SAT Essay Help: The Introduction (page 2)
After four to six minutes of planning, you'll begin writing with an introductory paragraph. Include the following in this paragraph:
- your thesis statement, in which you take a stand on the issue presented in the prompt, fully addressing the assignment and using the heartbeat word(s): While postponing choices can lead to negative consequences, those consequences are typically not dangerous.
- three points to back up your stand (three predetermined topics, or two plus a personal or fictional one)
Begin with your thesis statement. Then follow it with two or three sentences that generally introduce your topics:
Postponing choices can not only lead to negative consequences, but those consequences can be dangerous. Throughout American history and literature, there are many examples that illustrate this fact. Set in the Colonial period, Nathanial Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter introduces the character of Dimmesdale, the minister who chooses, with deadly consequences, to keep a secret. In the early twentieth century, as the United States and much of the world found itself in the worst economic depression on record, the country delayed for two years a decision that would eventually lead to economic recovery. And in modern times, our slow response to climate change means we are continuing to damage our planet.
The Power Of Indentations
We can't confirm that shorter essays with few paragraphs are given lower scores by the computer that scans them, but we can recognize that longer essays that are clearly divided into at least four paragraphs score higher. Don't make the computer, or your scorer, wonder where one paragraph ends and another begins. By exaggerating your indentations, you're highlighting the structure of your essay (and taking up some space that you'd otherwise have to fill with words).
Notice that in this paragraph the author has found an organizing principle for his three examples. Not only are they all American, but they represent three time periods. He sets each example in chronological order. Here are some additional points to consider:
- Tone: Essay starts with a confidently worded thesis statement, then refers to it as "fact" in the second sentence.
- Heartbeat words: Both words appear in the thesis statement, and the word chooses is also in the third sentence. Synonyms include delayed and decision.
- Three examples: All are very briefly introduced without giving too much away.
Here's another example of an introduction using the same material:
Postponing choices can not only lead to negative consequences, but those consequences can be dangerous. This is not always the case, but there are plenty of examples of where it is. In The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale decides he shouldn't tell anyone he is Pearl's father. During the Great Depression, the United States took a long time before dropping the gold standard. Today, we are not doing enough to combat climate change, even though many countries are making a big effort to do so.
How do these two introductions compare? In the second introduction did you notice the following?
- Tone: Essay begins confidently, but the second sentence admits that this is not always the case.
- Heartbeat words: They are used in thesis statement only.
- Three examples: Too many details are used, and it is not clear how they tie in with the thesis.
Stronger Introductions: the Hook
There are good introductions, and then there are great introductions. Because this first paragraph makes such as strong impression on your reader, taking your essay from a solid 5 to a 6 can be as simple as creating an introductory hook. A hook grabs your reader from the first sentence. It's meant to be startling, different, and memorable. While starting with your thesis statement can be a solid opening, consider how much more powerful the second example below is:
Postponing choices can not only lead to negative consequences, but those consequences can be dangerous.
By ending The Scarlet Letter with Arthur Dimmesdale's dramatic death, Nathaniel Hawthorne teaches us that his character's delay in making an important choice took not just a mental toll, but a physical one as well.
Using the second example and tying it directly to your thesis statement is more compelling than just starting with the thesis statement. To use this technique, you'll need to tell a very quick story with that first sentence, and then follow it with your thesis statement (modified if necessary). Note below how the introduction works as a whole:
By ending The Scarlet Letter with Arthur Dimmesdale's dramatic death, Nathaniel Hawthorne teaches us that his character's delay in making an important choice took not just a mental toll, but a physical one as well. Postponing choices, in Hawthorne's novel as well as in our history, can not only lead to negative consequences, but those consequences can be dangerous. In the early twentieth century, as the United States and much of the world found itself in the worst economic depression on record, the country delayed for two years a decision that would eventually lead to economic recovery. And in modern times, our slow response to climate change means we are continuing to damage our planet.
Here are two other hook options:
- Ask a question. Reword the assignment question: Can simply postponing a choice create negative, or even dangerous consequences? Lessons in American literature and history tell us it can.
- Use a statistic. The Earth's surface temperature is predicted to rise another one degree during the twenty-first century, bringing it to its highest level in over 1,000 years. A note on statistics: Your readers are English and/or writing teachers, not scientists or historians. Unless you're using numbers that are common knowledge, they probably won't be familiar with them.
Does having a plan for your future help keep the concerns of daily living in better perspective?
Using the examples and thesis statement you developed on page 39 in Chapter 3, write an introductory paragraph. Try one of the hook techniques in your first sentence.
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