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Let’s find out how to start an essay

Being a student is all about having new experiences and wild nights out. Right? Well, although it may be part of the fun, there is also the serious side and that is getting an education. At times, it can seem as if suddenly the essays have piled up and the deadlines are due. Whether you have given yourself plenty of time or whether you are battling with the dreaded clock not only will you have to write an essay but you will have to know how to write an introduction too.

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A nagging voice at the back of your mind is telling you that your essay is due in shortly but for some strange reason you cannot drag yourself away from the front of the television. This is quite normal; it is the old enemy procrastination pulling your body down like a magnet towards the sofa. Don’t worry, there are ways to fight it off:

  • Essentially, it is fear of failure that is making you procrastinate. This means that the worst thing that you could do is give yourself a bad time. You will only make yourself more stressed.
  • Gather the text books that you are going to use together and put them in front of your laptop. Create an area that is comfortable that you can work in. This will give your brain the cue that work is taking place shortly.
  • Open a text book on the subject that you are writing about. For instance, if your essay is English Literature and you are writing about Aphra Behn choose one that has critical essays on her plays in it. Have a pen and pad handy or open a file in your laptop. This next move will seem strange but it is extremely effective in essay procrastination. Start copying word for word what is written in the book. You will be throwing it away later – this is not suggesting plagiarism. What happens when you participate in this activity for about twenty minutes in that your mind suddenly picks up on what you are really meant to be doing and off you go. It really does work.

The topic of this article is how to start an essay. It is however, problematic because it is ambiguous. In other words, the article could be talking about the genesis of an essay. It could discuss how to decide the way in which you are going to approach an essay question. Alternatively, if you have a free rein, it could mean that it is about how you should distinguish between a suitable subject and one which would be stale because that is truly the start of the essay. However, this article is about neither of those subjects, it explores how to start writing your essay. In other words, when you are writing your introduction, make sure that you define any ambiguous terms. If you do not, you can expect to be picked up on it by your tutor and lose marks.

There are different schools of thought on how to start an essay. Some academics swear that they write it last. Their argument is that you can’t really introduce your essay until you know how it is all going to work out. It could be said that in theory this is understandable. The reason being that writing essays means that your opinions often change during the course of your research and while writing it. Therefore, it could seem a waste of time to spend hours thinking of something witty and erudite to say only to have to delete it at a later stage.

On the other hand, it could be suggested that if you write an introduction after you have done your research and your essay plan but at the beginning of the essay writing, you can use it as a map to make sure that you keep your argument tight and on track. The best attitude to have when using this method is that after you have written the main body of your essay and your conclusion, you will return to your introduction and edit it so that everything is logical and flows.

Sometimes, there will not be a lot to do but at other times editing really does mean editing. Incidentally, the term edit is often misunderstood. People often state they have edited their work when essentially they have used spellcheck. In the professional sense, this is not editing. Editing means returning to your argument and if it does not comply with the rest of the essay then a re-write is in order. Whatever you do, don’t think, it’s only the introduction, it doesn’t matter. It does – this is your future that you are talking about.

  • When writing an introduction, it is tempting to begin by simply repeating the question word for word. This is not a good idea. It will make your professor tiredly roll his or her eyes to the ceiling and think ‘not another one that does that.’
  • Another popular idea that pops into the heads of essay writers when battling with an introduction is to give information that is not necessary or in context. No matter how tempting it might be, take control. The person reading your essay will have to read hundreds of irrelevant paragraphs that act as fillers. It will not help your grades.
  • Another common mistake that reoccurs in introductions is the generalised statement that says exactly nothing. If you look through your essay and find “the above question raises some important issues that need a great deal of thinking about.” If you have anything in your introduction similar to that, delete it.

At this point, you should go through the checklist below to make sure that you are ready to start writing your introduction. If you are unclear about any of the points go back to them and reread them. It truly is better to be fully prepared before you begin writing. This way, you can concentrate fully on the next steps.

  • you have flung procrastination through the window
  • you know that you must define any ambiguous terms
  • you have decided to write your draft introduction after your research but before the body of your essay or the conclusion
  • you know what you should not write in your introduction so now you are ready to show your professors what you can do

Although essays can be written about anything, in this article a sample will be used to weigh the explanation down and make the meaning clearer. As we began talking about the writer, Aphra Behn, we will continue to use that example. Let’s imagine that your essay question is:

“Mrs Behn was a middle-class woman with all the plebeian virtues of humour, vitality and courage.” (Virginia Woolf) Consider this comment on the personality of Aphra Behn in relation to her love poetry.

When you consider the above question, it would be tempting to adopt a straightforward approach that merely takes the texts of Aphra Behn and uses them as evidence that she demonstrated humour, vitality and courage through her poems. However, if you wish to get the most out of your degree and essentially get a higher degree, you need to think deeper than that. An excellent way to get your introduction off to a bell ringing start is to introduce a hypothesis. This means that you are going to produce an argument that you are either going to prove or not by providing critical evidence from the text. Essentially, this will strengthen not merely your introduction but the whole of your essay.

Let’s consider Mrs Behn and her poetry. Mrs Behn wrote poetry during the 17th century. It is argued amongst academics that she was the first female writer to earn a living by her writing. Before that, if a woman had wished to write, the only way that they could do so was by suggesting that God had told her to write. Otherwise, if God had not determined that they would praise him with their pens then the women were considered on the same level in that day as a whore. If, at this point, you are wondering what this has to do with writing an introduction, all will be revealed shortly as we explore using context in the introduction.

Furthermore, women were not expected to have sexual agency either. This is important information because it can be used as historical context to weigh down the argument. This is the type of context that you can use in your introduction but the knowledge will also help you to choose a strong hypothesis.

If we think of the aforementioned question and then the historical context that we have uncovered, an appropriate hypothesis might be

“Mrs Behn uses love poetry to refute the patriarchal ideology that the female is without sexual agency. In other words, she uses love poetry as a device to illustrate that women have their own active sexuality and desire.”

Can you see how this opening doesn’t simply repeat or even paraphrase the question but demonstrates deeper thought on the topic of Mrs Behn’s poetry? Furthermore, it is strong and assured of its argument. The reader will be aware that the essay writer has not taken the most obvious route for the essay question and so will not be dragged down by reading yet another repetitious thought process. Also, notice how the intention is specific as opposed to generalised.

When writing an introduction, some academics argue against stating your intentions point by point. Basically, however, the only reason why this should be avoided is if the intentions are staid arguments that would make watching someone else watching television more exciting. On the other hand, if you keep your points succinct and they are riveting then your stating of intentions is more like a teaser – a promise of exciting things to come. For instance, if we return to the Aphra Behn example

“To explore how she demonstrates that females do have sexual agency, the reader has to acknowledge the courage that she portrayed by entering the male world of writing; and by the subjects that she explored within her writing. Moreover, it is important that the writing is not that of a depressive victim but of a woman whose vitality shone through whilst using humour which still makes the reader rock with mirth over three hundred years later.”

In this part of the introduction, the historical context is again being used to back up the hypothesis and thus answer the question whilst at the same time tempting the reader to get into the main body of the essay to find out more. In essence, your introduction should be like a good novel, in that it is a page turner because the reader wants to find to what is going on. For instance, in the above sample, readers that do not know Mrs Behn’s love poetry will want to find out what is so funny about it. However, the chances are that the main readers of your essay will be au fait with the poetry but because they understand exactly how cheeky for instance, The Disappointment is, they will wish to find out what out what you have to say about it.

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