How To Write A Catchy Introductory Paragraph
How long do you usually take at the start of a new book, or the top of a webpage, or an academic paper, when deciding whether to keep reading? You likely only take a few seconds, or a page if you’re feeling generous. The fast-paced nature of modern society leaves little time for a prolonged first look at any piece of writing.
This goes for you when you’re reading, and it equally applies when people are reading something you wrote. If you want to have a better chance at getting your message across, you need to ensure you have a solid introduction to your work that gives the reader an idea of what they’re about to experience.
Here are some rules of thumb on how to write a good introduction paragraph, no matter the venue or type of writing you’re doing, to best maintain interest. As a writer, you have to tinker with your process and style to find out what works best for you, but following these tips will strengthen your writing and increase your readership.
Write The Introduction Last
Despite the White King’s advice to Alice to “begin at the beginning,” that may not always work to your advantage. The point of an introduction is to describe what you are going to talk about in your piece. Therefore, it might be to your advantage to write the bulk of your content and the conclusion (if you have one), then write the introduction once you can formulate your thoughts.
The introduction and the conclusion need to match. They don’t need to be identical, but they need to cover the same points. By writing the introduction last, you can be sure that this happens.
Don’t Blatantly State Your Intentions
In The First Sentence
You don’t want to use anything to the effect of “In this article, I will…” or “This essay will discuss…” as your opening sentences. You can make those statements at some point in the paragraph, perhaps leading into your body, but imagine how you would react if someone opened a speech with “Today I’m going to discuss…” You’d suppress the urge to yawn, right?
Instead, figure out a way to instantly grab your reader’s attention. You want to get eyes metaphorically glued to the page or screen. Read transcripts of famous speeches for ideas. Also, focus on rhythm and cadence. Words flow, and a good flow can carry otherwise bland text.
Read Your Text Aloud
This advice goes for any aspect of your writing. If you read it aloud or whispered if you’re in a quiet place, you are more likely to hear awkward wording or prose that sounds boring. Being boring is the kiss of death for any writer. Hearing your writing, as opposed to just reading it in your head, is like an artist flipping the page to see the drawing from another angle.
Reading your text aloud makes it easier to spot errors because it feels like you’re divorced from the work you created.
Avoid Defining Terms
You aren’t writing the latest edition of Webster’s. Your job is not to define terms. If you’re writing about complicated concepts, try phrasing it in terms that a layperson can easily understand. As the adage goes, “If you cannot explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it well enough.” Also, dictionary definitions aren’t the most exciting things to read.
Instead, you should focus on the larger implications of the topic in question
Focus On What And Why
These are two of the so-called “5 Ws” of journalism:
We’ve already covered the “what” part, but you also should focus on the “why.” Anytime a reader is engaged with your content, there’s the question of “Why does this matter (to me)?” Always connect the work you’re writing about to the larger context of your readers’ lives or interests.
For example, if you have an article about dietary supplements, you might focus on how the supplement can help the reader - or should not be taken, depending on the focus of your piece. Remember to reiterate what you say in the introduction paragraph in the conclusion of your work. This reminds the reader of critical points and is especially important in long articles.
Own what you write. Even if you don’t have complete expert knowledge of a topic, you need to sound like you do. Unless you’re specifically writing an op-ed piece - and even those need to be supported with facts and evidence - you don’t want the work to come across as your opinion. If your reader things you sound uncommitted or lacking confidence, they will seek other articles.
Readers want to feel reassured that the information you provide is factual, accurate, and backed up by research, especially in articles concerning health and finances. You can mention that you researched a topic, or got advice from an expert in the field.
Write In The Second Person
You should directly address the reader when the style of writing makes it appropriate to do so. In academic writing this isn’t the case; you’ll have to use the third person for that. In other writing, such as blog posts or articles, you should always address the reader with “you,” and use similar pronouns like “your” and “yours.”
This is more effective than the third person because the reader feels like you’re directly addressing him. It also goes back to the idea of engaging the reader by demonstrating why the content of your writing is relevant to his interests. Writing in impersonal third-person can make people disengage unless they are already likely to be interested in what you’re saying.
Inform The Reader Of Little-Known Facts
These can be fascinating facts, morbid facts, or statistics. Just make sure that it does match and is sufficiently eye-catching enough to work as an introduction. For example, if you’re writing about the need for a minimum wage increase, you could make a comparative statement about wages now compared to wages in the 1970s.
Or, if you want to catch your readers’ attention, you could cite that 63 percent of working people ages 18 to 65 lack even a $500 emergency fund. The reader knows about his situation, but setting it in a larger context adds weight to it. Facts also stick with readers because they can stimulate emotions.
When you use statistics, be careful. They can be easily manipulated. Although people have inherently biased viewpoints, you need to be as objective as possible and write factually, including portraying statistics correctly without misleading your audience.
Start With A Quotation
If you can’t think of anything else to do, you can always use a famous or not-so-famous quotation to start your paper or article. Get the original speaker or author’s name, because you want to provide proper attribution. The reason a quotation can spice up your introductory paragraph is that a single quote can eloquently summarize the point you’re trying to make.
Avoid using quotes that are too long. Remember that if you have to abbreviate the quote, use an ellipsis to get rid of the unimportant parts. If the quote is more than three lines, you should omit or abbreviate it.
Remember What An Introduction Needs
An introduction isn’t correct unless it fulfills all the requirements of an introduction. First, it needs to ease the reader into the subject. People need to have the opportunity to get on the same mental wavelength as you are when they read your work. This in turn makes it easier for the reader to relate to your ideas.
You also need to let the reader know what you’re writing about. If they’re doing research and need to know whether they can use your work as a source, it helps them to know whether your work supports their position, instead of having to read through the entire text to find a single quote that may be taken out of context. This is true mostly for opinion or persuasive pieces.
In factual or journalistic articles, your introduction should provide a quick, easily-digestible summary of the contents. If you’re writing a blog post, if the reader isn’t already familiar with your posts - and you should assume that for any article you have a first-time reader - you should explain why you are an expert on the topic and why they should take your advice.
If you include these aspects in your introduction, it will stand out and fulfill its purpose.
Including a solid introduction to your writing is vital to making it stick in your readers’ minds,, Look at any of the classical novels and notice how their opening lines are among the most memorable in literature: “Call me Ishmael,” “It was the best of times,” “It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
By using some of the tips we’ve provided, and avoiding some of the pitfalls we’ve pointed out should help you write stronger introduction paragraphs.