How to Start an Essay

Some elements are common to all essays.

High school students are expected to write essays in most content areas. Their essays may be descriptive, expository, persuasive, or essays designed for specific classes such as science. Whatever the essay assignment, some fundamental parts of an essay are applicable, regardless of the type. There are also some basic steps needed to start an essay in order to keep the essay focused, organized and manageable.

Pick a topic. Most likely, your teacher will give you a list of subjects. Choose a topic that you have some familiarity with and something that interests you. If you enjoy the topic, you will be more apt to understand the research and have a desire to learn about the subject. Research and then narrow the topic. If you choose dogs, what is it that you want to talk about? Make a list of three to five possible subtopics: how to choose a dog, the best kind of dog, or how to buy a crate for a dog. From your list, you will choose one narrowed topic.

Write a preliminary thesis. The thesis statement is a statement of position. It directs the paper by stating what the content is. The thesis is not a question, but one statement that should be positioned at the end of the introductory paragraph. If you decide to write about choosing a dog, you may choose a preliminary statement as follows: When choosing a dog, consider the costs, size, and needs of the dog. The thesis organizes the paper. The paper may be about the costs of raising a dog, the size of the space required for the dog, and the attention the dog will need. Notice the thesis is general. You will make the thesis more specific once you have written the paper and know exactly what you want to discuss under costs, size and needs.

Visualize an upside-down triangle. This may sound strange, but a good introduction will drive the rest of the paper. The paper will fall into place because it's organized, focused, and manageable. Begin with a general statement and slowly narrow that statement to the thesis, which is the tip of the upside-down triangle. If you're writing about choosing a dog, begin with a general statement about the benefits of owning a dog. From there, discuss benefits and why it's important to choose a dog carefully. End with your thesis. The introduction will be about seven sentences in length, or half of a page.

Include transition. As you visualize the upside-down triangle, you need to make each sentence of the introduction transition to the next sentence in order to narrow the material. Your goal is to narrow the broad introductory sentence down to the thesis. Use transitional devices such as transitional words: therefore, however, since, finally. Transitional words will help your writing flow to the thesis statement.

Review the introduction and thesis statement. Ask yourself the following: Does this introduction lead into the topic I really want to write about? Do I need to rewrite the thesis to make it more specific to my topic? Can I develop an essay based on this introduction? Do I need to lengthen or shorten the introduction? Is my writing clear and focused? Once you are satisfied with the introduction, you have a start to writing an essay.

  • Don't rewrite the paper to fit the thesis. Rewrite the thesis to fit the paper.
  • When choosing a topic and subtopics, try asking journalism questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Research the answers to the questions formed from the five W's. The answers will help you narrow the topic to a manageable subject.

Pauline Gill is a retired teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a bachelor's degree in language arts and a Master of Education degree. Gill is also an award-winning fiction author.