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“The first time I kissed you. One kiss, and I was totally hooked. Addicted to you. I could never love anyone the way I love you. I’d follow you across the universe.” — Ellen Hopkins, Tricks
A kiss, powerful and passionate enough to hook someone’s heart and soul forever—that is what you’re aiming for in your essay’s hook. Okay, that might sound a bit dramatic, but it’s actually spot-on.

The Purpose of a Hook

When you write an essay, it's crucial to use a hook to catch your reader's attention. You may have already heard this from your teachers many times: You need to grab the reader so he or she wants to keep reading. But why? What’s wrong with just writing out the information? Here’s the thing: You have to write an essay. But your teacher, college admissions or scholarship committee, or any audience, must read yours and tons of other pieces, too. These people are human, and they get bored reading so many essays. When they're bored, they pay less attention. When they pay less attention, they don't read as thoroughly as they should. A way to wake them up so they give your work the attention you deserve is with a hook. The first step in writing your hook is to know your purpose in writing the essay. It might be for a class assignment. It could be for a college application. Maybe it’s for a scholarship. Before you begin, pause and think of why this essay is valuable to you. It might be tangible, such as money for school, or it might be intangible, such as a feeling of accomplishment for doing well on something you might not have wanted to do. Having a purpose for your essay will help you write it. You will be devoting time and energy to this essay, and you want your reader to do the same. A hook will help. From the first time the reader lays eyes on your paper, you want her to feel hooked. Addicted. Like she will hold onto your every word as she follows you across the universe.

Choosing a Hook: The Nature of Your Essay Matters

You can write hooks in multiple ways (there’s more than one way to kiss a reader). Hooks are intentional, designed to reel in the reader rather than make him thrash against the hook to break loose and swim quickly away. One of the most important guidelines in writing a hook is to know the nature of your essay. What you are writing will determine how you invite people in and make them want to stay. A document published by Missouri Western State University explains five types of essays:
  • Narrative
  • Descriptive
  • Compare and contrast
  • Cause and effect
  • Classification
These essays fall into various categories of writing. Some may fall into more than one category, depending on the topic or nature of the assignment.
  • Narrative
  • Expository
  • Persuasive
  • Descriptive
As you've learned, or will learn, these are specific types of writing that fit particular topics and objectives. In a descriptive essay, for example, you're evoking certain emotions or thoughts in the reader using word choice and writing style. In persuasive writing, you're convincing the reader to take a particular position on an important topic. Each requires a different hook. As you plan your introduction, think about an actual fishing hook. If you want to catch a fish, you must
  • Use bait
  • Select a hook that is the right size and style for the fish you want to catch
Let’s examine some bait and hooks.

Types of Hooks

Hooks aren’t arbitrary, which is good. It means you have a few specific guidelines to use in writing a line (or a few lines) that will kiss the reader and make him want to follow you through the universe, or at least stick with you enthusiastically until the end of your essay. There are three basic types of hooks:
  • Factual statements
  • Statistics or other figures
  • Quotations
The opening line of this article was a hook. Specifically, it was a quotation. Whether or not you liked the bait itself, it quite likely got you to pay attention rather than clicking away to find something different. Factual statements start your essay off on solid ground. You make an interesting, factual, statement to convey that your topic is relevant and will enlighten the reader with further fascinating information. Statistics and figures are like facts but in numeric form. A shocking (but accurate) statistic can jolt the reader into wanting to learn more. All hook types and their bait (bait is the actual content) should:
  • Be appropriate for the type of essay you’re writing.
  • Match your tone (somber vs. upbeat, for example)
  • Align with your topic: A paper on the significance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights probably shouldn’t begin with the above quote, but a famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote would be appropriate and impactful.
  • Get right to the point but in a creative way
  • Contain content that you can weave into your essay (have you noticed that the opening quote has been incorporated into this article three times thus far?)

Putting It All Together: Write the Hook

You know why this essay matters to you and why you want your reader to pay attention. You know the type of essay you’ll be writing, and you know your topic well. This knowledge will allow you to write a compelling hook. You understand the main types of hooks, thus removing some of the guesswork in writing them. Knowing that you can begin with a statistic, for instance, is much less stressful than vaguely understanding that you need to grab attention. Now, dive in and write it. Consider the when’s and the where’s of hook writing:
  • Usually, hooks are the very first sentence because if you wait to grab the reader, it might be too late
  • You can develop a hook first and build your essay around it, letting it embrace and kiss the reader as you travel together
  • You can create your essay and then determine what type of hook would be most effective
Your hook has the potential to excite your reader and pull her from her essay-reading stupor. It's very much a tool for your benefit. Imagine your essay and its reader swooshing happily through the galaxy and return to you with the results you want.
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