Beauty with grace is the hook without the bait — Ralph Waldo Emerson
The hook engages the reader and brings her into the conversation in a way that is compelling and memorable. It also shows that you, the writer, are patient, conversational and in control of the situation. Some writers want to rush right into the thesis statement and get it over with. This is unwise for a couple of reasons.
First, rushing to get to your point makes the essay writer look anxious, rushed and even a little rude, and no one wants to come across this way. Also, remember, you are often up against a word count when you write an essay. If your teacher wants a 400-word response, and you struggle with elaboration, the hook can provide a little “padding” and add length to your response.
Having said this, also keep in mind that this is a short response and that you have a very limited time to complete it (sometimes it’s literally timed by the teacher). So, limit your hook to two or three sentences, and maybe, occasionally, a little longer.
There are many ways to “hook” the reader and we’ll give you a number of strategies here, but feel free to come up with your own ways of starting the conversation and reeling in your readers.
In the following models, the hook will always be highlighted in light blue.
Short Response Hook Models
The following models are partial responses shown in context, attached to the thesis statement that follows. They are also organized by the various strategies that inspired them.
Strategy 1 — Thoughtful / Philosophical
Type of essay: short response / response to literature
The prompt: In Denise Levertov’s poem, “Moon Tiger”, what is the moon tiger really? Use textual evidence to justify your answer.
It seems that poets and authors take great delight in camouflaging their real themes and thoughts with strange symbols and figurative trickery. It becomes our task to analyze the sometimes inscrutable clues to get to the bottom of the writer’s real meaning. In her poem, “Moon Tiger”, Denise Levertov provides the reader with some some very interesting clues as to the the true and literal identity of the work’s creeping tiger…
- Hook: This hook is just two sentences in length, which is about right for a short response. It adequately introduces the notion that poets and writers are often hiding things right beneath our noses.
Strategy 2 — Begin with a quote
Type of essay: Expository / Argument
The prompt: We just read the Atlantic Monthly article, “How Two Common Medications Became One $455 Million Specialty Pill” by Marshall Allen. In a 300-500 word short essay, discuss whether you believe the Horizon Pharmaceutical Company is justified in selling the drug Vimovo at the price that they do.
Isaac Asimov once said wisely, “I don’t prescribe to the thesis, ‘let the buyer beware’, I prefer the disregarded one that goes, ‘let the seller be honest’.” It seems as though every big company these days has discovered state-of-the-art ways to separate people from their hard-earned cash, and the pharmaceutical companies are certainly no exception. Marshall Allen’s Atlantic monthly article, “How Two Common Medications Became One $455 Million Specialty Pill” brings up two fairly balanced perspectives regarding the cost of their drug, Vimovo. After careful consideration, however, it seems clear that there is no way to justify this company charging such exorbitant prices for this drug…
- Hook: The quote by Isaac Asimov goes right to the heart of the topic of unscrupulous sellers. Later, during in the essay’s closer, the writer refers once again to Asimov once again. This is the proper way to use a quote as a hook in a short response to create a “full-circle” effect. Also, the hook bridges seamlessly into the thesis statement.
Strategy 3 — Begin with Relevant Background Information
Type of essay: University of California Application / Personal Insight Question
The prompt: What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
I have been the recipient of many a helping hand and kind gesture as a young Latino kid growing up in Los Angeles’s Boyle Heights area. My neighborhood was not an easy place to grow up, with poverty, unemployment and gang violence being a ubiquitous presence that affected everyone, especially kids. As I grew up, I took advantage of every club, team and outreach program in my neighborhood and at my school that I came into contact with. And, believe me when I say, it helped. So, when I entered Eagle Rock High School as a freshman, I knew that joining a service organization would be a priority for me. More than any other endeavor in my life, my role in rejuvenating our school’s Bridges Mentorship Club has has allowed me to give back to my school in ways that have been both meaningful to others and personally satisfying…
- Hook: At 5 sentences in length, this is a longer hook than short responses usually feature. However, because this student’s backstory is so essential to this narrative, it makes sense to elaborate in this situation. It also transitions smoothly into the thesis statement as a good hook should.
Strategy 4 — Present a startling fact or statistic
Type of essay: expository/ argument
The prompt: Based on the documents we reviewed in class today that assign blame for the Titanic tragedy to several different individuals, who, in your opinion, is most responsible for the sinking of the RMS Titanic and the deaths of over 1,500 passengers?
The sinking of the Titanic was one of the great tragedies in history. In today’s dollars the loss of the ship cost it’s investors more than half a billion dollars. But what is worse than the economic loss, of course is the massive loss of life. 1,503 passengers and crew either drowned or froze to death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic ocean on the fateful April night in 1912. But who was responsible for the sinking of the great ship? Certainly, many people played a role in the tragedy, but one person seems more culpable than all the others. Based on the documents we have reviewed, it seems clear that Captain Edward J. Smith is the individual most responsible for the sinking of the Titanic and the deaths of all of those unfortunate passengers…
- Hook: This hook attempts to reel in the reader with a pair of startling facts. The first pertains to the huge economic toll the loss of the Titanic caused its company and investors. The second reveals the massive loss of human life that occurred during the fateful voyage. The hook ends with a rhetorical question that is sure to answered by the essayist.
Strategy 5 –Ask a series of rhetorical questions
Type of essay: expository
The prompt: We have reviewed a number of articles about the of the planet’s more interesting and unusual animals. In a text-evidence-based response (300-400 words), explain why you find one of these creatures to be the most intriguing. You have 35 minutes to complete this assignment.
Did you know that turtles are capable of breathing from their butts? Were you aware that penguins can go three months without food? Would it surprise you that rattlesnakes can “see” your heat signature? There certainly are a number of unusual creatures with some very strange abilities on this planet. If pressed to select the single animal that I find the most interesting, however, I would have to contend that jellyfish are quite simply one of the strangest and most unusual creatures on the planet…
- Hook: This hook, like the example before it, attempts to reel in the reader with several startling facts that are presented in the form of rhetorical questions. All relate to animals that have been read about in the essay writer’s biology class. The hook ends with a declarative statement that will blend nicely with the thesis statement to come.
Strategy 6 — Begin With an Ethical claim or plea
Type of essay: persuasive/ argument
The prompt: Our school’s administration announced recently that they are considering instituting a school dress code at Marshall High School. Based on your understanding of the rights granted U.S. citizens in the Constitution, do you feel such a policy would is advisable, ethical or even legal? Your response should be 250-350 words in length and contain some researched or factual evidence. You have 30 minutes to complete your response.
I don’t know what’s gotten into today’s adults, but lately it seems that teachers and school administrators take more and more pleasure in squelching students’ individual creativity and their natural desire to want to express their own personal senses of style. This oppressive impulse is perfectly illustrated by the educational leaders of Marshall High School who would like its students to conform to certain, restrictive dress codes. I hate to break it to these conservative “crushers-of-young-folks’-spirits”, but a mandated dress code at our school is a flagrant violation of young people’s’ civil rights…
- Hook: This hook expresses the essay writer’s belief that an injustice is being contemplated by the school’s adult leadership. The words used here are strong. Phrases such as, “squelching students’ individual creativity”, and, “This oppressive impulse”, suggest that a great wrong is happening and that this essayist is none too pleased about it.