Openings to avoid
1) Vague generalities such as "Throughout human history..." or "As the world becomes more globalized..."
A sure reaction to an opening like this would be a yawn and some zzzzzzzzzs. It is far better to begin with something specific that happ-ened in history so that the reader immediately steps into the real world. In the second example, it is better to give the reader a visual image that immediately shows how globalized the world has become. You could, for example, have the reader picture the "Wired" world in which communication can be instant regardless of where you are. In such a world, Abdul-Aziz, robes flowing as he crosses the desert on his camel, uses his cell phone to talk with his financial advisor in New York about a potential investment.
2) "The purpose of this essay is..." "I am now going to tell you why Roh won the election ..." or any other flat announcement of your topic.
This is mechanical, and before reading any further, makes the reader think of a laundry list. Much better would be some opening that tells a little story about our new president.
3) In the first sentence, stating the title of your essay, for example, "This is my favorite place..." or "The problem with..."
Do not confuse the statement of a title with introducing a topic. Again you want to lead up to the main idea. In an opener, some description that invites the reader to stand by the sea listening to the waves gently lap over her feet would be a better way to introduce a favorite place. In the second example, giving details that let the reader experience a problem is better than a mere statement.
4) "According to Webster..." or similar phrase referring to a dictionary definition.
This approach has become cliched with overuse. If you use a quote, make it something that piques the reader? interest. Dipping into the dictionary is definitely not the way to go!
5) Apologizing for your opinion or lack of knowledge with "I"not sure if I"m right, but I think..." "I can"t write English well, but...," or a similar line.
An opening to an essay is not the place for expressing your personal anxiety about setting pen to paper. For one thing, such a statement is totally unrelated to the controlling idea of an essay. In your introductory paragraph you want to be unmistakably clear in presenting the main idea of the writing. You want nothing there that detracts from this presentation. Therefore, avoid opening with an apology. Instead, try to say something that immediately invites the reader into a world that you have made appealing through description, an interesting or amusing anecdote, or through some other way.
Mary French and Warren Chung are instructors at the English Program Office.
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