The Importance of a First Line

The best day of her life was also the worst day of her life. Exhausted, tears chased each other down her cheeks, and while a smile threaded her lips it did not quite reach her eyes.

clip-art-reading-556419Are you still reading? Then the first line has done its job!

Has anyone ever told you, “Once you get past the first few chapters, this book is awesome!”? Then that book has not delivered for its readers. The first chapter should knock the reader off his or her feet and keep them wanting more. The first line of any piece of writing should enrapture and interest. Without that initial interest, readers will not be excited to keep going.

The example used in the first lines of this post is geared more towards a creative writing piece. However, any type of writing, whether it be an essay, admission letter, research proposal or novel, deserves a killer first line.

Some ways to begin a piece of writing can include:

  • Quotations – A thought-provoking quotation that hones in on the central theme of your piece is a great way to start. Sometimes, someone has already said it best! Use their words and always give credit by putting their words in quotes, followed by the speaker’s name.
  • Questions – If you want your reader to stop and think for a moment after the first line, start with a question. If you are writing a college admission essay about the importance of a family recipe, you may want to ask the reader “Do you remember the aroma of your favorite food growing up? That feeling of family, and the anticipation of the delicious dish that is about to tickle your taste buds?” The reader should experience a more sensory attachment to your writing, and most importantly continue reading.
  • 9781599869513_p0_v1_s260x420In medias resIn medias res is Latin for “into the middle of a narrative; without preamble” according to dictionary.com. Oedipus the King is a famous example of in medias res. As the story begins, Oedipus steps out of the royal palace of Thebes and is greeted by a procession of priests, who are in turn surrounded by the impoverished and sorrowful citizens of Thebes. Thebes has been struck by a plague, the citizens are dying, and no one knows how to put an end to it. There is no preamble to introduce Oedipus or his city; by starting in the middle of the action the reader is intrigued to both learn the back-story of Oedipus and the future of Thebes and its King.
  • Images – A descriptive adjective is a vivid way to begin a piece. You can describe candlelight flickering, a torch’s firelight dancing, or a match’s top struggling to give it beholder enough warmth.

What is your favorite way to deliver a first line? Happy Writing!

By Ally Evans

Ally Evans is a recent college graduate living in New Jersey. She is currently a Festival Coordinator for an arts program. When she is not at the office, Ally loves reading, writing, playing volleyball and going out to eat with friends. Her favorite books include The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Shining by Stephen King. She is excited to bring her passion for reading and writing to ESL Write Away LLC!

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The Amazing Outline

 

Outlines are like the Skeleton of your Essay!

Outlines are like the Skeleton of your Essay!

Maybe you’re in the middle of your semester finals, or maybe you’re just starting to work on those final papers for the semester. Either way, it’s that time of year when all of the information that you’ve been jamming in your head for months needs to get organized and come out as a beautifully crafted and sometimes terribly long paper. So where to begin…

For me, outlining is one of the most underrated steps in writing. An outline is like a skeleton of your essay. Before you go to write full sentences, you can plan the general ideas and what evidence you will use in each paragraph. Then when you sit down to write your first draft, all you will need to do is fill in the extra words that connect your thoughts and make your essay more fluent than a list. In high school, I NEVER made outlines and I was ok. Then, I got to university and did terribly on my first paper. My teacher told me to go back, make an outline and pay attention to whether everything was connected to my thesis. My grades went WAY UP and I was sold as an outliner forevermore.

It’s easy to jump ahead to the first draft writing stage based on the following arguments:

  • I’ve already thought about what I want to say
  • I’ve been organizing my notes already all semester long
  • I don’t have time

If you are thinking any of these things right now, take a moment to reconsider. Making an outline is a great way to organize your thoughts on paper and make the actual writing process WAY easier later on.

Outlines can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. Also, there are many different formats you can use. Really, it doesn’t matter as long as you are feeling organized. Each line in your outline typically stands for a sentence or source used in your paragraph. You can have as many supporting detail sentences or “evidence” as you need to support your topic sentence and ultimately your thesis!  Here are some different options for your body paragraphs (Notice the Paragraph Sandwiches 🙂 ):

The numbers and letters format:

image1

Or you can use the Roman numerals format:

image2

Or if that’s really just too fancy, you can always just use bullet points/dashes:

image3

The more you write in your outline, the less you will have to write when you go to write your final draft. So, if you actually write out your thesis and topic sentences in your outline, all you have to do is plug them in and then expand on them when you write your essay. Even if you don’t do this though, just jotting down the notes you will use in each paragraph will make your thoughts come across clearer when you actually go to write out your paper. Here’s an outlined paragraph of the example we looked at of a Paragraph Sandwich in the previous post!

image4

Here’s a final skeleton you can use when you go to write your paper. Just copy, plug in your information, organize and then start drafting. Happy writing!

P1: Introduction

  • Hook/Opening Sentence
    • Support/Evidence
    • Support
    • Support
  • Thesis!!

P2: Body Paragraph Topic 1*

  • Topic Sentence
    • Support**
    • Support
    • Support
  • Concluding Sentence

P3: Body Paragraph Topic 2

  • Topic Sentence
    • Support
    • Support
    • Support
  • Concluding Sentence

P4: Conclusion

  • Restatement of Thesis
    • Support
    • Support
    • Support
  • General concluding sentence

*You can have as many body paragraphs as you would like.

**You can have as much support or amounts of evidence as you need.

So What is a Thesis Statement?

Organize all that info in a THESIS STATEMENT!

Organize all that info in a THESIS STATEMENT!

Writing essays can be a pretty confusing process. First, you gather A LOT of information, and then, you have to somehow describe everything you wrote in an organized and understandable way to someone who might have no idea what you are talking about. The exciting thing is that you are an expert, but the more important thing is whether you can explain your ideas to the lesser or non-experts of the world.

Whether your essay is 150 words or 15000 words, the #1 way to tie all of that awesome information together is in your THESIS STATEMENT. What does that actually mean? Your thesis is the MAIN POINT of your essay or the #1 thing that you want your reader to take away. If you had to delete everything from your essay and could only have 1 sentence, your thesis would be it. In this 1 sentence, you are telling your reader what your essay is about.

Writing Your Thesis Statement

This is not an easy thing to do. Sometimes you might find yourself changing your thesis statement at the last minute. Generally, you can come up with your thesis statement right at the end of the brainstorm/research stage of your essay writing process. After you gather all that information, start to think to yourself—what is this information telling me? When I put everything together, what is that MAIN POINT?

Your thesis statement is typically one sentence (sometimes it can be two, if necessary). The trick is writing a thesis statement that answers the essay question and encapsulates everything you are trying to communicate (no big deal). Here are some examples for different types of essays from the Purdue University Online Writing Lab

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 12.17.31 PM

TEST: Make sure your thesis statement answers the questions of So what? How? and Why?

1 Sentence –> Whole Essay

Now that you have your awesome thesis statement, you have to put it in your essay and craft your essay around it. Your thesis statement usually will go right at the end of your introduction paragraph or essay section.

brain

Now, imagine your thesis is like the brain of your essay. It tells every other paragraph in the essay body what to do. Each paragraph, especially in the first or topic sentence, should relate back and support your thesis. Maybe, you have one paragraph that introduces some opposing thoughts or counterarguments, but overall, everything in the rest of your essay should be connected and tie in with what you say in your thesis.

Here is an example of an outline for an essay topic asking: What is the best pet for living in a city?

P1: Introduction

  • THESIS: Due to the small living quarters and lack of nature that are typical of urban living, cats are the best pet option for city-dwellers because of their adaptability to this type of environment.

P2: Lifestyle of a Cat

  • Topic Sentence: The temperament of average domesticated cats allows them to remain content within an urban environment.

P3: Cat care

  • Topic Sentence: In addition to the compatibility of cats with an urban environment, their lifestyle also fits perfectly with that of a typically busy city-dweller.

P4: Cat cost

  • Topic Sentence: Although pet-owners are usually facing a tight budget, cats are relatively low-cost pets that are affordable in an urban environment.

P5: Conclusion

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Each topic sentence relates back and supports that spectacular thesis statement. Feel free to use words and phrases again to signal to your reader that in each paragraph you are still supporting your thesis. Also, remember to tie your thoughts together using your awesome transition vocabulary!

Ready to write your own? If you’re still nervous, fill out our get started form and we’ll help you write that perfect essay!

Happy writing!

Compare and Contrast Essays

Comparing and contrasting can be tricky and can often sound a bit redundant. Your two keywords for any compare and contrast essay are “SIMILARITIES” and “DIFFERENCES.”

Compare=Find SIMILARITIES

Contrast=Find DIFFERENCES

Brainstorm

When you are assigned this type of essay, your best friend for brainstorming is something called the Venn Diagram. You can make a VENN DIAGRAM for any number of things to compare or contrast. All you must do are draw overlapping circles– one circle for each item that you are asked to compare/contrast. Label each circle with one item.  In the outer parts of the circle, write the things that are unique to that item (the differences). In the overlapping part, write the things that are similarities.

Venn Diagram

Now let’s do an example. Let’s pretend you are given an assignment to compare and contrast two modern fantasy films. You choose Superman and Harry Potter. Here is a very basic example of how your Venn Diagram brainstorm for this essay might look:

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Outline

Now that you’ve organized your thoughts a bit, you can move on to outline what your essay will look like. While it may seem silly to map out your essay before writing it, this really helpful to keep your essay together and it will make it easier to put your basic ideas into full essay sentences. If you are writing your essay in English– brainstorm and outline your essay in English so that way you get the tedious translation process out of the way before going to write. Here’s a basic outline of a compare and contrast essay:

Paragraph (P) 1: Introduction

***Your thesis statement should state your larger conclusion about the differences and similarities of your compare/contrast items***

P2: DIFFERENCES Item A (Harry Potter circles)

P3: DIFFERENCES Item B (Superman circles), drawing connections to what you mentioned in P2.

P4: SIMILARITIES Items A and B (Overlapping circle)

P5: Conclusion– reinforce your ***thesis*** are there more similarities or differences?

Another version of a compare and contrast essay outline might look like this:

P1: Introduction

P2: SIMILARITIES Items A and B (Overlapping circle)

P3: DIFFERENCES Items A and B (Harry Potter and Superman Outside circles)

P4: Conclusion

Which essay outline you choose will have mainly to do with whether you have more similarities or differences between the items. Choose whichever feels right based on your brainstorm research and information.

Write!

There are a lot of keywords, phrases and transitions that are particularly awesome for writing compare and contrast essays in English! Here are just a few:

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Can you think of any others? Leave a comment below with your suggestions 🙂

Happy writing!