In This Section

Bookmark and Share


Visit our companion site, American Passages. Produced in conjunction with Oregon Public Broadcasting, this rich site includes an archive featuring over 3,000 images, audio clips, presentation software, and more.

Writing about Literature

Elements of the Essay


Beginning: The Introduction

Your essay’s beginning, or introduction, should draw readers in and prepare them for what’s to come by:

  • articulating the thesis;

  • providing whatever basic information—about the text, the author, and/or the topic—readers will need to follow the argument; and

  • creating interest in the thesis by demonstrating that there is a problem or question that it resolves or answers.

This final task involves showing readers why your thesis isn’t dull or obvious, establishing a specific motive for the essay and its readers. There are numerous possible motives, but writing expert Gordon Harvey has identified three especially common ones:

  1. The truth isn’t what one would expect or what it might appear to be on a first reading.

  2. There’s an interesting wrinkle in the text—a paradox, a contradiction, a tension.

  3. A seemingly tangential or insignificant matter is actually important or interesting.

(On motives specific to research essays, see Source-Related Motives.)

Next >>