An essay’s introduction sets the tone for the entire piece. Use an opening compatible with both your thinking and your audience’s expectations. If you tell a story as a “hook,” follow it with a sentence or two to guide your readers thinking about it applies to your essay’s subject. Be academic, philosophic, argumentative, humorous, or reflective. Whatever opening you choose, make sure it complements your thesis statement. If your hook and your thesis don’t pair well, one of them isn’t quite right for your essay.
A thesis statement is the one-sentence commercial for the entire essay. It tells readers not just what they will read but also reveals an author’s intended bias toward the subject. (For examples of thesis statements, go here and here, under Write.) If you are writing a large paper, your introduction may be detailed enough to mean your thesis statement is a page or two into the writing. For homework and exam essays, however, thesis statements are usually the final sentence in the first or second paragraph.
Erik Simpson, an English professor at Grinnell College, provides his students with a template called the “Magic Thesis Sentence.” It has three components: (1) “By looking at _____,” (2) “we can see _____, which most readers don’t see;” and (3) “this is important because _____.”
Of course, “looking…see” can become “thinking…decide” or any other pairing logical to your paper. After you’ve become comfortable filling in the template, you should stop using Simpson’s words and write your own to his three components: (1) item/idea, (2) your unique way of thinking about it, and (3) why people should care.
Planning the thesis statement helps plan the body of the essay. If you know you get sidetracked easily once you start writing, prepare the thesis first and use it as a guide for the various paragraphs needed to support it. If your essay alters during revisions, be sure to make the needed changes to your thesis. Don’t worry if this back-and-forth happens a few times during your writing. Many writing instructors believe writing is a process that cycles through the planning, drafting, writing, and editing stages a few times before an essay is finished, and should be expected — so budget time for that to happen!
Since writing is a cyclical process, it’s okay to work in reverse. If you are the type to let words flow, then freewrite. Somewhere in your process you’ll notice that writing the body has developed your major points and identified your point of view. Until then, remember to type “insert thesis” at the end of the introduction so you won’t forget to include one.
To review the companion set of slides to this post, go to Essay Structure Slideshow.