RHETORIC & WRITING
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:
- The truth isn’t what one would expect or what it might appear to be on a first reading.
- There’s an interesting wrinkle in the text—a paradox, a contradiction, a tension.
- A seemingly tangential or insignificant matter is actually important or interesting.
(On motives specific to research essays, see Source-Related Motives.)