Novelists put more work into their opening line than maybe any other in the book. That one line can single-handedly win a reader over or push them to the next book on the shelf.
But novelists aren’t the only ones who need to put in that work. Whether you’re writing a book, a blog post, or a scholarly article, you have just seconds to grab a reader’s attention. Because the internet is full of great content, whatever you’re writing is competing against thousands of other ways for your reader to spend their time. You need to draw them in, and that’s why you need to learn how to write a killer introduction.
The perfect introduction has three parts: the opener, the bridge, and the thesis. Let’s go over each one, along with some examples. That way, you’ll hook your readers no matter what you’re writing about.
The first few sentences of your introduction are self-evidently the most important part. The opener is the hook, your first—and sometimes last—chance to grab and keep the reader. In journalism, this is called the “lede,” the opening sentences of a news story that summarize the most important points. Your opener needs to be immediately relevant to the reader while introducing the concept you’ll be writing about.
Here are a few ways you can do both:
When you give your topic a personal twist, you hook the reader in, making them feel like a co-conspirator. Your anecdote can be funny, insightful, or serious, as long as it makes your reader feel something.
Here’s an example of an anecdote I might use if I were writing an article about the importance of proper planning:
“When I was 17, I helped my dad prepare for his rescue diver certification. My job was simple: find a cozy spot a few hundred meters off the beach and hide until he found me. All he had to do was find me, mime CPR, and rescue me. Unfortunately, the instructor failed to tell us he would take us back to shore as part of the exercise. He also failed to tell anyone on the beach that this was an exercise. Mom had something of an extreme reaction.”
Notice that I didn’t just say: “One time I went scuba diving and my mom thought I had an accident.” While I’m lucky to have an anecdote that I can use in my writing for years—sorry Mom—knowing how to tell it is much more important.
When you use an anecdote as an opener, you have to remember that you’re creating a story. Every good story has a beginning, some sort of conflict, and a payoff. Here’s how to make each of these parts engaging, no matter the anecdote:
With this structure, you can turn pretty much anything that happens to you into a compelling anecdote and a great opener for your introduction.
Everyone loves feeling like they’ve learned something. That’s half the reason why any of us reads anything on the internet. When you open with a statistic, you’re giving the reader the instant gratification of learning something in a very short amount of time.
If you’re writing something meant to be educational, using statistics as an opener sets the tone for your piece. But if you’re writing a blog post or essay, statistics can give weight to whatever point you’re about to make, convincing the reader that what you’re writing about is important.
Here’s how I’d introduce an article about writing consistently with a statistic:
“Nearly half of writers only start making $100,000 three years after their first book has been published. Making not just a decent living, but a solid amount of money, is a dream many writers share. For novelists especially, this can sometimes seem like a pipedream. It feels like fewer people are reading books, and publishers’ shrinking profit margins mean shrinking advances for writers. But it’s not hopeless. It might just take a bit longer than you expect.”
It’s important to pick statistics that fit the tone of the piece you’re writing. For this imaginary piece, I want to encourage my reader while tempering their expectations. That’s why my statistic shows that, yes, it’s possible to make $100,000 a year from writing novels, but you need to write for a while before that happens.
One last note on statistics: Be careful about your source. It’s too easy to throw a hyperlink into your introduction without checking your sources. Prioritize scholarly articles and trustworthy news organizations.
Starting with a question engages your reader immediately. You’re not here to give them content they can passively consume; you’re actively challenging them to think about what you’ve written. The specific question can vary, of course, but there are quite a few things you can do with it.
You can use your question to establish a direct link with your reader, convincing them that the piece you’re writing is about them too. You could ask a question that challenges some kind of preconceived notion; this is especially useful if the piece you’re writing is meant to be argumentative. You can also try and make the reader see something in a different light. Take a situation or idea they’re familiar with and flip it on its head.
Here’s an example of how a question can be used as an opener:
“Ever been so blocked by a blank page that you ponder giving it all up? It’s something that’s happened to every writer, and you’re not alone.”
In this example, the purpose of my question is clear; I’m pulling from an experience I know the reader has had and using it to show that they’re not alone in having this problem. This shows that I know what I’m talking about and the reader is encouraged to read because when a problem isn’t unique to you, you figure someone else might have the answer.
In music, the bridge is a section of a song that’s noticeably different and prepares the listener for the return of a verse or chorus. It’s a bit similar in writing introductions. The bridge—or supporting sentences—serves as a transition between your opener and your thesis. If the opener hits your reader with everything you’ve got to hook them in, your bridge is what eases them into the rest of your piece.
In the supporting sentences, you’re helping your reader make sense of your awesome opener. Why is your question relevant to what you’re about to write? How is that statistic even real? How did you get from that relatable anecdote to writing this piece? While the opener is where you can be most creative, the bridge is where you can really show your skills as a writer. Can you bring it all together with just a couple of sentences?
Here’s what the supporting sentences for each opener example above might look like:
“As much as I might like telling this story, I don’t imagine it was particularly fun for my mother. In fact, I’m still banned from wearing black and blue wetsuits when I dive. When I think back on that day on the beach, I don’t just have a funny anecdote, but an important lesson on how disastrous ‘winging it’ could be.”
Imagine I’m writing a piece on proper planning and communication for a project. It wouldn’t do to just plop my thesis in right after an anecdote about my mom thinking I’d died in a diving accident. Here, I’m not just linking the anecdote to my ultimate thesis, I’m also using the bridge to make the tone more appropriate to the piece by admitting that, while funny, this anecdote wasn’t very fun for everyone involved.
“Now, is making $100,000 a year the ultimate sign that a writer has ‘made it?’ No, of course not, but it’s a goal many of us would like to achieve. Is this a metric that you want to reach? Does having to wait three years before reaching it sound discouraging? And why does it take that long, anyway?”
In this bridge, I’m doing a little more to set up my thesis than the above example. By asking multiple, successive questions, I’m building anticipation in the reader. I’m not just framing the questions (or even objections) they had when first reading the statistic I gave them, I’m also implicitly promising that I’ll answer these questions.
The bridge is being used as a setup for a powerful payoff later in the piece. That’s why picking a statistic that’s intrinsicaly linked to your topic is crucial.
“The blank page, silly as it might seem, is one of the most common obstacles for writers of all experience and skill levels. But just because it’s a common obstacle, that doesn’t mean you have to let it stop you. It might block you for a while, but you don’t have to let it win.”
My question in this example was designed with two purposes in mind: It forced the reader to think about my piece on a personal level, and it also reassured them that they weren’t the only one to ask themselves that.
If you’re a writer, you’ve been intimidated by the blank page. It’s so common it’s practically a meme. With this bridge, I’m expanding on that point while offering reassurance that there’s hope. I’m not explicitly specifying what I’ll be talking about, but I’m hinting at it. You don’t want to give it all away just yet.
The opener grabbed the reader’s attention. The bridge expanded upon it. Now, it’s time to deliver the goods. Your thesis is a small, bite-sized summary of what you’ll be going over in your piece. If I were to pull your thesis out of your piece, with zero context, I should be able to know exactly what you’re going to write about. The thesis doesn’t have to cover everything you’ll be writing about, but it does need to encapsulate your topic.
Learning how to write a thesis statement that works can be challenging. But once you know how to do it, you’ll nail it every time. Let’s look at the thesis statements I would use for each of my introduction examples.
“Even though it can be tempting to ‘just wing it,’ having a plan is crucial for success. Here’s how you can build a plan that can survive any unexpected developments.”
With this thesis statement, you know exactly what I’ll be writing about. How to build a plan, and how building a plan can help you react when things don’t go according to … well, plan. A good thesis statement needs to pick up on the themes you established both in your opener and your bridge.
“Here are some of the difficulties every writer encounters along the way, and why you should still just keep writing.”
In this imaginary piece, I’m talking to writers who might feel discouraged by the hiccups they face during their writing journey. That’s why I want to make sure to end on a positive note, so the reader doesn’t get the sense that I’ll just be writing about how difficult the journey is. This is a trick you can use to keep people reading after your thesis; give them a little bit of hope.
The key is not to over-complicate it when writing your thesis statement. Get to the point.
“As overwhelming as the blank page can feel, it can be defeated. Here are some tricks for doing just that.”
Simple and to the point. One thing to be careful of is reusing common expressions, like “Here are X ways to do this,” which, as you can see, I can be guilty of. Your thesis statement is where you can position yourself as the expert. Make it clear that you’re here to help the reader and that you know what you’re talking about. Write with assurance. The thesis is no place for half measures.
Introductions can seem pretty daunting. How are you supposed to succinctly sum up what you’re talking about without giving it all away? Just remember the three elements of the perfect introduction: the opener, the bridge, and the thesis. The opener secures your readers’ attention, making it crucial. The bridge is equally important, as it builds the reader’s expectations. Finally, the thesis is where your introduction really delivers the goods.
Hit these like notes in a song, and you’ll have your readers hooked every time.
Nick wrote his first story at the age of nine when living in New York. It had a troll, a cave, and a magical voice, but not much else. There’s more to his stories now, but he can’t quite stay away from the monsters and dark places of the world. He does his best writing on a powder-blue typewriter—which he snagged for $25—despite the protests of those around him. Some of his best writing (and the occasional gushing post about the Marvel Cinematic Universe) can be found at whiskeyandstardust.com.