Writing a Hook

Kate Miller-Wilson
Hook and bite

Much like the lure a fisherman might use to catch a fish, your writing needs a flashy, enticing hook that will grab your reader's attention and keep her from losing interest, turning the page, or clicking her browser's "back" button. Knowing how to create a great hook is essential, whether you're writing an essay, an article, a story, or any other type of prose.

Know Your Audience

Before you can even begin to write a hook, you need to know who will be reading your work. If you know your audience, you are aware of what will capture that reader's interest. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Why is this person reading this piece of writing? Is it for information, entertainment, or something else?
  • How would you describe this reader? What is this person's gender, age, and education level?
  • What kinds of things interest this person?

Find the Way to Capture Your Reader's Attention

Now that you know your reader, you can figure out how to snag his or her attention. There are lots of ways to do this, and the right one for you will depend on what will work for your reader.

Shocking Fact or Statistic

Start with a surprising fact or a little-known statistic about your topic. Tell how many stray cats live in your city or report the average life expectancy in 1850. This shocking information will make your reader want to find out more. This method works well for readers who are looking for information.

Why This Matters so Much

This direct method simply involves telling your reader why he or she must find out more. Why is this so important? If there's a really good reason to read on, such as a chance to save time or money, tell your reader right up front. This works especially well if you know your audience wants something specific.

Dramatic Anecdote

Tell a personal experience or a story about someone else, keeping the anecdote short and exciting. You can use humor here too. No matter what the topic is, make sure your story inspires emotion or laughter. The idea here is to capture the attention of a reader who wants to be entertained.

Sensory Experience

You've probably heard the old writing adage, "Show, don't tell." A sensory experience is an excellent way to bring your reader into your writing right at the beginning. Describe a smell, taste, sound, or other sensory image, and your reader will have to find out more. This is fantastic for a reader who wants to be entertained, but it also works for many other situations.

Controversial Opinion

If you're writing an essay, you can start off with a controversial opinion your reader may or may not share. This must be done with caution since you can also alienate your reader this way. This works well when readers want information but also understand you may be trying to persuade them.

Hooks to Use With Caution

There are a few other types of hooks you can use with caution. They may be less effective or work only for very specific situations.

  • Quotes - Sometimes, you can capture your reader's attention with a truly relevant quote by a famous person. However, it's essential to keep it short and very focused to avoid driving your reader away.
  • Definitions - It may be tempting to start with a definition, but almost no one enjoys reading the dictionary. Unless you're writing about something no one has heard of, this may not be your best option.
  • Questions - Asking your reader a question can grab his or her attention, but this approach has been done over and over again. If your question is very targeted and thought-provoking, it can still work.

Not Just for Introductions

Hooks are common in introductions since you need to get the reader to jump into the rest of your piece. However, you can also use them at the beginnings of sections and paragraphs or at the ends of chapters in a novel or longer work. Ultimately, knowing how to catch and keep your reader's attention is valuable at any point and in any piece.

Writing a Hook