1. Dictionary definitions: Define key terms and concepts in your opening paragraph, but don’t quote directly from the dictionary to do si Use a dictionary — more than one dictionary — to formulate the definition in your own words.
2. Generalizations about “life,” “society,” “people today,’ etc.: You don’t want to begin your essay with the kind of statement that teeters on that fine line between opinion (those ideas you will go on to prove) and belief (those ideas unprovable with the evidence offered t the text). Rather than a statement like, “Almost every man has a sense of pride and will go to war to prove it,” try something more specific to the text you are analyzing. “The character of Roland exemplifies how personal pride and personal valor do not always lea
to the most fortunate conclusion.”
3. The painfully obvious: Avoid opening statements like “Dante’s /nferno is about a journey to hell,” or “Roland is the hero of The Song c Roland,” unless such statements are in some way controversial and challenging to traditional interpretations of the text. Try to avoid any kind of tautological formula — “something is something else” — in the opening sentence, especially, but also elsewhere as an “argument.”
4. Try to distinguish between historical or biographical fact: “Dante’s /nferno was written in fourteenth-century Italy,” and interpretation, especially when you are considering the intention of an author: “Dante wrote his Inferno to expose the problem of Florentine politica corruption to the world.” The latter may be a part of your theory or thesis (or conclusion) but if you use it as a statement of fact (an “intentional fallacy”) you will have to prove it rather than merely argue it — a slippery and difficult and perhaps not particularly useful task. Beware also of using vague or imprecise generalizations of terms such as “dramatic,” “realistic,” or “critical,” which differ in the: literary and historical significance.
ll. Challenges to Meet
1. Try for a (syntactically) shapely and relevant opening sentence: be thoughtful and original and persuasive. Always look for interestir
ways into your essay: an epigraph, perhaps, or an important episode that seems to set the stage for what you want to say, or a
succinct comparison with another well-known work, which will help your reader understand the point you want to make.
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