An essay is a relatively short composition. It does not claim scholarly thoroughness (that belongs to the monograph), but it does exhibit great variety. Essays can be about almost anything; they can be speculative or factual or emotional; they can be personal or objective, serious or humorous. The very looseness of the term is a convenience; it would be a mistake to define it precisely. Here essay really will simply mean a short prose piece. There are differences among articles and reports and essays. But they have much in common, and what we say about the beginning, closing, structure, and so to compositions generally.
Readers approach any piece of prose with a set of questions. What is this about? Will it interest me? What does the writer intend to do (or not do)? What kind of person is the writer?
To begin effectively you must answer these questions, one way or another. From the writer's point of view, beginning means announcing and limiting the subject, indicating a plan, catching the reader's attention, and establishing an appropriate tone and point of view.
Not all of these matters are equally important. Announcing and limiting the subject are essential. Laying out the plan of the paper and angling for the reader's interest, on the other hand, depend on your purpose and audience. Tone and point of view are inevitable: whenever you write you imply them. In the beginning, then, you must establish a tone and point of view conducive to your purpose.
The length of the beginning depends on the length and complexity of what it introduces. In a book the opening might take an entire chapter with dozens of paragraphs. In a short article a single sentence might be adequate. For most essays a single paragraph is enough. Whatever their length, all effective openings fulfill the same functions.
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