What’s your first reaction to these opening lines?
- The Egyptians lived a long time ago.
- Back in the day, kids worked in factories.
If your reaction is a big yawn, I understand. Who wants to read lifeless writing like this? You might as well start your paper with, “Attention: this essay will bore you to tears.”
You need to spice up an opening, add some pizzazz, and write a catchy hook, so readers actually want to read what you write.
So let’s leave the dull introductions behind and move on to how to start a history essay with more engaging opening lines that won’t bore your readers to death.
How to Start a History Essay Without Boring Your Reader to Death
Even though the old cliche says that you can’t judge a book by its cover, we often do. And we judge essays (and other types of writing) by their first few lines.
Think about it. How often have you started to read something online, then clicked to another article simply because you were bored with the first paragraph?
This is not the reaction you want your readers (or your professor) to have when they read your paper.
So how do you write that catchy opening hook for your history paper? Check out these basic strategies on how to start a history essay that grabs your readers’ attention.
Fascinating or Inspiring Quote
Let’s face it, people have said some pretty interesting and awe-inspiring things throughout history, so why not pique your reader’s interest with a great quote?
Which of these makes a better opening line if you’re writing a paper about how hard Thomas Edison worked on his inventions?
Thomas Edison tried lots of different things before he finally came up with a good invention.
Obviously, the quote from Edison more accurately captures Edison’s work ethic and his thoughts about persistence. Plus, it’s much more engaging.
Check out these other great quotes that bring history (and your paper) to life.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”—Albert Einstein
“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.” —Benjamin Franklin
“It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong.” — Abraham Lincoln
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” —Winston Churchill
Keep in mind that just because you’re using a quote from Churchill or Einstein, it doesn’t mean that your paper has to be about them. Sometimes, a simple quote from someone else can be the perfect opening to capture the theme or focus of your paper.
If you’re looking for a few basic quotes for your own paper, you might try Brainy Quote.
Remember, though, just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t always mean it’s true! You should definitely search for the quote through a quick Google search to make sure it’s legit. You can also use the CRAAP test to see if your source is credible.
Many times, you don’t really understand the true intensity of a situation until you see the numbers.
Ever get your cell phone bill and look at just how many texts you sent last month? Shocking, right?
Shocking statistics in the opening of your paper can have the same effect on your readers. The statistics will not only grab readers’ attention, but will also help them see the importance of your topic.
Here’s an example. Which of these is a better opener?
Thousands of people died in the Civil War.
Again, it’s pretty clear that the second example is more intriguing because it illustrates the gravity of the situation by showing just how many men died during the war.
Asking readers to think about a topic in a new light is a great way to keep them reading. Once you’ve got them thinking about something, they’ll keep reading to (hopefully) learn the answer to your question.
Here’s an example to help illustrate my point:
This opening line makes readers wonder why anyone would ask such a question. Clearly, no one today would consider adding morphine to over-the-counter medications (whether for children or adults).
This question, though, relates to the fact that a 19th century medicine for children included morphine as part of its list of ingredients. Thus, it could make a great opening question for a paper about the history of medications or their regulation.
No, I don’t mean concession as in starting your paper with a discussion of things you can buy at a concession stand (unless, of course, your paper is actually about concessions or concession stands, then the history of the corn dog might be entirely appropriate).
A concession simply means that you address the opposite view of the point you’re making in your paper.
While it may seem like you shouldn’t even acknowledge the opposition, this strategy actually makes your argument stronger because readers can see that you have done your research and are able to refute the opposition.
Here’s a quick example:
Even though many people argue that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the JFK assassination, there were, in fact, a group of conspirators responsible for Kennedy’s death.
With one of the above approaches, learning how to start a history essay without boring your readers to death isn’t hard, right?
After the Opening Line
Don’t forget that there’s more to the introduction than a great hook, though. You still need to craft the perfect thesis statement.
A thesis statement for a history paper is like a thesis statement for most essays. It needs to provide a clear direction for your paper.
In other words, avoid those quick thesis statements that you write simply to say you have a thesis statement. You know the type. They look like this:
This paper will focus on the implications of NAFTA on the United States. (This thesis doesn’t work because it simply announces the topic of the paper and not the stance or focus.)
World War II was a horrible war that killed many people. (This thesis is vague and doesn’t provide any type of insight or argument.)
Another problem is that these two thesis statements make factual statements about the topic. Remember, the goal of a history paper is to support an argument or offer insight into a historical topic. Don’t simply report facts.
Here are two sample thesis statements that identify the focus of the paper, offer insight and argument, and won’t bore your readers:
The Patriot Act resulted in a number of increased security and surveillance measures that violate constitutional freedoms. (This thesis is clear and specific and provides an arguable focus.)
Though some argue that anti-Semitism ended with WWII, anti-Semitism is still prevalent in society today. (This thesis is specific and presents a strong argument.)
After the Introduction … Moving Past How to Start a History Essay
I realize there’s more to writing a good history paper than writing a great introduction, so here are a few more resources to help you write your history paper:
- 13 History Essay Topics That Will Bring Your Essay to Life
- How to Write a History Paper That Will Go Down in History
- How to Find Primary Sources for Your History Essay
So get going, and make history by writing an award-winning history essay!
By the way, even award-winning essays can need help with revision and editing, so why not have a Kibin editor review your paper?