Often the most difficult stage of essay writing is just getting started. You’ve got a blank page, perhaps a jumble of notes, maybe even an outline. But … inspiration isn’t striking, and the words aren’t flowing.
So how can you be systematic about starting an essay?
Whether you’re struggling to start writing at all, or just can’t figure out that all-important introduction (the start) of your essay – don’t panic! We’ve got a fool-proof technique to get you writing AND seven strategies for kicking off your intro with style.
Your essay will be complete in no time at all!
Some tips on essay writing
There’s nothing quite like writing an essay. They demand structure, evidence, analyses, and ordered paragraphs. You’ve usually got to know what you want to say before you start writing.
It’s a unique process, sure. But it’s one you can learn the rhythms of, and soon be churning out top notch essays for your school or college in no time!
So before you start writing your essay, make sure you’re prepared and have:
- Done your research and compiled a list of referenced sources
- Collected all your data and made any charts or graphs you need to talk about
- Made a list of any quotes and citations you want to include
- Know your essay question or title inside out – it’s important to keep everything relevant!
There are several types of essays, and each comes with its own challenges, expected structures and language. Knowing what is required of you is pretty important!
But whether you’re writing an analytical, argumentative, interpretive, creative, persuasive or expository essay – we’ve got plenty of advice for you below.
If you want to learn more about how to structure an essay effectively, check out our article full of tips and tricks!
How to get started with writing an essay in 5 easy steps
We probably all know the Sound of Music song that goes “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start …”.
But when it comes to essays, that’s frankly terrible advice.
If you’re struggling to start your essay and don’t know what to write, the introduction is not what you should worry about first!
The intro of your essay should contain and set out the main thesis of your essay. So it’s often best to write it last once all your points are in place. Otherwise, you’ll risk having an unclear argument and confusing your reader.
Yep, that’s right! You should start your essay in the middle and leave the start of your essay until the end. Trust me, it sounds silly, but it will make your life much easier!
A foolproof technique to get writing:
So, if you’ve got blank page terror, what you really need to do is take a deep breath. And then follow this simple five-step technique and get those words flowing!
- Ignore the intro and start in the middle of your essay
- Pick the one thing you feel most confident about discussing – a fact, interesting quote, bit of data, point you want to make …
- Just write. Write anything to start organising your notes and ideas about this one thing.
- It really doesn’t matter if what you write ends up in the final draft – you’re just processing your thoughts and starting to form your argument.
- Keep writing short segments about your ideas, evidence, quotes, data etc.
- Make sure cover all the essential points and note where the data fits into your burgeoning argument!
- Once you’ve finished this very rough draft, start working on your essay structure with an outline
- Go through every paragraph you’ve written and summarise the central idea. Then rearrange them to create a logical sequence for your argument!
- You may find it helpful to explore different ways of rearranging your ideas: check out our effective note-taking article for plenty of strategies and tips!
- Armed with your trusty outline of paragraph divisions, start your next (more polished) draft. Again, start with the body of your essay, NOT the intro!
- Once the main part of your essay is written and you’re clear on your argument, it’s time to round it off with a punchy, concise conclusion and introduction. And hey presto: a complete essay!
Why does this technique work so well?
When you start an essay, your thoughts are probably still pretty muddled. So, working through your them as you write can be a great way to develop your argument and spot connections. Your outline, structure, signposting and paragraphing can be polished much more easily after your first draft!
Tip: If you know where your essay is headed (the conclusion you want to make) but not how you’re heading there, why not start right at the end with the conclusion, then develop some points for the body of your essay as your ideas develop?
How to start an essay: the introduction
Every essay should begin with a killer introduction that sets up your topic clearly for the reader and explains why it’s significant.
The introduction is often the hardest section of an essay to write. So take it slow, and ensure that you start out your essay strong!
What’s in an introduction?
So how do you actually set up your topic for your reader? What do you need to include?
There’s not an exact formula that covers every type of essay, but the essentials are the same:
- A great introduction should signpost the structure of the essay and let your reader know what to expect from your work
- Create a map of the sequence of events in your essay in broad strokes (you don’t have to mention every paragraph!)
- You should include some background on your topic to introduce the main issues you’ll be discussing
- Think about the context of your essay and its topic: in your field or within a debate, historically or socially. Key terms and relevant theories can also be useful information.
- Don’t give too much detail!
- It’s important to clearly state your thesis statement. The “thesis” of your essay is your main argument.
- Your goal is to clearly convey the position you’re taking, or your central point
- This must be an accurate representation of your essay – so write it last!
Keep it concise and relevant – an introduction doesn’t need to be long!
Start your essay with a strong first sentence
To get top marks and really engage your audience, it’s important to really capture their attention from the first sentence. Make them care about your topic and the argument you’re making.
How, you ask?
There are several different techniques and rhetorical devices for starting an essay. Not every technique will work with every type of essay – so pick carefully!
Every first sentence (your “hook”) should be concise and catchy, and interestingly written to spark your reader’s curiosity. Don’t be dry, and definitely avoid dictionary definitions!
It’s all about getting the right tone. Your intro should match the tone and style of your essay – and especially that first sentence! (Hint: it’s best to avoid humour if you’re exploring a serious topic.)
Let’s explore the seven top strategies for how to start an essay introduction (with examples!):
1. Start your essay by stating your thesis directly
And sometimes the best way to start an essay is to simply set out your thesis, very clearly, right from the start. Be simple and direct.
This technique is great for the type of analytical essays you might write in school. It packs a no-nonsense punch that sets the tone for a concise, well-crafted essay:
This essay will explore the complex socio-political factors that contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire between the reign of Constantine (312-337AD) and the fall of Rome in 476AD.
2. Start with an interesting fact
Shock or amuse your reader with an unexpected fact to immediately hook their attention from the first sentence.
This can work great for expository and persuasive essays, by piquing interest in the data or opinions you’ll be exploring. You can include a significant statistic, or pick a niche detail, but avoid broad claims.
But remember – it must be relevant to your topic! Don’t shoehorn a random fact it – you’ll just confuse your reader.
Here’s an example:
If we unravelled the entire DNA of a single human, it would stretch 10 billion miles: long enough to reach Pluto and travel back again.
3. Begin with a powerful quote
Borrow a little wisdom from an expert in your field or an influential writer!
This is a great technique for any type of essay and can make for a powerful introduction when done well. It adds a stamp of authority to the argument you’re going to make, and it’s an easy method to choose.
But remember – as with interesting facts, the quote you pick must be relevant to your topic and argument! It’s got to add something useful to what you’re saying or provide a springboard for your main exploration.
In her seminal novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley wrote, “nothing is so painful to the human mind as great and sudden change”.
4. Start by suggesting the common interpretation
If you’re writing an analytical or interpretive essay (think literary analyses), this can be a great technique for a subtle start.
Opening your essay by alluding to the mainstream interpretation sets the stage for you to develop your critique or novel perspective.
If you want to be more direct, adding a “contrary to popular opinion” statement, or simple “however” immediately points your reader in the direction of your argument.
Shakespeare’s popular tragedy Romeo and Juliet has classically been interpreted as an exploration of love and loyalty.
5. Open your essay by asking a question
This is a technique common to lots of writing (like blog posts!). It’s effective because directly addressing your reader it helps them to relate to your topic and feel invested in your answers.
It’s an engaging way to start a persuasive essay and get your reader to reflect on your argument and pick a side.
With such a vast and growing market for video games over the past decade, and despite evidence to the contrary, why does the myth that video games cause violence persist in popularity?
6. Set up a mystery to be solved
A great way to pique your reader’s curiosity is by starting your essay with a mystery (that you’re hopefully going to solve). This is a great technique for interpretive and creative essays, although it can be tricky to get right.
It works well if your topic deals with change – has something disappeared? Have (popular) opinions altered over time?
Here’s an example:
An inventory of common phrases of the past reveals a wealth of strange gobbledegook that slowly vanished from conversational use without the public’s notice.
7. Get started by setting up the scene and stakes
Here’s a technique that works best for creative essays (think personal statements).
Set the scene and tell a story with a little drama. Invite your reader to stand in your shoes (or those of your central character) in a situation directly relevant to your topic.
It’s a technique that works best if there are significant stakes or conflict in the situation. Think of it a little like the technique above (asking a question that places the reader into your topic) – but with more drama and creativity!
You’re trying to show them why this topic, and your argument, matters! Show them that your essay is not just about data and facts, but real people and situations.
On the 23rd July 1944, a dedicated audience of music-lovers listened with rapt attention to the uninterrupted beauty of Schumann’s Carnaval, whilst V2 bombs fell close enough nearby to make the doors of the Lyric Theatre rattle.
Let’s get started on that essay!
Now you’re all set to get both your essay and your introduction started with ease, it’s time to get writing!
But don’t forget to check off all the steps in the essay-writing checklist before you submit it – you might miss out on easy marks if you don’t! Luckily, we’ve got plenty of helpful writing guides to help you polish your essay at every stage. You can learn:
- how to create effective paragraphs
- about the ideal length(s) for your paragraphs
- how to transition between the stages of your argument
- the 70+ top connective words and phrases to improve your writing
- how to signpost your essay for top marks
- about improving clarity with easy proofreading tricks