Yahoo, MSN, Upworthy and other sites know how to get your attention. Their “teaser” headlines and first few sentences of a news article make you want to click on through to read the entire piece. This is what good journalists do – they capture you in the very beginning. And this is what you must in order to write the best essays.
Consider your instructor who may have a stack of 50 or so essays to read. Many of them will begin with dull and boring titles and introductions (yawn), and s/he is not really excited about the full read. Whether we choose to believe it or not, this does affect a grade. Don’t let this be your essay. Get a title and an introduction that will make that instructor sit up and pay attention.
Moby Dick is a dark piece of literature with lots of symbolism. No one would ever consider it humorous. So, when a student had to choose a topic for an essay on the novel, she chose the dark humor that could be found if one looked for it because she knew it would be unique. But she went further than that. As she considered titles, she ultimately settled on one based upon an old, trite expression. Her title? “A Whale of a Laugh.” Her instructor praised not only the uniqueness of her topic but the creative title she had chosen.
You must do the same. Yes, an essay is a piece of academic writing. However, it does not need to have a title that sounds like something from an academic research journal. Get creative.
Titles should not be written until the final piece is finished, so they can capture the essence of the essay and yet be enticing. Consider the following two titles:
- Slavery as a Cause of the Civil War
- Could a Book Have Really Started a War?
Which would cause you to want to read the essay? (the book, of course, is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When President Lincoln finally met the author, he said, “So you are the little lady who started a war.”)
There are a couple of ways to begin an essay with a compelling introduction.
- Give some shocking or amazing statistic. “Did you know that 1/3 of the methane gas that is polluting our atmosphere comes from cow farts?” There’s an opening for an essay on the damage we are doing to our ozone layer.
- Relate an anecdote – a short little story that is humorous, poignant or inspirational. “Mikaila Ulmer is not a household name. But this 12-year old has a thriving business based on saving bees. It’s lemonade, and it’s made with flaxseed and honey. ‘Me and Bees Lemonade’ is already being sold in three national grocery chains.” This would be a great introduction to an essay on entrepreneurship.
Of course, your introduction should include your thesis statement, but that should come toward the end of the paragraph. Your job, in the beginning, is to engage or intrigue your reader – to make him/her really want to move forward.
If you begin to think like a journalist, your titles and openings will get much better. Instructors are human, after all, and they do appreciate being enticed and engaged. Do this and you may just see your grades improve.