Friday, March 11, 2011

Dress to Impress

This post is dedicated to Ms. Vance's English class.

(Pic from
The night my husband and I met, it was a warm summer’s evening. We were at the same party at a beautiful hotel on the coast. I arrived before my husband, and I was standing out on the balcony, champagne in hand, admiring the sunset. As my husband recalls it, when he walked into the party, he looked out on the balcony and couldn’t believe his eyes: there stood this girl whose skirt was totally see through.

First impressions really are key. There were hundreds of other eligible women there to attract the attention of a hot, Aussie man, but not all of their polka-dotted panties were on display. (In my defense, I didn’t know my skirt was see through. I swear!)

See how important it is to stand out? I am not telling you this so that you all go out and buy transparent clothing; I am telling you this because first impressions are also key when you write essays. You want to capture your audience’s attention right away so that they want more.

That is why introductory paragraphs are so important. If you have written a good introduction, then you’ve already got the reader on your side, and more importantly, it makes them want to read on.

So why is writing introductory paragraphs so hard? Why do we sit in front of the computer for hours staring at a blank screen cursing Ms. Vance for making us write these stupid research essays?

I have a theory: because we try to write out introductory paragraphs before we have actually figured out what we are writing about.

First you need your thesis; then you can introduce it. I’m going to say that again: THESIS FIRST. Don’t even try writing an introductory paragraph if you don’t know your thesis yet. How can you introduce your essay if you don’t even know what it’s about yet?

However, once we’ve got our thesis statement, introductions are lots of fun. That’s right- fun. We just have to challenge ourselves to think of a creative way to introduce it.

Let’s say our topic is Facebook and our thesis is:

Facebook has become the most effective way to promote a business.

How can we introduce this in a way that will grab the reader’s attention?

What a lot of students tend to do is start with stating the obvious, such as:

In today’s society, many businesses use Facebook.

First of all, BORING. And second of all, never start an essay with “In today’s society…” Trust me. It’s way too overdone and makes us teachers want to bang our head on our desk.

Maybe we can start with something not everyone knows. Something a little sexy. How about this startling fact I found on Google:

In 2008, a 23-year-old woman created a Facebook group titled “I Need Sex.” Ten minutes later, she had 35 followers. She soon attracted 100—50 of whom she eventually slept with.

If we start with this fact, we can explain how, by using Facebook instead of writing an ad in the personals, this woman achieved much more immediate and far-reaching results. We can then tie it into businesses by explaining that businesses should do the same to reach more people faster, eventually making our way to our thesis.

Or we can start with a question. But we don’t want to start with a lame question, such as:

Have you ever been on Facebook?

That’s like asking, “Have you ever blinked your eyes?”

Everyone has been on Facebook. My mom is on Facebook. Your mom is on Facebook. So, let’s ask a more exciting question like:

Have you ever stayed up all night stalking your ex on Facebook?

Then we can tie it into our thesis by explaining how we used to stay up all night and watch TV, but today more and more of us have traded watching Friends reruns for finding out what’s going on with our Facebook friends. So instead of putting money toward expensive TV ads, perhaps businesses should explore free online options, such as Facebook. And we can work our way to our thesis from there.

Any other tips out there for Ms. Vance’s English class to help them write attention-grabbing introductory paragraphs?


“50 Interesting . . .Facebook Facts.” Random Facts. 11 March 2011. .


Janet Johnson said...

ROTFL at your how-I-met-my-husband story! Hilarious!

And great tips. Wow, you are good at writing first sentences. :)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Oddly enough, I just finished writing an essay! And yes, I started with a thesis statement. :D

Theresa Milstein said...

Umm... restate the question?

See through underwear, I need sex FB pages, and stalking an ex.

I'm rethinking my old way of making a thesis statement.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Your Facebook example really shines here. And I think what you said doesn't just apply to essays, but to writing blog posts and fiction as well. Excellent advice!

The Shanner of Attention said...

This entire post is win!!! You always crack me up! :)

Jung said...

Facebook is amazing for marketing, and lol at the sex girl.

Amie Kaufman said...

I didn't know you'd married an Aussie. Excellent taste there, I must say. I like mine very much!

To Ms. Vance's class, I'd also say this: make sure your fun, attention-grabbing first line (and I absolutely agree that your essay will be more interesting if you use one) does relate to what you then go on to write. When you're done, check back to make sure your essay didn't turn into something different along the way.

HulaBuns said...

I definitely need to work on this...thanks for the tip!! :)

As always, great post and lesson!

Rachael said...

What delightful imagery throughout. Well done, as always.

Jaya J said...

It must be interesting to be sitting in your classes. You make grammar sound like Science.
Btw, I like the story about the transparent dress :)

Mary Aalgaard said...

I'm hooked. I wonder if that woman contracted any STDs?

Holly Vance said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Holly Vance said...

First of all, my students NEVER curse me ;)

Secondly, thank you for such an excellent post. Because I suck at intros, my instructions are usually generic and boring.

Thirdly, you rocked the intro about how to write an intro. Really? You are a goddess.