What is a hook in writing? A hook is a way to grab the reader’s attention, “hook” them, and make them want to read more. It can be written in many ways but typically involves starting with something interesting or shocking that makes the reader want to keep reading.
There are different types of hooks that you can use, but it often depends on what you are writing about. So, let’s first discuss when hooks are used and why and then look at various examples of essay hooks.
Hooks are used in many areas that might want to compete for the reader’s attention. For example, you might use a hook when writing an advertising slogan or jingle in order to make it more memorable. Or, you might use a hook in a cover letter to a potential employer or a college admission committee to grab their attention and make them want to read more.
In academic writing: Starting an essay with a good hook can help to set the tone of the paper and give the reader an idea of what to expect. It can also help keep the reader’s attention focused on the essay and not get distracted by other things around them.
In creative writing: Creative stories are another type of writing where hooks are often used. In a story, the hook is usually used at the very beginning to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to continue reading.
In journalistic writing: Journalism is another area where hooks are often used. This is because journalists need to grab readers’ attention quickly and make them want to continue reading the article.
In scientific writing: Scientific papers and reports usually begin with the main point rather than a hook. However, there are times when a hook can be used in scientific writing, such as when introducing a new concept or theory.
In sales writing: Sales email letters and pitches often use hooks to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to continue reading to convert them into buyers eventually.
Essay Hook Types and Examples
We excluded mid-text hooks—such as a cliffhanger—used in long texts and various visual methods, as they are irrelevant to academic essays.
We want to talk about ten common types of hooks that can be potentially used in academic writing:
- Literary devices
Choosing one depends on what you are writing about and what will work best to grab the reader’s attention. But usually, these essay hooks are used in narrative, persuasive, expository, and argumentative writing.
How long should a hook be in an essay?
This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on the type of essay you are writing, as well as the purpose of the hook. A good rule of thumb is keeping your hook relatively short – between one and three sentences. Of course, there will always be exceptions to this rule, so use your best judgment. If you’re not sure, err on the side of brevity. Better to have a shorter, punchier hook than one that drags on.
An anecdote is a short story typically used to illustrate a point. Such essay hooks are typically used in descriptive or narrative essays that are less strict in terms of formality.
For instance, if you were writing an essay about the importance of exercise, you could start with a story about how you used to hate running, but now you love it because it makes you feel good.
“When I was in high school, I was the track team captain. I ran every day, but I never really liked it. It was just something I had to do. But then one day, after a tough run, I felt this surge of energy and excitement, and I realized that I actually loved running.”
An analogy compares two things that are similar in some ways but different in others. This thought-provoking hook can be used to help the reader understand a concept or to make a point about something.
For instance, you could use an analogy to start an essay in which you write about anxiety.
“Anxiety is like being in a dark room. You can’t see anything, and you’re not sure what will happen next. You might feel like you’re alone and that no one understands what you’re going through. But, just like in a dark room, if you take a few steps forward, you’ll eventually find the light switch and be able to see again.”
A description sets the scene or describes something in detail. Such essay hooks can be used at the beginning of an essay to grab the reader’s attention and give them a clear picture of what they are going to read about. (Often used in descriptive essays)
For instance, if you were writing an essay about a beach vacation, you could start with a description of the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
“The sound of the waves is like a lullaby, making me feel relaxed and sleepy. I can see the sun shining off the water, and the sand is so white it looks like snow.”
A fact is a general statement of truth. But, in order to be used as a good hook, it should be wrapped in such a way that it is interesting and engaging. So, an interesting fact can often be combined with other hook types.
For example, you could use a fact about the number of people who experience anxiety. The example below combines three hook types: a question, a fact, and a statistic.
“Did you know that anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States? Over 40 million adults suffer from anxiety each year.”
5. Literary devices
Many literary devices can be used as effective attention grabbers. Let’s take a look at some of the more commonly used ones.
A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses one thing to represent another. It can be used to grab the reader’s attention and make them think about what you are saying in a new way.
For example, if you were writing an essay about the problems with pollution, you could start with a hook metaphor such as:
“Pollution is like cancer that is slowly destroying the earth.”
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that uses two contradictory terms to describe something. It can make the reader question what they are reading and think about it in a new way.
For instance, if you were writing an essay about the conflicting opinions on gun control, you could start with an oxymoron hook such as:
“Pro-gun control and pro-gun rights advocates are both right.”
Foreshadowing is when the author gives a hint or clue about what will happen later in the story. It can grab the reader’s attention and make them want to keep reading to find out what happens next.
For example, if you were writing a personal story in a narrative essay, you could foreshadow the end of the story by saying:
“I never thought that what happened that day would change my life forever.”
Humor is a great way to grab readers’ attention and make them want to keep reading. But, it should be used sparingly and only when it is appropriate for the tone of the essay.
For example, you could start an essay about the importance of recycling with a joke such as:
“Do you know what happens when you don’t recycle? Absolutely nothing.”
Irony is when something happens that is the opposite of what you would expect. It can be used as a great hook to make the reader question what they are reading and think about it in a new way.
For instance, if you were writing an essay about the problems with the education system, you could start with a statement such as:
“Ironically, the education system is supposed to be preparing us for the real world, but it often feels like it is doing the opposite.”
A paradox is a statement that appears contradictory but is actually true. This device can hook readers quite well, but it is hard to use.
For example, if you were writing an essay about the difficulties of living in a city, you could start with a hook paradox such as:
“It is often said that city life is fast-paced and stressful, but it can also be exciting and relaxing.”
A musing is a reflective statement usually used to introduce the reader to the writer’s thoughts on a topic. It can be used as a strong hook to engage the reader and make them think about their own opinions on the topic.
For example, if you were writing an essay on the importance of family, you could start with a musing such as:
“I can’t help but wonder if we place too much importance on family.”
A question can be used to grab the reader’s attention and make them think about the answer. A question hook is often used in academic writing to make a point or start an argument.
For example, if you were writing an essay about the problems with pollution, you could start with a straightforward question such as:
“What are the causes of pollution?”
You could also use a rhetorical question, which is a question that doesn’t require an answer.
For example, if you were writing an essay about the importance of education, you could start with a rhetorical question such as:
“How can we expect to solve the world’s problems if we don’t educate our children?”
A quote from a famous person or literary quotes can be used to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to know more. A quotation hook is often used in academic writing to make a point or provide evidence for an argument.
For example, if you were writing an essay about the importance of exercise, you could start with a quote such as:
“Exercise is the miracle cure for many ills of mind and body.”
Using a quote as a hook is considered a bit cliche, so make sure it fits well within the concept of your essay and avoid common inspirational fluff by famous people.
Note: If you want to learn more about using quotations in essays, you can read our guide: How to Introduce a Quote
You can use a striking statistic hook to grab readers’ attention and make them want to know more. Or, you can try to find a hardly known statistic that sheds new light on the subject.
For example, if you were writing an essay about the benefits of exercise, you could start with a statistic such as:
“Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 50%.”
Even though a thesis statement is usually used at the end of your first paragraph, it can also be used as a hook and an opening sentence. For instance, you can boldly declare your stance on something and make the reader want to argue with you or continue reading to see how you support your claim.
For example, if you were writing a persuasive essay about the death penalty, your strong statement might be:
“The death penalty is a barbaric and outdated punishment that should be abolished.”
How to choose a good hook for your essay
When choosing a hook for your essay, there are a few things to consider:
- First, you need to think about what you want to say in your essay. What is the main point or argument you are trying to make? This will help you choose the right type of hook.
- Second, you need to think about who your target audience is. What will grab their attention and make them want to read more?
- Third, you need to think about the tone of your essay. Are you writing a serious academic essay or a light-hearted personal essay? This will also help you choose the right type of hook.
Once you have considered these things, you can choose the perfect hook for your essay.
- St. Louis Community College – Hooking Your Reader
- Las Positas College – Hooks and Grabbers
- Converse ISL – Beginning an Essay with an Effective Hook