Here are Five Lessons Your College-Bound Kids Can Learn in the Next 15 Days That Will Guarantee Them a College Acceptance Letter (#4)

Why Writing the Introduction Last is a "Secret Weapon."

Last week I likened the conclusion to a sweet smell that lingers as you exit the room. Well the introduction paragraph is the tasty appetizer that makes readers eager for the main course.

The title and the introduction paragraph are both items that should be written last. This may seem counterintuitive, as most of us have been taught to work chronologically (from beginning to end) when it comes to writing.

But, here’s why you should work on your beginning last:

Imagine you are planning a meal. The body of the essay is like the main dish. The main dish is the one that has the most ingredients and will be making the biggest impression on your guests. The main dish is also where most of the nutrients are found. Finally, the main dish is what guests are usually anticipating the most. For that reason, it takes the longest to prepare and requires most of your attention. The opening paragraph of your essay is the appetizer. The same way you wouldn't focus the majority of your meal planning time around the appetizers, you don't need to spend the majority of your time on the introduction paragraph.

Don’t misunderstand me, though, the introduction is very important. Over my 20 year career as a writing teacher, I’ve learned that an essay’s chances at a good grade can be ruined by a sub par introduction. Major error in the first sentence? Hackneyed opening? “Giving it all away” up front, leaving nothing new to be said during the rest of the essay? Each of these can leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth from which it will be hard to recover.

The beauty of working on the beginning last, however, is once you have created an incredible body and conclusion you can reverse engineer an introduction that really sets up what's happening in the body and the conclusion.

It's kind of like knowing how the movie ends first then you going back and creating a beginning that doesn't totally give it away, but bookends it in a really clever way.

For the purposes of this lesson we will be focusing on just ONE of the three main skills designed to create a wonderful and engaging introduction to your essay.
• How to write an “Gripping Opening”

The other two are:
• How to refine your “Claim”
• How to fatten your opening with “Tempting Morsels”

I have an e-book coming out soon, and I’ll go more in depth there. These blogs are supposed to strategies that can be consumed quickly, so for the purposes of this blog I am just going to deep dive into one of my favorite ways to grip the reader’s imagination from the very start -- using a quote to begin your essay.

Starting with a quote that grips the imagination, is a tried-and-true tip for creating an attention grabbing opening.

There are some pitfalls to watch out for though.

One mistake that novice writers make is to pick quotes that are overused. Another mistake is to do a poor job of tying the quote in to the topic of the essay.

Here's what I mean: "I have a dream" Is a very famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr's speech that was given during the 1964 march on Washington. Because most students "have a dream," this quote readily comes to mind. To add, it is often a poor choice because the cultural weight attached to it makes it difficult for a 17 year old writer to have an experience that can be adequately tied to the quote.

Here is an example of something I’ve seen below:

I don't know about you, but King’s dream seems to be a bit more far-reaching than the legalization of cannabis. The weight of the quote and the man associated with it greatly overshadows the topic to which it is being tied.

That was an example of opening with a quote being poorly done. Now here is an example of it done better:

Notice that the Quote is tied to the topic of the essay. Readers can see that this essay will focus on a failure that made a painful impression, but that taught a valuable lesson. It will be a failure that hurt, but ultimately helped.

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Practice this. Search for interesting quotes. Then work on how you might tie them to one of the prompt choices on the common application.

These are just some of the ways you can make sure your essay’s opening is gripping and helps you Get The Acceptance Letter.

Come back each week for strategies like these that help college bound kids write an extraordinary college entrance essay, opening the door to the safety, financial security, and choices that a college degree provides.

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