Writing Your Essay (Part 3)
Writing the beginning of your essay can be a challenging endeavor, but it is important you do it well. The introduction is the first impression your essay makes on the reader, and whether he/she continues reading your essay often depends on your initial paragraph being clear, organized, and engaging.
It is important to remember that your personal statement is not a formal piece of academic writing. Rather, it is a more conversational, personal account of why you want to be a doctor. Moreover, you have only one page to write your essay. All of this means that you don't have much space to devote to formal introductions with thesis statements. In fact, you might not need an introduction at all...
Do you need an introduction? Although it may seem counter-intuitive, try writing your introduction last. When you are composing your first draft, forget about your introduction and, instead, dive straight into the body of your essay. After you have finished writing the rest of your essay and re-visit the introduction, you may find that you don't need one after all. This is especially true if you are basing your essay around a story. Ask yourself if your essay can stand without an introduction. It may be appropriate to simply begin with the action of the story (in media res as they say) and then move on to discussing how that story ties into the points you will be making throughout the rest of the essay. Believe it or not, you may do more harm than good to your essay by forcing an introduction where one is not needed.
Leads. The most important part of any beginning is the lead, which can simultaneously set the theme of your essay and engage the reader. You don't need to be overly formal; indeed, doing so may make your essay dull if you're not careful. Here are some different types of leads you may wish to try out:
- Standard: This type of lead states what you will be talking about in the paper and can take on the form of a "thesis" in many ways (i.e. "My interest in medicine began with my trip to Honduras"). The benefit of this lead is that you set up the reader for a focused, well-structured essay and helps you to get the point quickly (infinitely useful in a short essay like the personal statement).
- Creative: This lead adds interest by being obtuse or funny, making the reader wonder what will come next (i.e. "I was awoken by the beating of African drums that filled the air").
- Action: This lead takes the reader into the middle of the action. It is useful if you're trying to conserve space or if your essay begins with a story (i.e. "Our car breaks screeched as the truck came hurtling toward us").
- Personal: This lead reveals something about you (i.e. "My grandmother's words touched my soul like nothing else").
- Quotation: This lead begins with a direct quotation or paraphrase whose meaning pertains to the main points you are trying to convey in your essay. If you use this type of lead, don't use a cliché and don't try to interpret the quote in your essay. The admissions committee will be much more interested in learning how you respond to the quote and what that response says about you (i.e. FDR once proclaimed that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and I have frequently tried to follow his advice").
- Dialogue: This lead puts the reader into the middle of a conversation, whether it be an actual talk between two people or your own internal thoughts (i.e. "'I don't want to die,' cried the little girl").
- Informative: This lead states a fact that is relevant to the topic of your essay (i.e. "Every doctor remembers his first patient").
Get to the point. Don't use broad openings; start your argument right away. Avoid opening with empty fillers like "Since the beginning of time…" Instead, use substantive statements that launch and meaningfully contribute to your argument. One way to help you do this is to read over your first paragraph and decide where your essay really begins. Cut out everything before that.