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.)

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