How to Write a Hook for Your Essay's Introduction

hook

The best first impression is the one people don't even realize you're making.

In writing, your first impression isn't about you; it's about the reader. Your job is to offer a tempting, juicy worm that makes the reader irresistibly drawn in, all the while unaware of the person fishing (aka, the author). 

That's why we start with a hook: right from the get-go, we want to speak directly to the reader's interests. We want to push our essay to the forefront of that reader's attention, despite what else might have been circling around in the brain loop at the time.   

If you think about it, you see hooks all the time: online in the descriptions of videos or posts. You know the ones I mean: "A man rescues a bear from the circus, and you won't believe what happens next." 

These click-bait descriptions work because they accurately predict people's reactions to certain types of statements. And you can do that, too. Not the letting-people-down-with-an-essay-that-doesn't-live-up-to-what-it-promises part. But the writing-a-great-hook part. And the key is to use what you know about human nature.

Human Trait #1: We like hearing opinions we agree with

What? I think so, too! You must be really smart if you agree with me. I’d like to hear more from you, you intelligent writer, you. ;) An idea we agree with lowers our defenses. It draws us into writing and makes us want to hear more. Added bonus, it often makes us predisposed to like the whole piece of writing as well. 

How you can use it in your hook:

Make a statement or ask a rhetorical question that invites a feeling of agreement. Just make sure it's not so obvious that it's not worth saying.

  • How can we build a sustainable future when we won't conserve in the present?
  • Guilt is its own punishment.
  • The greatest heroes are those who are brave enough to face their own flaws.

Human Trait #2: We feel compelled to argue against opinions we disagree with

Have you ever yelled at your TV? I’m totally guilty of this. Someone spouts an opinion I find deplorable, and I start spewing out reasons why he or she is completely wrongheaded and hopelessly misinformed. Good thing I don’t have a smart TV with voice-command options. 

When we hear ideas we don’t agree with, we usually feel compelled to step in and correct people. Even if we manage to keep our mouths closed, our energy rises and we become engaged (often awaiting our turn to rip the disagreeing POV to shreds!).

How you can use it in your hook:

Start with an idea you think most readers would take issue with. Don’t be belligerent; think about sparking controversy without offending people.

  • Smart phones make dumb people.
  • Punishing children does more harm than good.
  • No society can achieve real justice.
  • Even the most enlightened people are ruled by prejudices.

Human Trait #3: We try to solve mysteries and puzzles

Our brains don't like not knowing the answer. Think of how much it bugs you when you can't think of the word you want, or the name of that actress who was in that movie. You knowthat one with the accent who's married to that guy? 

When faced with minor puzzles and mysteries, our brains perk right up. As long as they think they're on the verge of getting the answer to the problem, they're enthusiastic and eager listeners. 

How you can use it for your hook:

Make a statement or ask a question that doesn’t make sense immediately. It provides the tip of the iceberg of an idea. It can't be too difficult a puzzle or you'll lose people. And it also can’t be nonsense. That will make your reader tune it out. It has to almost make sense but just be missing something. (Something that will be explained in the rest of the introduction.)

Think about the hook for this post. Did you know exactly what I meant about first impressions, or were you curious?

  • Try a paradox: a statement that initially sounds like a contradiction but that also makes an intuitive kind of sense.
  • Try a simile or metaphor that isn’t commonly used about the topic.
  • Pose a riddle.

Human Trait #4: We like the familiar

Sometimes when I’m scanning through the preset radio stations in the car, I hear a song and get excited. I leave the station on and start to listen…only to realize that I don’t actually like the song! I recognized it, and I mistook the feeling of recognition for the feeling of joy.

Unfortunately, politics and capitalism take great advantage of this principle, and we often select things not based on how much they serve us, but instead based on how familiar they are. 

How you can use it for your hook:

You, on the other hand, can wield this power for good. Try using familiar elements to help your reader connect to your essay. Put the reader right in the middle of a recognizable situation.

  • Describe a familiar scenario, such as forgetting your umbrella on a rainy day.
  • Mention background or context that most readers would connect with, such as a time of year, place in the world, or a mental state.
  • Make mention of the struggles and triumphs we all face as humans, or as smaller groups, such as modern humans, Americans, or high school students.

Human Trait #5: We love stories

You know all those commercials that air during the Super Bowl? They’re nearly as anticipated as the game itself, and they all have one thing in common, besides the fact that they cost oodles of money: they tell stories. Sure, they’re really short stories. But these ads present compelling narratives we can all relate to. They have characters and conflict, rising action and resolutions. That’s why we’re so engaged!

How you can use it for your hook:

You can’t tell an entire story in your hook. But what you can do is use elements of narrative to draw your audience in.

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Vivid description of a setting or situation

Use your common sense

Because they rely on our natural curiosity and tendencies, all of these strategies can help you create a successful hook that readers will respond to. But there’s one more vital ingredient to consider: what you essay actually covers!

Because, unlike click-bait on the Internet, your hook has a responsibility to be relevant and intelligent. It has to match not only the content of your essay, but also its tone, voice, and audience.

For example, if you’re writing a formal essay on the economic, social, and technological effects of World War II, a dramatic, first-person description of D-Day isn’t going to cut it for a hook.

Similarly, if you’re writing a second-person POV persuasive article for your school paper, your hook shouldn’t be a broad, universal statement that ignores the context of the issue.

Whatever method you choose for your hook, follow these guidelines:  

DO:

  • get the reader's attention with something interesting.
  • provide a hint about an important theme in your essay.
  • provide a preview of the tone of your essay.
  • invite the reader in with clear language and syntax.

DON"T

  • jump straight into your argument.
  • write a hook that's off-topic.
  • use a tone or style that's divorced from the rest of your writing.
  • create a first sentence that's convoluted or unnecessarily complicated.