What Constitutes A Good Essay?

Essay book

A good essay is a memorable one. Memorable in a good way, that is. I’m sure you’ve read works by authors, and when someone asked you what the work was about, you couldn’t remember. The work could have been boring or confusing, leading to forgetfulness. Don’t let your work fall into this category.

To write a good essay, you’ll want to be mindful of certain criteria. The 300-word essay article talks about its three parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. It also mentions the need for a hook.

The hook is an interesting first few sentences. It can reveal a riddle, a quote, humor, or sadness. The reader can have strong questions in her mind as a result of what she read. The hook can also be a mystery, and she may want to solve it. Further, the hook may remind her of a situation she's going through or someone she knows is going through. The hook's purpose is to carry the reader into the body of your story and on through to the conclusion. 

look at examples from some of your favorite books or magazine articles or other written material. Examine the first few sentences. Do they encourage you to read deeper into the story? If not, the material has failed its purpose.

Below are some examples of how hooks can be effective. These are taken from the first few sentences of the books of popular authors:

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.” –Stephen King, On Writing: Second Foreword.

Tropical storm

“The tropical rain fell in drenching sheets, hammering the corrugated roof of the clinic building, roaring down the metal gutters, splashing on the ground in a torrent.” – Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, Prologue: Bite of the Raptor.

“I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar.” -Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress.

“The feeling of having no power over people and events is generally unbearable to us—when we feel helpless we feel miserable.” –Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power.

“I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.” –Roger Ebert, Go Gentle into that Goodnight.

“My favorite definition of a feminist is one offered by Su, an Australian woman who, when interviewed for Kathy Bail’s 1996 anthology DIY Feminism, described them simply as 'women who don’t want to be treated like shit.'” –Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist.

“I stand at the window of this great house in the south of France as night falls, the night which is leading me to the most terrible morning of my life. I have a drink in my hand, there is a bottle at my elbow.” –James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room. 

 Writing a Good Essay Takes into Account Readers’ Attention Spans

Woman reading tablet

People are super duper busy, and their attention spans are short. If your story doesn’t catch their eye quickly, they’re on to another story that does.

The same is true when customers go into a bookstore. Many books may catch their attention. What catches a customer’s eye first? The cover makes a big difference—the colors, the design, the placement of the graphic(s), and the title. 

The decision to buy the book or not often begins with the cover. If they like what they see, they will venture on to skim inside pages. If they don’t like the cover or title or something confuses them, they may not waste time looking inside, and may move on to the next book. 

In Crichton’s first sentence, the tropical rain evokes a mood that makes you want to go deeper into his story. And in what kind of bar do we find ourselves where it’s strange to see a white man? Further, in Baldwin’s work, what kind of hell is the man about to find himself when the morning comes? 

These authors want the readers to continue through the corridor they invite them through with their first one or two sentences. It’s their fervent hope that the reader will stay the course with them.

A good essay will incorporate these same elements.

Know your audience when you write. You will not want to write a hook similar to King’s and Gay’s (above) if your essay is church related. Also, be sure to follow any prompts given by your instructor as to word count, subject matter, or other instructions.  

It’s imperative that your hook is clear. If your introductory statement is muddled, you've lost your readers. You’ve let them off the hook. The fish got away. Ask a hungry fisherman how that feels.

fish hook

A good hook represents a good meal for a fisherman. A good hook represents a good essay for a writer.

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