SAT Essay, Part 6: Three Tips for Your Introduction
This is the fifth part of our series on preparing for the SAT essay. All of these articles are excerpts from the curriculum for WriteAtHome’s new and popular SAT Essay Prep course.
Maybe you’ve heard the analogy before: an essay is like a sandwich. The introductory and concluding paragraphs are the bread, top and bottom, and your supporting paragraphs are the meat (cheese, lettuce, pickles, etc.) in between.
Some people object to this sandwich-essay idea. They fear it will produce bland, predictable essays. These critics have a point, and there is no doubt that writing strictly according to predetermined templates can limit creativity. But the SAT has made it known that they are looking for clear, intentional organization in the essay. We therefore think it’s too risky, in this context, to experiment with form. Play around with structure elsewhere. For this essay, stick with the tried and true.
In the next three parts of this series, we’ll take each part one at a time.
A good introduction grabs the reader’s attention and points him in the direction the essay is going. Your goal is to gain his interest from the first sentence. Here are a three practical tips for making a big splash in your introduction.
1Keep it short and simple. Two or three sentences is all you need. In fact, one really good sentence would do fine. Resist any urge to get elaborate and detailed in your introduction. You are too likely to use up the time you’ll need for writing the body of the paper.
Don’t include too much in your introduction either. Don’t begin supporting your idea. Save that for the body of the paper. All that first paragraph needs to do is introduce the thesis.
2Place your thesis at the end of the introduction. One component of your introduction must be your thesis. By the end of the first paragraph, your reader should know where the paper is going and what position you will be defending. But that doesn’t mean you have to lead off with your opinion statement. In most cases, it is best to start with a broad statement that introduces the subject matter of the paper and to save your thesis till the last sentence.
Think of a funnel. Catch your reader with your opening sentences, and draw them down to the narrow opening at the bottom. In the following examples, the thesis is underlined. Notice how the second paragraph builds interest in the thesis before it is introduced.
Adequate: Our society idealizes childhood because of the innocence that children possess. Other characteristics of children like happiness and an eagerness to learn are important but do not compare with innocence.
Better: Our culture has an idealized notion of childhood as expressed in our popular art and entertainment. Children portrayed by Americana artist Norman Rockwell, for example, evoke in adults a longing for simpler times. Of all the qualities we admire in children—joy, wonder, and simplicity, for example, nothing is as appealing as child-like innocence.
3Start strong, but don’t get too cute. Take your time with the opening line. Grab your readers’ attention with the first words. You want them thinking, “This paper is a 6” from the very first sentence.
Don’t, however, make the mistake of trying too hard. You want to attract and interest your readers, not startle or offend them. You want to be the party guest who draws a crowd because of his wit and intelligence, not because he’s got a lampshade on his head. Outlandish openers often backfire.
Too Cute: Warning! This essay might shatter your preconceptions of the typical teenager.
Better: The stereotype of a normal teenager is a sullen, apathetic slob with an irresistible desire to rebel against authority. But as with most stereotypes, this is an unfair and inaccurate portrayal.
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