ATTENTION GRABBERS: OPENING AND CLOSING
GAMBITS FOR WRITING
Johnie H. Scott, M.A., M.F.A.
Associate Professor of Pan African Studies
4) thesis statement
I’ve prepared this with three purposes in mind that are all related to improving the ability of aspiring writers to (1) capture the audience’s attention from the onset with effective, clearly-written and articulated openings for paragraphs and longer compositions, (2) present cleanly-written and carefully-formulated thesis statements, and (3) finish compositions with strong, forceful conclusions that leave the reader talking and with something to think about.
I want to acknowledged a scholarly debt of gratitude to John Langan (i.e., College Writing Skills), Ronald S. Lunsford and Bill Bridges (i.e., The Longwood Guide to Writing), Philip Eggers (i.e., Process & Practice), and Tammy L. Boeck and Megan C. Rainey (Connections: Writing, and Critical Thinking) for their own work in the area of opening and closing essay stratagems. At the same time, credit must also be given to Deanne K. Milan (i.e., Developing Reading Skills) and John Roloff (i.e., Paragraphs) for the extensive attention they gave to improving the reading and basic writing skills of young writers.
Finally, a sincere note of appreciation has to be extended to my colleagues and associates in the Writing Program of the Pan African Studies Department at California State University, Northridge from the time this was first written some 15 years ago in 1986: Dr. Rosentene B. Purnell (Professor Emeritus and founder of the PAS Writing Program as well as author of Bridges: Ways of Approaching Written Discourse), Dr. Tom Spencer-Walters (Chairperson of the Department and founding editor of Kapu-Sens), and Professors King Edward Carter, Professor and author Herbert A. Simmons (i.e., Man Walking On Eggshells, Corner Boy and Tough Country), and Eric Priestley (i.e., author of Raw Dog and Abracadabra). I thank each for the insights and observations over the years of commitment to developing voices among the students matriculating through the PAS Writing Program. To Simmons and Priestley, in particular, I give a heartfelt thanks for continuing the Watts Writers Workshop tradition of which we were all part of.
Much has been made over the years about the importance of experience – very simply, of working at one’s craft…whatever that craft might be. In Robert Townsend’s critically-acclaimed feature film The Five Heartbeats, the central character is an aspiring writer. We hear the statement made by this character (played by Townsend), “To be a true writer, you have to suffer before learning what writing really is.”
Well, my mother, who was not a writer, was not nearly so fanciful in saying to me during my grade school years that I would “have to pay a lot of dues before amounting to anything in this world.” For those reading this, I am saying that writing is not something to be mastered in five easy lessons. Writing has to be worked at – and worked at constantly, every single day. You have to read along the way – whether that reading take the form of newspapers, news magazines, comic books, popular fiction like Walter Mosley’s Walkin’ the Dog, cultural criticism such as that done by Michael Eric Dyson with Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line, or major writers like Toni Morrison with Paradise or Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth. The point I’m making is that a person reads in order to develop, expand and appreciate the power of the word, of vocabulary, of being able to express themselves without stretching for meanings beyond their grasp.
Having said that, my intent is to present another approach to writing. This article is based upon my own experiences as a writer and in the classroom – and I do this as someone whose ability and love for writing enabled me to move up out of the Jordan Downs Housing Projects in South central Los Angeles, pass through Harvard, Stanford and Antioch Universities, and settle into a position where I can now share my love for the craft and love of writing itself with others. For those of you concerned solely with writing better paragraphs and essays, what I have to say should offer some insights on accomplishing that task. For those of you, though, who see writing as a means to affect social attitudes and change the way people view issues (and one another), perhaps what I have to say will help jar some now thoughts into existence. I certainly hope so.
“The Hook”: Getting the Reader’s Attention
How many times have you opened your mailbox to see one of those large, brown envelopes with large lettering boldly announcing that you have been “Pre-Approved” and stand to be “An Instant Winner!” It doesn’t matter that the letter may have come from some publishing clearinghouse. You take a seat in your living room, perhaps at the breakfast nook in your kitchen where you then pause for a moment or two while hefting the envelope from one hand to the other. In your mind, you imagine what it would be like to be a sweepstakes winner – and think back to that happy face of the person who hit the Super Lottery for $70 million. You find yourself thinking of what being an “instant winner” could do in changing your own personal fortunes: payoff outstanding loans, clear past due accounts from your credit report, make it finally possible to take that “Dream Vacation.” Perhaps you even call in family, or a close friend, telling them about this strange letter – wanting them present when you open the envelope.
You do so very carefully, removing the contents which include the facsimile of a $100,000 check bearing your name and a series of numbers --- one of which, you are told, is yours “to keep” and follow in the hope that it will be drawn at a lottery sometime in the not-so-distant future. Excited now with the adrenalin pumping, you put the number series to the side and read on. This is when you get “the pitch” from the company sponsoring the lottery: purchase one or more of their products with the notation that “failing to do so will not detract from your ability to win the $100,000 Grand Sweepstakes Prize!”
In marketing circles, this is referred to as “The Hook”: it is a 20-second window of opportunity wherein marketers gain your attention and make their sale. That 20-second window of opportunity is true for all audiences. Knowing that it exists and how to make the most effective use of that window is one of the reasons why good writers use strategies to immediately gain the reader’s attention. Good writers know that one of the most serious errors that can be made is by opening up right away with the main purpose of the writing – this is an automatic turnoff for the reader!
Think back to that brown, “Pre-Approved Instant Winner” envelope with the facsimile check! Imagine that same envelope in your mailbox, opening it up and immediately being hit on the head with “Buy this.” Without a doubt, that envelope would go sailing into the trash can. With today’s audiences becoming increasingly sophisticated and demanding, there is a premium on the attention span available. You have to make the most of that time. Knowing about and being able to make effective use of the various opening strategies can only enhance your skills as a writer.
There are, as a matter of fact, seven (7) proven opening gambits or strategies for one’s paragraphs and/or longer compositions:
1) Begin with a broad, general statement that you narrow down to your thesis statement. Keep in mind that the thesis provides the main idea for the entire composition;
2) Use a question or series of thought-provoking questions. When using this gambit, it is very effective to state these questions as a series of one-liners (i.e., paragraphs) before getting to the thesis. Just keep in mind at all times that the questions you raise do more than merely set a tone for your paper, those questions sooner or later must be answered;
3) Use quotations. The best quotes are those drawn from popular culture, from the social literature the general public (i.e., your targeted audience) is acquainted with. If you are writing to a politically conservative audience, then you might want to open with a quote from a noted conservative. If the audience is perceived as a hip, upwardly-mobile group of African-American women, then you might want to open with a statement from someone like Joan Morgan, bell hooks, June Jordan, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker or SistahSouljah.If, on the other hand, you are directing your message to a teenaged readership based in the urban core, you might want to open with a quote from the socially conscious lyrics by one of the leading rap artists or groups. Who would you use, for instance, if the paper was centered on the problems caused by gang violence? Use quotes, in other words, that connect with your audience!
4) Use an anecdote. All audiences enjoy a story, particularly those with human interest. In this instance, you are putting a face (or faces) to your composition by drawing upon an incident containing a moral center, one that you can then use in leading your audience to the thesis statement. Here again, the best anecdotes are those coming from popular culture: from stories and events that people are aware of and talking about.
5) State the importance of the topic. You do this by presenting statistical data, facts, figures that underscore the issues about to be discussed. The data must be pertinent, validated and presented in an objective manner free of any editorializing – the facts speak for themselves;
6) Use the opposite of what you plan to write about. This is done for dramatic effect, as in “What if the world were like this instead of what the world, or situation about to be discussed, truly is?” Readers are often fascinated, intrigued by this type of approach; And lastly,
7) Use a combination of the strategies. This is best done by using two of the six gambits. Your more skilled writers frequently make use of this, the seventh and final opening gambit.
The Thesis Statement
All of these opening strategies, or essay gambits, have one purpose and that is to focus the audience on your purpose for writing: your thesis statement. This statement is best seen as a single, complete sentence containing the main idea of the entire composition with at least three (3) patterns by which you intend to develop and support that subject. You could not write a very good or insightful essay, for example, if your thesis was “The Hyundai is a great car.” That statement by itself is both vague and general. It has no focus and fails to give the audience anything in terms of where the composition is going. On the other hand, the audience receives a clear sense of direction from a thesis statement that reads “Because of its great gas mileage, low maintenance, and outstanding road handling on highways and city streets, the Hyundai is a great car.”
From this thesis statement, we know that you are going to write about (1) the great gas mileage a Hyundai gets in comparison to other cars, (2) the low maintenance and monies saved in repairs with the Hyundai in contrast to other vehicles, and (3) the responsive way the Hyundai handles on the road in relationship to other cars on the highways and city streets. Those three patterns of development all contribute to and support the main idea, which is that the Hyundai is a great car. They do so in a logical, orderly fashion which is what your readership expects in a well-organized composition.
By the same token, you need to now about the four (4) most common errors made when fashioning thesis statements:
- Do not make announcement. One of the sure signs of the struggling writer is the telltale “In this paper I am going to write about” or the even more deadly (and monotonous) “The purpose of this paper is…” Announcements are a sure way of insulting the intelligence of your readership. Don’t make announcements (“For the next 750 words I am going to…” which leads the reader to start counting your words rather than concentrating on what you are trying to communicate!) or tell the reader what you plan to write about – allow the writing to communicate the story!
- Do not make the thesis too broad. This happens when the writer has failed to carefully think out or plan what the actual subject is going to be. Imagine a thesis statement that asserts “The Civil War was the turning point in American race relations.” Scholars, historians, and many others have written volumes on that subject! This is not the sort of thesis statement you would put forth for a research paper or essay topic due the following week. It is entirely too broad and general.
- Do not make the thesis statement too narrow or specific. Again, this is a result of failing to fully think through what one is going to write about. It is very much like painting oneself into a corner, away from any exit, and being left with no way out. Imagine, for example, having to write a paper with the thesis being “This table is made out of wood.” While such a sentence might lend itself to a few sentences (at best), one certainly could not hope to go any further than that. By always incorporating those three (3) patterns of development into your thesis statement, the error of being too narrow or specific will be avoided; and finally,
- Do not make your thesis statement too vague. This error usually results from fuzzy, unclear thinking. If the thesis is unclear to you, then it will be unclear and, even worse, confusing to your readers. “The California Condor is an interesting bird” does nothing for the reader. It invites confusion by raising too many questions. “Interesting” meaning what? To who? Why? Here, once again, the confusion can be avoided by incorporating those three (3) patterns of development into the thesis statement.
Synergy – Bringing Everything Together:
Effective writing comes, first of all, from being precise and logical in one’s thinking process. When structuring paragraphs, essays and other compositions that work for the reader – and keep in mind that when writing for the public, that audience always comes first! – consideration must be given to capturing and then holding the attention of the reader. You accomplish this by using the opening gambits or strategies that I have identified here, each of which leads the reader to what hopefully will be a well-formulated, clearly-articulated thesis statement (i.e., the main idea of the entire composition). Your reader(s) should be able to follow that thesis in a logical and orderly fashion to the conclusion.
I like telling my students, however, that concluding or wrapping up a paper is just as important as getting the reader’s attention in the first place. You want to writer something that leaves an impression in the mind of your audience, a belief that they have been given something of considerable worth. This is best achieved by using any one of the following six (6) closing gambits (Again, there are actually eight but students who follow-through with me into 155 Freshman Composition will pickup the remaining two at that level):
1) Restate the main points raised in the paper. What you are doing here is to repeat for your readers those patterns of development first articulated in the thesis statement; in effect, you are now tying the package together.
2) Close with a quotation. This can be a very effective means for closing out an essay. It adds style and grace to the writing. The best quotes, again, come out of popular culture or wisdom. The quote(s) should be directly related to the subject matter. Using quotes definitely gives your audience the impression that you are in control of the material.
3) Close with an anecdote. Once more, we are dealing with readability. Audiences love good stories, those that have a core, a sensibility. The writer who can close a composition with a brief story is certainly going to leave a memorable impression on the readers.
4) Restate the main point and end with a thought-provoking question. Anytime you can focus the audience on the main point of your writing, then leave them with something to mull over once they have finished the reading, then you have succeeded.
5) End with a prediction or recommendation based upon the subject matter. Remember that the prediction reflects what might or will take place if the assertion in your thesis is not followed through or acted upon. This engages the audience into actions which is always a positive effect. In the same vein, giving the audience a recommendation or series of recommendations is effective in that you are providing them with a list of actions they can take. This moves the audience from passive readers to active doers.
6) End with a Call for Action. This is proactive, engaging writing that makes your audience aware that what they have read is not merely brain candy, but a serious call by the writer for them to act upon what has been put on the table. This conclusion keeps your readership stimulated.
7) Close with a thought-provoking question, one that stands by itself and leads the reader to wonder, “What if?”
Good writing calls for practice and commitment. One of the keys to being an effective writer is remembering your audience, keeping them in mind, understanding that the best audience is one that takes an active rather than passive role in reading what it is that you are trying to get across. The opening and closing strategies that have been discussed here are proven means for accomplishing that exact purpose. At the same time, you have been given a list of the do’s and don’ts in developing thesis statements. To become really adept at writing, though, you have to read: widely and broadly. Reading will give you access not only to new information but, even more, will expose you to different writing styles and ways of expression that can only enhance and improve your own.
1) The author provides seven (7) different gambits or strategies for starting one’s paper. What are those seven and provide your own original example(s) in explaining each one.
2) What is a thesis statement? The author lists the four most common errors in the construction of thesis statements. What are those errors and which one(s) give you the greatest difficulty? Why?
3) In this essay, you have been provided with eight different techniques for concluding one’s paragraphs and longer compositions. Identify each of the eight techniques and briefly give your own, original examples and illustrations in explaining each one.
4) What has been the greatest value or insight this particular assignment has given you? Why? In what way(s) has it expanded on your previous knowledge and awareness of ways in which to open and close your writing.
When your English language professor requires to write an essay, how do you begin your writing? Do you use any good hooks in the introductory paragraphs to grab readers' attention? Probably, you have discovered a secret, unique great hook which helps your paper stand out from other works. Different types of essay hooks exist. High school and college students along with creative writers use them to grab their readers' attention.
WHAT DO WE DEFINE AN ESSAY HOOK?
Before you learn how to write a good hook, you must learn what it is. A hook is an interesting and catchy sentence from the introduction of your high school or college essay which motivates people to read your work. Although it is a rather small element, a perfect hook is both informative and engaging. It has a deep meaning and helps a writer introduce his or her main idea.
GET HELP WITH YOUR ESSAY HOOK FROM US
TIPS ON FINDING THE BEST HOOK
We decided to analyze some examples of essay openings to provide you with an idea of how effective hooks look like. First, we would like to discuss a number of important ideas you should keep in mind before you write a hook.
A common mistake is that students give a great starter...and forget that it's a part of a paper. Don't jump to discussing your paper topic without demonstrating a clear bonding between the opening lines and the rest of the paper. Words are powerful; yet, if they aren't related to your work, they can't support your argument.
Tone and style of your work mean everything. If you are working on a research paper in physics to offer it to a scientific journal, it is better not to start with a personal childhood story. The hook should be strong and appropriate. Yet, if you are writing for a magazine which is less official, then the childhood story will sound quite natural. Evaluate the situation first!
Consider your target audience. Obviously, you shouldn't write an essay for professionals in biology using teenage language. They understand the text, but they are unlikely to get the purpose of your writing.
These strategies to developing good hooks are the key because every author's main purpose is to make readers understand his or her opinion and enjoy the overall reading.
HOOKS TO USE IN ESSAYS
Mind where the good hooks come from. You might want to type in a curious fact on the topic which is unknown to most of the people. Find different facts in various sources such as:
- Textbooks and books
- Academic and scientific journals
- Official published reports
- Documentaries and films
Remember that the more recent and credible source you use, the more trustworthy your essay's hook sounds.
To help you better understand how hook sentences function in writing, we are going to discuss several really nice articles written by professional writers and journalists. We look only at the intros of our examples and describe the kind of hooks found in each one.
KEEP THEM READING BY STARTING WITH AN INTERESTING FACT
The first good example of high knowledge is the quote taken as a hook from the credible online resources that publish up-to-date information on the most critical and discussed topics within society. People find it intriguing that:
"Over 36% of mobile subscribers use iPhones or iPads to read email, and 34% of subscribers only use mobile devices to read emails."(Informz)
Such statistics help perspective business people to launch their own mobile solutions in the upcoming year. Not all teachers and professors support the active usage of internet/digital resources, so you must specify whether such way to introduce your hook and the first paragraph is OK. Then, you move to the discussion on why mobile applications are perspective products/business ideas.
"There are two distinct traditions in the literature regarding the proper analysis of predicate noun and adjective constructions..."
(John Bowers, The Syntax of Predication)
In the given example we have an official, scientific paper which cannot be humorous or start with a creative trope. On the contrary, this intro is rather straightforward. And, nevertheless, it contains a nice hook - a conflict. 'Two distinct traditions' means that we will see how the author either supports one of them or introduces the third solution to the existing problem. Presenting conflicting ideas is always an excellent way to start.
ANECDOTE OR A JOKE WOULD BE HELPFUL
ESL/EFL classroom offers many anecdotes on various subjects to help students cover any topic with a share of humor. The examples of essay hooks below catch an eye of the reader by making him laugh.
"A family of mice were surprised by a big cat. Father Mouse jumped and said, "Bow-wow!" The cat ran away. "What was that, Father?" asked Baby Mouse. "Well, son, that's why it's important to learn a second language."
Isn't it a great idea to start your paper on the importance of learning a secondary language? Mind that each country has its specific humor and forbidden jokes. Choose the hook sentences wisely!
POSING QUESTIONS IN THE BEGINNING
You may play with facts and statistics to combine them into the question. You may use rhetorical question too. It is a great way to start your writing and give an overall picture of what you'll be talking about. Make sure to provide an answer throughout your text or at the end.
"Have you ever thought how many people die of pneumonia every day in the United States?"
CATCH EXCELLENT ESSAY HOOK FROM EXPERT WRITER
HOW TO WRITE A HOOK OF THE MIXED TYPE
Here we go with the mixed example:
"As children's culture arose in the 1740s, the juvenile market was suddenly awash in age-appropriate clothing, toys, and reading material..."
(Megan A. Norcia, Puzzling Empire: Early Puzzles and Dissected Maps as Imperial Heuristics)
This beginning is a good example of how a fact can be used in an intro. Readers tend to pay attention to those works which provide them with new information, and starting with a date and an interesting fact is a brilliant hooking idea.
"Why some people choke and others panic."
(Malcolm Gladwell, The Art of Failure)
We definitely love this intro. Short, clear, and very powerful. Although there is no question mark at the end, the intro above belongs to the category of 'posing a question.' We mean that the author opened the essay with a statement which promises the answer if we keep reading. We know the article is on the failure and the ways people react to it. The rhetorical question-like intro is truly hooking because the majority of readers will want to know why some people choke and other people panic.
A fact or question works well with the analysis paper. Find out how to write an analysis essay which deserves A+.
A LITERARY QUOTE AS THE WAY TO EXPRESS YOURSELF
Another great essay hook might be an original philosophical or social phrase to grab the attention. Think of any sentence or paragraph which can force your readers to think. Try to help arise necessary questions and social problems by your speech.
"Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity."
(Joan Didion, After Life)
If the style of writing allows you to be creative, look for an unusual, original way to express the main theme of your paper with the help of such good hooks for essays. Here, Joan Didion starts with her own poem which 'tunes' readers and let them know in advance what the whole text is about.
Mind the way you format quotes depends on different academic writing styles.
SET A SCENE
Try to memorize an example of a very brief story from famous people to capture the attention of your reader. Such essay's hook points to the importance of the topic or question with the help of a real-life example. The best examples include recalling the story of Helen Keller who managed to write beautiful books being blinded from her birth. You may use a story of some celebrity like Bon Jovi to stress the importance of helping disabled people financially and morally by attending them in the hospitals. When you write an essay, you are not supposed to recall only examples from your life. You are encouraged to share stories of people who figure as your role models. They don't have to be very famous, but their stories should serve as the perfect essay hook related to your chosen topic.
"After smiling brilliantly for nearly four decades, I now find myself trying to quit. Or, at the very least, seeking to lower a wattage a bit."
(Amy Cunnigham, Why Women Smile)
Reader deals with a perfect personal story. Readers want to know more about each story's main character because they try to find new emotions and new knowledge. Do you know why she has no intention to smile anymore? Is it hooking enough? We think so. Such beginnings are always attention grabbing and exciting.
In case you write an essay on such trait as jealousy, you may quote a well-known book by Shakespeare, "Othello," which is primarily focused on the problems caused by this feeling. Show how Othello is afraid of losing Desdemona, his wife, because of the color of his skin, religion, and other stereotypes.
I crave fit disposition for my wife.
Due reference of place and exhibition
With such accommodation and besort
As levels with her breeding"(Act1.Scene 3)
In Act 2, Scene 1, we discover more about the topic of jealousy from the character of Iago who has an evil mind due to his friend's Othello's success.
QUOTES FROM FAMOUS PEOPLE
Actually, many of the essay hook examples quoted above can be put into this category. However, there are phrases well-known by the entire world. Once something critical happens, famous people always have their point of view. They share it with the society via mass media. It is your chance to find another great essay hook. The first example appears below:
"The problem with environmentalists, Lynn Margulis used to say, is that they think conservation has something to do with biological reality."
(Charles C. Mann, State of the Species)
Another clever way to hook people is to use quotes from famous people. With a quote, your writing makes a certain statement and helps you establish your authority as a writer. You demonstrate your connection with the community and show great interest in the field history and respect towards people who have made a large contribution to its development.
GOOD HOOKS FOR ESSAYS IN THE SHAPE OF SIMILE OR METAPHOR
You should practice using metaphors and similes as the way to start your essay with an interesting hook. Watch out - many people do not tend to get the meaning of metaphors and similes from the first time, so it is better to add a description or explanation of what it means. Otherwise, you risk losing your audience instead of grabbing its attention. A good metaphor helps enrich one's speech and make the writing more powerful in terms of words.
As written by Dan Wakefield,
"I feel as much of a stud as... I can't come up with a metaphor. That's how lacking in studliness I am."
A simile is a literary tool often used as an essay hook. It also shows writer's ability to express feelings and ideas in many different, original ways rather than being straightforward all the time. To understand similes better, a student has to read a lot of plays, poems, song lyrics, and take part in everyday conversations.
The several examples below are helpful when writing your essay hook:
- "as cute as a puppy" (contrasting something to the adorableness of a puppy)
- "as busy as a bee" (describing very industrious people)
- "as snug as a bug in a rug" (meaning tucked up tight)
OTHER GREAT WAYS TO START YOUR SENTENCE
There are other ways to begin you writing such as stating a thesis and using statistics and numbers. You are the one to decide which option is the most effective. Don't forget to take the preparatory steps and figure out which kind of hook is the most beneficial.
Although we have added some great sentences which you can use as a topic hook, it is still not easy to grab attention to your story from the first essay's line. Thus, we would like you to remember there is an immediate solution to any academic writing problem in the shape of our website with services for high school, college, and university students. When you don't have time to type the whole paper or think of the relevant anecdote or scene to begin with, our writing services are always ready to help with your learning process. Order a custom essay or research paper with the most effective hooks you've ever seen!
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