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How to start an essay

It's a question students everywhere would love to know the answer to. What is a good way to start an essay? Unfortunately, there's not actually a definitive way to answer the question. There are, though, a number of ways to approach it, and that can be half the battle.

Here are 10 tips on how to start an essay.

Tip 1: Read the question

It seems blindingly obvious, but the first thing you need to do before beginning your essay is to read and understand the question. You don't want to begin writing only to realise half way through that your thoughts don't actually address or answer the question properly. So look at the question, write it down, and make sure you understand exactly what it's asking. If it's a long question, then underline the key elements within it. Explain the question to yourself, and make sure it makes sense. Only then can you make a start on your essay.

Tip 2: Know the subject

For some, it's tempting to just plunge right in and begin your essay without first researching the subject. But without doing this, you could soon run out of steam, which could spell disaster for your deadline date. So take the time to do some reading first. Even just scanning a few chapters of the recommended texts can give you some good ideas on how to approach the subject, as well as how to structure your essay. Write down key facts and points that address the question, and then organise these notes to form the structure of your essay. How to use these notes is up to you, but try and form a guideline that you can work from as you're writing your essay. This should make your essay a lot easier to begin if you know where to start.

Tip 3: Know your audience

Depending on who you are writing the essay for could have a big impact on how you begin your essay. If it's an academic essay, for instance, then it's usually appropriate to keep the tone a little more formal and less bombastic. If the essay is for a younger audience, or perhaps for addressing your peers, then you want to make sure that it catches their attention - perhaps by posing your own question that involves them.

Tip 4: Identify your angle

Once you've made those first important steps, you have to decide on the angle you want to approach your essay. This will set the tone for the essay, and will also give you a good idea about how you want to write it. Of course, the approach you take can still be flexible - you might find as you write your essay that you might change your mind about key elements and themes, so don't be afraid to admit that.

Tip 5: Mistakes to avoid

Examples of essay beginnings that should be avoided include stating the obvious (i.e. 'I am going to write this essay...') or by making your opening sentence long winded and difficult to read. A guide to avoiding these type of mistakes can be found in this article, which will provide you with some useful tips about how not to begin your essay.

Tip 6: Look at the work of others

Whilst it's very important to never, ever plagiarize (i.e. take the credit for someone else's work), it's a good idea to see how others have approached the subject of your essay in the past. Whilst you don't need to copy the approach of others, the advantage of writing your own piece of work is that you can pick and choose the strengths you might have identified elsewhere, and use them in your essay. See how others have begun an essay on the subject, and challenge yourself to match or improve on it. Whether you do this or not, always remember to give appropriate references for this approach.

Tip 7: Take a break

Doing the required reading or research to begin an essay can be hard work, so don't forget to take a break now and again. Writers block can be a terrible affliction for students and writers alike, so if things aren't flowing, take a step back. A short break - whether it's for a cuppa, a short walk, or maybe a chat with friends - can really help give your thinking a new lease of life when you might have previously struggled.

Tip 8: Begin your essay

Once you have followed the above tips, then it's time to start your essay. Of course, there are numerous ways to do this, and as already discussed some approaches may or may not be appropriate for your audience.

Examples of how to begin an essay include starting with a quote that is pertinent to the subject or question, or by posing your own question. Hopefully, the preparation you have done will put you in good stead to tackle your essay and complete it witout too much of a struggle. Remember, when writing your essay, if you are stuggling, don't be afraid to take a break rather than writing yourself into a rut.

Tip 9: Get a second opinion

Once you've finished your essay, it doesn't hurt to compare notes with friends, or get a second opinion. Your tutor should be happy to also provide some thoughts, particularly on longer, more complicated assignments, so don't be afraid to ask.

Tip 10: Revisit your beginning

Once your essay is finished, and you've checked and double checked it, make sure to look at the start again, and ask yourself if it fits in well with the rest of the essay. Sometimes, when writing an essay, you might have written a paragraph or sentence that you find would fit better at the beginning of your essay, rather than in the middle, so don't be afraid to change things around.

So there you have it. A guide to writing the start of an essay, which will hopefully give you a head start when it comes to the crunch!