Drawing Readers In: Writing Attention-Grabbing Introductions
How many times have you started to read something and quit before finishing the first paragraph?
The primary goal of any piece of writing you do is to get your reader to read and be engaged with your ideas, questions, and insights! If you make your reader move past the first paragraph, you’re already doing a great job. So how do you accomplish this when you’re writing an academic paper?
The key to developing reader engagement lies in a strong, attention-grabbing, hook to snag your reader.
What is a Hook?
A hook does exactly what it sounds like—it hooks the reader and makes them want to read more. Your hook belongs in your introduction paragraph and it comes before you build things like context, defining terms, outlining a problem, and offering a thesis (a solution to the problem you outline).
It may seem like a daunting task, but there’s more than one way to craft a compelling hook so let’s look at a few ways you can accomplish this.
Ask Questions that Get Your Readers to Think
One strategy for creating an engaging hook is opening with a question that can’t be simply answered with a “Yes” or “No.” Instead, you want to challenge your readers. Make sure it’s a question that makes your reader think about a problem—and be sure it’s on topic without restating the prompt.
For example, if you were given a prompt asking whether or not standardized testing should continue to be part of the college admissions process, a question could help make pique your reader’s interest in the topic.
Starting your essay with the question, “Should standardized testing be part of the college admissions process?” doesn’t sound that exciting. In fact, it’s just passing your assignment along to your reader. Developing a more engaging question requires some research and finding information your reader may not know. Try this instead: “Why do higher education institutions continue to rely on faulty admission factors and processes?”
In the second question, you lead the reader to think about potential problems with the admissions process. And the question doesn’t immediately tell the readers what factors make admissions unfair or faulty (leaving the reader to think about the possibilities and be interested in learning more).
Shock or Surprise Your Reader
Another strategy for catching your reader’s attention at the start of an essay is to inject a little surprise. Aim to write something that catches your readers off guard. This can come in the form of a surprising statistic or fact that you learned in your research. But remember that you don’t want to be so outlandish that your reader doesn’t believe you.
Think about something that surprised you during research. For example, consider the prompt: “Should schools still give homework?” You could mention that American students spend more time on homework now than they have at any point in history, but that fact isn’t exactly shocking. Mentioning a very specific example of a homeschooled high school student who took two courses at a local community college and still spent less than 20 hours per week total on school work would be a little more surprising. Most readers would assume that a college course load would require more work, but the unexpected example could increase your reader’s interest in the topic by giving them an unexpected insight.
Paint a Portrait with a Story
One of your goals as a writer is to avoid boring your reader. Another way to hook your reader is to tell a story. This is a captivating way to begin, and there are a few ways you can do this. One way is to find a historical anecdote to tell.
Describe a famous person. Describe an actual scene that pertains to your topic. For example, consider the prompt: “Are all-female colleges important for the success of women?” You could begin your essay by listing statistics about the percentage of women who graduate from all-female colleges and go on to be successful. Or, you could tell the story of a woman who was particularly successful. For example: “In 1937, children’s author Margaret Wise Brown (of “Goodnight Moon” fame) became an editor and tried to recruit popular authors Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. While she was unsuccessful in attracting either of them, she was able to convince Gertrude Stein to write for her company. Stein was one of her heroes growing up, and they shared the achievement of graduating from women’s colleges.”
In this short description of a portion of Brown’s life, we learn that she became an editor and tried to attract famous authors to write for the company that employed her. The reader gets a little glimpse into the life of Brown while learning about the successes of graduates of women’s colleges.
A Handy Introduction Checklist
Whichever method you use to hook your reader, the important thing to remember that this is a chance to be a little creative in an academic paper. You want your opening to be interesting enough that your reader will feel compelled to continue reading. Think about what you find interesting when you read and go from there!
Lastly, download our Introduction Checklist to keep you on track anytime you’re crafting an essay.