How to write a hook

Hi, this is Mr. Sato. Let’s talk about hooks. Okay, listen to this. “There are three guys, stranded
on a deserted island, One day, a magic lantern washes ashore the rub it and lo and behold it contains a
genie, who grants them one wish each. The first guy wishes he was off the island
and back home. Poof, he’s gone. The second guy wishes for the same thing.
Poof, he’s gone too. The third guy looks around him,
sees that he’s all by himself, and says “Gee, I’m lonely.
I wish my friends were back here.” I don’t know if you think that’s funny, maybe
you don’t, but as soon as the joke began you knew it was supposed to be a joke, right?
The situation got your attention–the three guys, the deserted island, and so on– it set
up certain expectations that made you look forward to the punchline. In an essay, the hook is like the setup to
a joke. Really, a better metaphor might be the bait, rather than the hook. But its purpose
is to grab your reader’s attention and make him or her want to read what comes next. Sometimes I say that in an academic essay, It’s the best opportunity to do a little
imaginative writing because the rest of the essay is mainly analytical in nature. So here are five different
ways to approach the hook. 1. Inverted pyramid
2. Fact or statistic 3. Anecdote or personal experience
4. Rhetorical question 5. Bold pronouncement First, the Inverted Pyramid.
An inverted pyramid is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Inverted means “upside down.”
In newswriting or journalism, this term means something very different, but for our purposes, essay writing,
it means this: you start out with a broad abstract statement that narrows down to your
thesis. So let’s say your thesis is something like this: “The theme of Macbeth by William
Shakespeare is that the truth will eventually come out.” We’ll use this thesis for all of
this video’s examples. What’s the main idea in this statement?
The words, “theme” and “Macbeth by William Shakespeare
are subjects, not ideas. So the main idea must be that
“the truth will eventually come out.” This is the specific, narrow point at
the bottom of your first paragraph On the pyramid, it goes right here. Above that– before that –is your hook. So
talk generally about the truth coming out, not in the book, but in life in general. You
might say something like, “Every one of us has told a lie at one point in our lives,
but because lies always contradict something we know to be true, lies are nearly always
exposed, revealing the truth beneath them.” Then you just need a little transition into
your thesis, like: “Macbeth learns this the hard way.” So just line ’em up:
Hook + transition + thesis. So this is what your first paragraph will look like. “Every one of us has told a lie at one point
in our lives, but because lies always contradict something we know to be true, lies are nearly
always exposed, revealing the truth beneath them. Macbeth learns this the hard way. One
theme in Macbeth by William Shakespeare is that the truth will eventually come out.” Some teachers or professors will ask you at
this point to follow your thesis with a preview of your main supporting arguments, which fits
the idea of the inverted pyramid perfectly because the evidence is even more specific
than the thesis. However, in short essays –2 or 3 pages –this step may be unnecessary.
Ask your teacher. A second kind of hook is the Fact or Statistic.
In this kind of hook, you start with a startling fact or relevant statistic. Again, using our
thesis about truth and Macbeth, here’s a statistic and transition you might use for the same thesis.
Quote: “People lie in 1 out of every 5 conversations lasting more than 10 minutes, according to Allison Komet
writing for Psychology Today magazine. If Macbeth is any guide, then most
of those people are going to get caught, because one theme in Macbeth….” etc., etc.
A little bit of research can quickly turn up a useable statistic, but remember to cite
your source as I did here and try to choose a source that you think your teacher
will consider reliable. Then there’s the Anecdote
or Personal Experience. An anecdote is a little story designed to
illustrate some point you’re trying to make. For example: “In 1998, President Clinton had
an affair, and was impeached. Although the affair was not an impeachable offense,
Clinton was impeached for lying about it under oath,
and the truth came out anyway.” Your transition
could be “The president’s crime was small compared to murdering a king, but both men
tried unsuccessfully to escape the truth. It caught up with the President and it caught
up with Macbeth.” Then follow this with that thesis about the truth always coming out. A personal experience hook is
usually interesting, but ask your teacher if it’s OK to
use personal pronouns like I, me, my, you, and your. An
example would be: “When I was eight years old, my mother asked me if I had broken her
coffee pot and hidden it in the garage. I did it; I was guilty, but I denied it no matter
what she said or how many times she asked. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized
how obvious my guilt was and that with each repetition of my lie, I was only breaking
her trust in me into more pieces than I had broken that coffee pot.” Next, the Rhetorical question. A rhetorical
question is when you ask a question to which you don’t actually expect an answer, like
“Have you ever told a lie? Did you eventually get caught?” This kind of hook is easy, but
as a result it’s often overused and is unlikely to impress your reader, so I advise caution.
Still, it can be effective if used with a little bit of imagination or originality. Lastly, the Bold pronouncement. “If you say you’ve never told a lie, then
you’re lying.” I found that hook in a Internet article at Or if your
teacher says never to use personal pronouns like “you,” here’s another one: “Everyone
lies, including the person who wrote this sentence as well as the person who is
now reading it. But most of those lies will eventually be found out, as the main characters learned in
Macbeth.” And as always, follow your hook with a transition and thesis. Now here are three hooks to avoid. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the
first two, but they’re so boring and overused that you should avoid them like
a kid with the stomach flu! The first is the dictionary quote. It may be
just be my school– I don’t know — but I’ve seen way too many hooks like this: “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘truth’
as ‘the state of being the case; factual; the body of real things, events, and facts.'”
Like the rhetorical question, this could be used imaginatively, but the
dictionary-definition hooks that I’ve seen are almost always lazy and unoriginal.
Do not use these. In the same vein, the Googled quote is usually
copied and pasted without any real thought. “If you tell the truth, you never have to
remember anything.” Mark Twain said that. Now, I agree, that’s a great quote. But student
writers rarely take the necessary second step of commenting on the quote with any sort of
originality. And besides, like the dictionary quote, it’s nearly always a bad idea
to begin or end your essay with someone’s words other than your own. Possibly the worst hook of all is the
“I was thinking about what to write and came up with this.” Anyone beginning his or her essay with
this should be struck on the head repeatedly with his or her own computer. But whatever you do, don’t skip the hook.
Even these bad examples will get you a better grade from me than opening with your thesis– minus
any sort of attention-getting intro. It’s like walking up to someone and saying, “Can
I borrow your bike?” It’s too blunt; it’s overeager. It has no style. You need to
preface it by giving your reader some idea of what’s coming: “Hey, old friend, BFF, pal, buddy,
I’m in a real bad situation and I wonder if you wouldn’t mind helping me out.” That’s a hook. If you know how to write an effective
attention-getting intro, you’re more likely to get your reader on your side, ready to go along with your reasoning
and hear what you have to say And if that reader is your teacher or professor, you’re more likely to get a grade with which you will be satisfied. Once you’re done with this step, you’re
already off to a good start. Good luck with your essay!

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