The first line of anything you write needs to grabs your reader’s attention. If you are reading a news article or a magazine feature, the first few lines typically determine whether you will keep reading or not.
Whether you’re writing a novel, a short story, or an essay, mastering the skill of writing a strong hook is essential. This is one of the first things that differentiates an amateur writer from one with outstanding communication skills.
What Is a Hook?
In rhetoric, a “hook” refers to the catchy first line of any written or orally delivered piece. Because it’s not strictly limited to writing, this includes spoken pieces like speeches, movies, plays, and even songs.
When it comes to songs or movies, the hook is not dependent only on your words. For songwriting, an effective hook usually depends more on the melody line that you use to open your song.
For movies, the visuals play an important role; screenwriters pay careful attention to the visual cues at the start of their screenplays.
You can think of it as a fisherman’s hook, used to catch fish. Just as a fisherman uses a shiny hook with the right bait to lure and catch fish, you must have an effective first line to grab your reader’s attention.
How to Write a Hook: The 10 Types
Writing a compelling hook takes skill. But you can use any of the following ways of writing a hook to get you started:
1. The Surprising Statistic Hook
Presenting a surprising fact or statistic is a great way to grab the attention of your audience. For example, an essay on the orphan crisis may begin with:
Did you know that worldwide, there are roughly 153 million orphans? And every single day, about 5,700 more children become orphans.
2. The Interesting Question Hook
A question at the very start of your piece challenges your readers to start thinking about the topic. It can be a simple yes or no question, but it can also be a more complicated question that will require them to think deeper.
For example, when writing an essay about the need for good nutrition, you might ask:
Why is it that we all say we believe in good nutrition, but very few of us actually consume enough fruits and vegetables or exercise regularly?
This kind of question helps readers to start analyzing the cause of something: it may trigger them to look into their own reasons for not eating healthy or exercising regularly. When you do that, it increases the chances of them sticking around for whatever else you have to say.
3. The Famous Quote Hook
An essay on good citizenship may begin with the famous John F. Kennedy quote:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
4. The Strong Statement Hook
The Strong Statement Hook makes an assertive claim right on the get-go. For example:
Sugar is the absolute anti-nutrient: every healthy thing that your body consumes, sugar would automatically negate.
5. The Why Hook
The Why Hook is when you start off your essay explaining why your topic is important. For example:
Global warming is causing problems in every country around the world today. That’s why we need to look seriously into the issue by finding ways to be more ecologically responsible.
6. The Joke Hook
A joke or an anecdote is a great way to break the ice, particularly in spoken pieces. For an essay, it may still work if the anecdote or joke helps to introduce the subject. However, we recommend you use this sparingly, as an appropriate joke weakens your essay.
For example, if you’re writing an essay about the importance of punctuation, you may want to start with this condensed version of a joke:
A panda walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a glass of brandy. After downing it in one go, he takes out his gun, shoots the bartender, and walks out the door.
Why did he do that?
Because a panda eats, shoots, and leaves.
7. The Story Hook
Sharing a story can effectively lure in your audience. You may use a personal story, or a story about someone else.
Take note, though, that for a formal academic paper, it may not be appropriate to use personal pronouns. Make sure you check with your teacher before you opt for this technique. But for less formal writing assignments or for writing opinion pieces, this is a great option.
Here’s an example for an essay on the importance of mothers reading to their children:
When I was a child, my mother would read to me every night. We would cuddle up in bed, and I would wait excitedly for her to open the book in her hand. But she didn’t read me stories or fairy tales. Instead, she would read from a joke book, or the jokes section of Reader’s Digest, or from a religious daily devotional book. I find it odd that even so, I grew up loving to read.
8. The Description Hook
Giving your readers an idea of a desirable future is a great way of catching their attention. Use strong words to create a scene in your readers’ minds. For example, when writing about the things you love to do in the summer, you may start by painting a picture:
Standing in the warm sand, watching the cool waves lap around my feet, and feeling the breeze ripple through my hair is an experience that I always associate with the summertime.
9. The Misconception Hook
A misconception or commonly-believed myth is another good way to hook your readers. You might choose an old wives’ tale, or something commonly held in your culture that does not have any scientific bearing.
Were you always told to stretch before you exercise to prevent injuries? In truth, stretching a muscle that has not been warmed up yet can actually cause injuries.
10. The Metaphor/Simile Hook
Using literary devices such as similes or metaphors is another way to start your essay with a bang. You can make a direct comparison to your topic to make it more understandable.
For example, when writing about the importance of children reading excellent literature, you might start with:
Children’s minds are like their bodies: just as children’s bodies need healthy food to thrive and grow, their minds also need nutritious food, in the form of rich ideas in books, to grow strong and healthy.
What Is a Hook for an Essay?
In an essay, the hook falls in the introduction paragraph. To review, the parts of an essay include:
- Introduction Paragraph(s): This includes your hook, the background information, and your thesis statement.
- Body Paragraphs: Each body paragraph starts with your topic sentence. Then you elaborate using detail sentences, and wrap up the paragraph with your conclusion sentence.
- Concluding Paragraph(s): In the conclusion paragraph, you first review the thesis statement. Then you review the topic sentences, and tie it all up with your final line.
One important thing to remember is that the hook does not replace your introduction. You still need to build on your hook to form an introduction that effectively lays the foundation for your piece.
Hooks aren’t just for essays: they’re also important to marketing, and can make or break your campaign.
When it comes to marketing, you might use creative hooks in your blog post headlines, ad copy, company slogan, or even in your book’s subtitle. These hooks are usually short, as modern consumers have short attention spans, and most advertisers have limited time or space to capture that attention.
To come up with a clever hook for your business, product, or service, think about the message you want to convey to consumers. What do you want to inspire them to do? What’s your big picture? What makes you and your business unique?
Here are a few examples of different types of hooks that have worked for different platforms:
- FedEx: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” This hook associates something that is important and relatable to many consumers (the urgency of a delivery that needs to be made ASAP) with the FedEx name, so when people need to make an urgent shipment, they’ll think of FedEx.
- The 90-Second Fitness Solution: The Most Time-Efficient Workout Ever for a Healthier, Stronger, Younger You. The main title of this book catches a reader’s eye with its promise of something everyone dreams of (a 90-second workout?!) while its subtitle goes on to elaborate on the benefits of this solution. So after the initial grab, we’re drawn in by even more enticing promises.
- 15 Great Jobs for English Majors: How to Turn Your “Useless” Degree Into a Successful Career: This blog headline was designed to catch the attention of job-seeking English students, while its sub-headline uses words that many English majors have probably heard for a relatable, ironic spin.
Hook Your Readers
Try these different types of hooks and see which one works best for your essay.
To develop your writing skills further, challenge yourself to use different types each time you sit down and write, instead of always reaching for your favorite type.
Which type of hook is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments below.