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How to Start a College Essay With a Quote


Just as a good movie, novel or advertisement with a catchy start makes you want to continue watching or reading, good essays grab the audience's attention at the beginning. The best essays often open with a hook, an idea that draws the reader in and generates interest about the topic. An appropriate quotation, properly connected to your topic and cited, makes a strong hook for a college essay.

Choose a Quote That Fits Your Purpose

Any quotation must clearly relate to your topic, including a quote used as an introductory hook. A quote seemingly unrelated to your point distracts your readers rather than drawing them in. Choose a quote that fits the tone and focus of the essay. For instance, a humorous quote does not set up a paper on slavery well. Similarly, a quote about how attitudes about gender have changed through history likely creates too broad of an introduction for a paper about one specific feminist author's life. Select something interesting rather than quoting a dictionary definition, for instance.

Consider Your Audience

Choose a quote your readers can understand and relate to. If you choose a quote readers have never heard, the hook will likely have less impact. For a general audience, a quote from a pop culture celebrity or popular program makes a good choice. For more specific audiences, select a source fitting the reader. For example, a paper written for gamers could use a quote from a game designer like Steve Jackson while one aimed at artists might quote from a painter like Paul Gauguin.

Connect to Your Point

Avoid tacking a quote on at the start of your paper just so you can say you have one. Instead, explain the relationship of the quote to your paper's topic, giving relevance and value to the quote. For a paper explaining how to train a dog, a quote from a famous dog trainer like Cesar Millan should be followed up with a comment about how this quote emphasizes that no dog's behavioral problems mean obedience is beyond reach, connecting the quote to the paper's point.

Acknowledge the Source

All quotes need proper acknowledgment to explain where you got your information and maintain your credibility. If the speaker is important, give that person's name in a signal phrase. Add information about the source if needed for context, such as, "As Ancient Greek historian Herodotus said ... " Then follow proper documentation format so your reader can find the source. For papers that use Modern Language Association (MLA) format, give the author along with a page number for print sources. An online MLA quote looks like this:

Mark Twain once wrote, "Human nature is all alike."

For American Psychological Association (APA) style papers, include the date and either a page or paragraph number for direct quotes, like this example:

Mark Twain (1940) once wrote, "Human nature is all alike" (p. 265).

About the Author

Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.

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