Ten Opening Paragraph Techniques
An opening paragraph is like the first impression you give or get when meeting someone new. It is undoubtedly one of the most important moments in your college essay. If your opening paragraph is confusing, boring or unconvincing, then you will probably dig yourself into a huge hole and your essay most likely will never be read.
Don’t let this happen. You need to engage the reader immediately with your opening lines. Remember, the opening paragraph’s job is to grab the reader’s attention.
One approach you might find helpful, is to think of your reader as someone who is only half awake as they’re about to pick up and read your essay. Consider how you would like to immediately wake them up and begin to focus on you in a positive way. Here are opening paragraph techniques to contemplate as you prepare to begin your essay. Some of these opening essay examples are from authentic essays, which were written by successful applicants to real colleges (Peterson’s Best College Admission Essays).
10 opening paragraph techniques
1. Begin your essay with an intriguing statement that makes your readers wonder to whom or to what you are referring:
I had a mental image of them standing there, wearing ragged clothes, hot and depressed, looking upon us as intruders in their world. We would invade their territory only to take pictures and observe them like tourists..
2. Make a reference to a familiar occasion (readers pay attention when you mention an occasion or incident they recognize):
For most of my life, Veteran’s Day has meant little more than parades, flags, and a day off school. But this year my attitude has taken a more serious tone as a result of a course I took on modern warfare..
3. Start your essay with a confession:
If each person’s life could be liken to a book, the early chapters of mine would be some of the fullest. My childhood in Germany and my travels throughout the continent have shaped me in countless ways. I want to share with you one small chapter of my life, which took place in Florence, Italy, where I became acquainted with a man named David..
4. Begin your essay asking a question (using a question can rouse the reader’s curiosity, but be careful. You need to be sure you answer the question(s) in the body of your essay, and also be sure to limit your questions to not more than two or three):
Imagine you’re an editor for the high school yearbook and you discover after doing some opinion research that sales are down and student apathy is up. What would you do to increase sales? Would you revamp the format or stick to the traditional approach? How would you get the support of the faculty and the administration on any changes you suggest? These are three questions I had to answer as I worked on the yearbook this fall..
5. Tell a narrative (the narrative should be specific and easy to follow, while creating suspense and leading the reader right into the heart of the subject):
I remember the first time I tried a scientific experiment. The kid next door had one of those do-it-yourself- kits. No one was home and we set up shop. We were too sophisticated to read the manual, so we made our own concoctions using a little of this and a little of that. We held our secret formula over a flame, bringing it to a boil, and waited and waited – and waited..
6. Start with a trivial observation or a dialogue that anyone can relate to but only you can write:
“He looks like Old Man Winter,” my friend Mark said, looking at a picture of my grandfather, whose steel-white mustache and thinning around his mostly bald scalp gave off a sense of warm wisdom and beneficence. In the picture he is holding my two-year old cousin and because of that he smiles in happiness. “Is he the one who takes you skiing?”
“Yeah,” I answered, “he taught me how to ski..”
7. Begin your essay giving facts or details (facts or details can be interesting, but beware not to overdo by giving too many facts or details, otherwise the reader may become bored waiting to see how this relates to the main point of your story):
I’ve always been impressed by people who have made great achievements at an early age. Alexander Hamilton was Lieutenant Colonel at 20, a framer of the U.S. Constitution at 30, and the Secretary of the Treasury at 32. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone at 28, and George Eastman produced dry plates for photography at 26. Although my parents and teachers coax me to slow down, I’m eager to make my mark as soon as possible..
8. Start with a paradox or enigmatic statement:
All eyes were focused on me. This was it. The tension had been building up to this point, and I knew there was no way out. I had gotten myself into this predicament, and I was the only one that could get myself out of it. There was nobody to turn to., for they were all waiting for my final move. I had never felt so alone, so isolated..
9. Begin your essay with an audacious generalization:
This is the nightmare that has me waking up horrified at night: IQs, SATs, and most ominously, GPAs – all numbers intent on viciously pinning me down and making me one of them, like a bad Twilight Zone episode..
10. Begin your essay using a quotation (if you decide on this technique, make sure to select a quotation that is pertinent to your main essay topic and enables you to move seamlessly into your introduction.):
“I wish you wouldn’t squeeze so,” said the Dormouse, who was sitting next to her. “I can hardly breathe.”
“I can’t help it,” said Alice very meekly: “I’m growing.”
— Lewis Carroll
Alice in Wonderland
While we all grow at different rates, I feel a special affinity for Alice, who grew at an astonishing rate all of a sudden. In the first few months of my senior year, I feel I have changed and accomplished more than I have in my freshman, sophomore, and junior years put together. In this short time, I feel I have become a better student, a better athlete, and a happier person..