By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
This is not a blog post about the proper structure of an essay. It is also not a post about how to write a thesis statement. (Want that? Here you go.)
Instead, I am giving you three tips for how to start an essay when you just feel stuck and don’t know where to begin.
Here’s the disclaimer: These tips are for the times when you have been assigned an essay topic, you already know your thesis statement, and you know your teacher’s expectations (length, style, etc.). Additionally, I’m assuming you also know what type of essay you’re expected to write: narrative, expository, etc. (Here’s more info on the different types of essays.)
The 3 tips below are meant to give you ideas on how to start an essay when you are staring at a blank computer screen and literally have no idea what sentence to begin with. Sound like you? Read on.
How to start an essay: 3 hacks for getting started
1. Start in the middle.
There’s no law that says you have to write your introduction paragraph first. In fact, I have – many times – written my introduction last. If you think that the hardest part of your essay is the opening paragraph, then start somewhere else instead, like a middle body paragraph. In other words: choose the path of least resistance.
2. Start with the quote.
Build your essay around a quote instead of trying to find a quote to fit your essay. So many of my clients and students get stuck finding quotes (evidence) to support what they’ve written in their essays, and sometimes it can take forever to search through a book to find the perfect quote to match what they’ve already written. Instead, I suggest you start with a quote: find a quote in the book / article that supports your thesis statement (your argument), and then build an entire paragraph around that quote. It’s so much easier to work backwards — I do this all the time in my own research papers!
3. Write a list.
Write a list of everything that comes to mind about your topic, without filtering your thoughts. List out points you want to make, quotes you want to use, facts you could incorporate, ideas you think might be valid … write it all down in a list (not in paragraph form). When you’re done with your list, go through it and group similar items together. These groupings will essentially become your paragraphs. If one grouping is way smaller than the other (for example, it only has two items in it and the others have 4 items), then you know you need to add more to that paragraph.
Bonus tip for starting essays
One of the best tips for how to start an essay is simpler than you could imagine: Just start. Yup, you might think that’s annoying advice, but I’m dead serious. Even when you don’t feel like it (especially when you don’t feel like it!), just open up a Google Doc, give it a name, and write sommmmething. Sometimes this simple act is enough to get the ball rolling.