Attention! How to hook your reader with an attention-getter

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Most essays don’t begin by stating the thesis in the first sentence. The reader needs to be warmed up first. You wouldn’t ask someone out on a date without introducing yourself first, right? Right. Likewise, you wouldn’t jump right to the thesis without an attention-getter and background information in the introduction.

An attention-getter is often referred to as the “hook” of the essay. A good hook makes the reader want to keep reading. It gets the reader interested in the topic. You can then set the stage with some background information on your topic. Once the reader is hooked, he or she will be warmed up for the thesis.

What makes a good attention-grabber? There are a variety of ways to grab the reader’s attention. Some include

Startling statistic
Story or anecdote
History on the subject
Quote (not from research; save those for the body)
Question

Startling Statistic

The US prison population in 2000 was 6,331,400. In 2010, the prison population rose to 7,225,800, a whopping 14.13 percent increase, and rising much faster than the rate of the regular population. If we continue at this rate, the prison population in 2030 will be an astronomical 9,412,08. The US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but it has almost one quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Actually, there are several startling statistics in this paragraph, but each one is more startling than the previous, concluding with the most shocking. We obviously know where the writer is going with this, and the stats that open the essay immediately grab the reader’s interest. I want to know the writer’s proposed solution, don’t you?

Story or Anecdote

As Tammie Schnitzer came to a stop at the intersection near the synagogue in Billings, Montana, she noticed something on the stop sign. She got out of her car to take a closer look, and a shiver shot down her spine. A sticker showed a swastika over a Star of David and the words “Want more oil? Nuke Israel.” (from Not in Our Town! By Edwin Dobb)

Narrative stories paint vivid images for the reader, as this great attention grabber does. In this case, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words, and the writer has shown the reader a shocking scene, which immediately grabs the reader’s attention.

History

In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law legislation that would make it easier for states to track down fathers who fail to make their child support payments. As a result of this legislation, the paychecks of delinquent fathers can be garnisheed in order to recover child support payments. The problem of deadbeat dads is larger than most people suspect. (“Deadbeat Dads”)

Persuasive essays can benefit with historical background to educate the reader, offering them information they may not be familiar with. History can take the form of legal, social, medical or political background information. It’s often an effective way to lead into the thesis. In the example above, we immediately understand what the problem is, and our interest is piqued.

Quote

Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” seems contrary to the way he actually lived his life, bringing into question the difference between the man’s public and private lives….

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” but has US race relations come any further than when Dr. King first uttered these words?

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” and this is still true today.

Historical quotes (save research quotes for the body of your paper) are an effective way to draw the reader into your essay. Quotes are often familiar and emotional, and appeal to a reader’s pathos. Note that in the above examples, the quotes don’t merely stand alone, but the writer goes on to derive meaning from them. The writer’s ability to derive meaning from the quote and connect it to his or her argument is a great way to lead the reader on toward the thesis.

Question

Is Tipper Gore overreacting? In her article, “Curbing the Sexploitation Industry,” Gore emphasizes the danger posed for our children by what she calls the sexploitation industry.

America is often labeled a “melting pot,” referring to a society where all elements “melt into” a harmonious whole with a common culture, but do our nation’s laws support this ideal, and should they?

Posing a provocative question to your audience that inspires interest and concern is a great way to get the reader thinking about your topic. Rhetorical questions arouse curiosity in readers by encouraging them to try to answer the question posed.

Final Thoughts

The purpose of the introduction is to inform the audience, make the reader understand the topic, and then to agree, or at least be receptive, to the thesis. Your topic will most likely guide you in choosing which type of hook works best in your introduction. Always consider who your audience is and choose the one that would best appeal to that group. Once you grab their attention, you’ll be on the way to a successful essay.

(some intro examples from Writer’s Resources: From Paragraph to Essay )

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