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Some essays, including argumentative essays are so well written that they become famous. Celebrities such as Steve Martin, Virginia Woolfe, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, have all penned essays that have earned them great renown. The question is this. As a college student, what can you learn from these essays that you can apply to your own essay writing process? If you read essays that have become famous, you will notice that the authors manage to grab your attention, and then keep that attention throughout the essay. How do they accomplish this? What is the trick to making your audience want to keep reading? Famous essayists capture their audiences by grabbing their attention within the first few sentences of the essay, using descriptive and creative language, and through their accuracy. If you employ these three tactics in your essay writing, you are sure to gain a little bit of your own fame, if only within the confines of your classroom
Learning to Grab the Attention of Your Audience at the Beginning of Your Essay
It is very important that you start your essay off by capturing the attention of you readers. There are many ways in which you can accomplish this task. You can begin your essay with a vivid description. For example, if you were writing an essay about childhood hunger, you might begin with this statement: “Billy stood in the school lunch line with his friends. From his vantage point, he could see the choices of the day. There were burgers and fries, sub sandwiches, pizza, the salad bar, and, of course, the daily hot lunch option. The smells wafting through the air made Billy's stomach growl. For a moment, he thought about asking one of his friends to borrow a couple of dollars. He didn't. Instead, Billy just told his friends he wasn't hungry and headed over to the lunch tables, just like he did every other day.” This effectively introduces your topic, and piques the interest of your reader. Another method that works very well is starting your essay with a quotation. If your essay touches on the subjects of freedom or liberty, for example, it might be appropriate to begin with a quote from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, or Thomas Paine. Just be sure and give appropriate credit for any quote that you use. A third method is to lead off with a compelling fact or statistic. Depending on your subject matter, the fact or statistic could be something a little bit silly, or something that your reader will find to be sobering. If you use any of these methods as you write essay assignments, your audience will want to keep reading.
Keeping the Attention of Your Audience through Descriptive and Evocative Language
When a writer fails to use descriptive language, the audience quickly becomes bored. In writing, the last thing you want is an uninterested reader. This is why it is important to use words and phrases that evoke an emotional response. As you are writing, consider all five senses. If your reader were experiencing your writing in real life, what would they be seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and hearing. Appeal to those senses. Don't tell your readers that the steak was delicious. Tell your readers that that the succulent piece of meat was perfectly seasoned and seared to a beautiful, reddish pink, medium-rare. Don't tell your audience that a person was cold. Tell them that the air was so cold that it hurt the person to breathe, and that he couldn't feel his fingers and toes. You can also use language to depict emotion. Avoid words such as happy, sad, mad, etc. They paint too generic of an image. Instead of using the word “mad,” try substituting frustrated, peeved, enraged, or infuriated. Try substituting crestfallen, devastated, or crushed for “sad.”
Keeping Your Audience with Accuracy
None of the techniques you can use to get the attention of your audience will make any difference if you lose them with factual errors, hyperbole, or exaggeration. For these reasons it is always most important to make sure that the facts you are presenting are accurate. This means doing thorough research, taking notes, and fact checking. It also entails checking your source's sources. In order to ensure that a statement is accurate, you need to find the source of that fact. If you are arguing a point in your essay, it can be tempting to exaggerate facts and figures. Please do not do that. It will only serve to diminish your argument. In the same vein, avoid using hyperbole. If your statement includes words such as all, everyone, everybody, etc., you may want to reconsider your wording.
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