Picture this: You have an incredible idea. You think it has beautiful promise, and as you eagerly open your word document, already imagining what the finished product will look like, you run into one little problem.
You’re stuck on the first paragraph. You can’t even get past the third sentence without backspacing every imprecise word because it sounds horrible.
Well, you’re not alone. Writing an introductory paragraph might be the most challenging task for any writer. The first sentence has to be sharp and witty; an attention-grabbing line to accompany an intriguing headline, but one that can assure the reader that you’re still discussing the topic at hand. The paragraph has to be short yet long enough to present the arguments that will be addressed. It requires creativity and intimate knowledge of what the audience wants.
Whichever way you choose to write it, each introduction has to incorporate what the topic is and illustrate why it’s essential to the reader. If you can’t explain why they should be reading your article, then you’ve already lost a reader. Fortunately, these strategies are ideal if writing an introduction is your Achilles’ heel:
By using these suggestions, you have an optimal opportunity to not only introduce your argument but to do so in a way that doesn’t level too much information on your reader. In fact, I’ve used one of the strategies in my own introduction to this article. Can you see which approach I used and how I implemented it?
Before you begin, there’s a critical yet often overlooked question you have to be able to answer within your first paragraph.
Why should your reader finish your article? Why would they be interested in what you have to say about the topic? How does this information help my audience?
If you can’t answer any of these questions, then you’ve already lost your reader. You may even lose interest in the subject yourself. That’s a recipe for a boring article.
The “so what” serves to attract and maintain interest in your article or blog post, especially if you expect any engagement at all. It will serve as the focal point for your arguments and keep you on task when crafting your introduction.
Why does your article need to be read right now? What’s the significance of the topic? Your job as a writer is to spin why this topic and your material are important enough to warrant anyone’s valuable time.
You have to put yourself in your reader’s shoes: Why would you stop to read a 2,000-word article when you have hundreds of other things to do in your free time?
Once you answer why, your introduction has to consider another critical question––how will this article affect the audience? Will reading your article have an impact on the readers and, if so, in what way? Sure, you can write a piece on why you should read murder mysteries at the beach, and it can be an original article with a catchy headline.
But the concept itself isn’t enough to engage a reader: Your introduction should first sell them the idea that most beach reading materials are dull. You can then detail how they could make the beach experience exciting by reading tales of intrigue and suspense.
Fundamentally, you believe your article exists to improve or change the reader’s life for the better. An element of your introduction has to address why the reader should continue reading the rest of your article in the first place.
Are you always stuck on the first sentence of an introduction? Just ask a question.
This is a simple yet effective strategy. After all, every question needs an answer, and your intro is the perfect place to start. The idea is to make your question the actual hook––something that intrigues your reader to want the answer. Only it has to be related to your topic and embody the theme of your article.
Although you don’t have to give a full, complete answer, it should nevertheless be an answer. If you neglect this step, your readers will feel cheated and most likely not finish reading your article.
It’s not enough to have an intriguing hook––you have to satisfy the curiosity so they won’t feel lied to, while at the same time, encouraging them to read more. Since the introduction also has to be laconic, answering your question has to be just as concise and straight to the point. You can develop or contextualize your answers in the body of your article.
Even if you want to avoid posing a question as your first sentence, it’s a creative brainstorming technique for understanding your topic. Just by coming up with a question and trying to answer it, you’re constructing ideas on how to approach your topic. The answers themselves can be hooks for your actual first sentence.
As of 2016, American businesses are paying $400 billion every year due to poor writing, a problem that hasn’t improved and currently has no suggested remedies.
Sometimes, the best segue into your topic is to start off with a simple fact. A trivia that presents a problem before you establish a proposed solution.
Starting an introduction with an interesting fact also works exceptionally well for lesser discussed topics and can allow you space to explain what the exact issue is.
For instance, if I wanted to make an argument that businesses should hire more writers rather than invest in remedial writing courses for their in-house employees, I would start off with citing a study overlooking business finance. Then I would explain what the findings mean before proposing what can be done.
When posing an interesting fact in the introduction, it has to be unique and actually enjoyable. It can’t be something too general––you have to frame it in a way that draws in readers rather than repel them.
Most importantly, you have to do the research and make sure the fact is cited by a legitimate organization. Once you do find it, hyperlink the source to your chosen text. If you don’t take these measures, there’s a chance you can be wrong, and that can lose you your reader.
“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”– Lee Iacocca
Using quotes by a professional or a well-known person is a smooth strategy for starting an introduction. The best part about quotes is that you don’t have to explain them … at least, if you have a relevant quote, you don’t have to.
When leading an intro with a quote, remember that they’re only supplementary––they’re not your original idea or a complete thought. Your quotes must be related to your topic, and if they’re not, you have to be able to explain their inclusion in your intro. Quotes are merely dangling carrots to lead a reader to your article.
If you’re writing about the craft of writing, it’s a good bet to say that many go-to quotes will come from Stephen King. It’s not a wrong choice, considering Stephen King is a critically-acclaimed, best-selling author.
However, he’s already referenced in numerous articles that discuss the craft. On the other hand, if you pick a quote from a successful professional who isn’t a career writer, that’s a different story. You’re making your article unique by not picking the obvious choice, and that in itself will draw in intrigue.
While using a well-used quote may not entice your reader, using a quote from an essential nobody won’t attract readers either. The quote has to come from a legitimate source––someone who has authority on the topic. The more established the source, the better the quote.
An introduction is an arduous step in all areas of writing. It has to be creative and straightforward while staying relevant and authentic to the topic. Of course, if you can’t manage to get past this step, it’s OK to skip over it and just begin your article before going back to it. What’s important is that once you draft everything you wanted to say, you touch upon the points you made in your article in the introduction.
It’s how I write introductions to my articles. I wait until I have a full draft before I utilize any of the strategies for writing an introduction. I even mentioned in my own introduction for this article that I used one of my suggested approaches. Did you figure out which one?
I employed the “Interesting Fact” strategy: While it wasn’t a statistic, the first paragraph was a relatable claim. Introductions are challenging. There is a delicate formula for writing balanced intros, and they have to address what the topic is.
For other articles, maybe the first sentence calls for a quote, while others beg for a unique fact about the topic. Whatever approach I choose to implement, I always make sure I’m answering an unasked question:
Why should my reader care?
In doing so, I’m respecting my audience’s time and revealing that the publication understands their needs. An introduction can be as witty as I’d like, but unless I address what I promised in the headline, it’s meaningless. The reader may not finish the intro before they decide my article isn’t worth reading.
Sharrisse Viltus is a freelance writer based in Honolulu, Hawai’i. She specializes in blog writing and feature articles about marketing, writing, entertainment, and traveling. Before becoming a freelance writer, she graduated from Bridgewater State University with a B.A in English and Public Relations. When she isn't working on her own creative writing projects, you can find her napping at the beach. Visit her website at http://sharrisseviltus.com.