to derive meaning from the quote and connect it to his or her argument is a great way to lead the reader on toward the thesis.
Is Tipper Gore overreacting? In her article, “Curbing the Sexploitation Industry,” Gore emphasizes the danger posed for our children by what she calls the sexploitation industry.
America is often labeled a “melting pot,” referring to a society where all elements “melt into” a harmonious whole with a common culture, but do our nation’s laws support this ideal, and should they?
Posing a provocative question to your audience that inspires interest and concern is a great way to get the reader thinking about your topic. Rhetorical questions arouse curiosity in readers by encouraging them to try to answer the question posed.
The purpose of the introduction is to inform the audience, make the reader understand the topic, and then to agree, or at least be receptive, to the thesis. Your topic will most likely guide you in choosing which type of hook works best in your introduction. Always consider who your audience is and choose the one that would best appeal to that group. Once you grab their attention, you’ll be on the way to a successful essay.
(some intro examples from Writer’s Resources: From Paragraph to Essay )
Published by E. Mack
Writing Center Underground is supported by Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska and maintained by Elizabeth Mack, Writing Center consultant. The Writing Center, staffed by experienced English teachers and writing consultants, provides professional assistance and outreach programs to help students and faculty with written communication across the disciplines and beyond. Simply stated, the Writing Center is a place into which writers invite other writers to dialogue about writing. View all posts by E. Mack