One...Two...Three... No, we aren't going to see the rocket leave the launch pad. Three seconds is how much time you have to capture your reader's attention. Didn't make it on time? Sorry, but nobody is going to read your stuff.
I'm with you, bro. I know you've spent a lifetime writing this blog post. I know you put your heart and soul into it. I know it's not fair to spend only three seconds reading to decide you're not interested. But that's how life is, and we need to live with it.
Better still, we need to work with it.
In this blog post, you'll find out how to capture the attention of your readers in your intro paragraph so they don't start looking for an exit.
Many blog posts don't get read because they have bad introductions. Why is it so hard to write a compelling lead?
I think the root of the problem is that many authors don’t know what they want to say, and so they begin their articles with useless information that their readers didn’t ask for, don’t need, and most likely already know.
For example, when a writer begins an article with “the e-commerce market is continually growing,” it means they’re procrastinating and their piece is about nothing. You can substitute any other phrase in place of “e-commerce market”:
The global population is continually growing.
Potatoes are continually growing.
The amount of crappy content on the internet is continually growing.
But no matter how astronomically fast this thing is growing, this lead doesn’t draw readers in.
Getting straight to the point and sticking with it all the way through comes down to knowing your message. What is it you want your readers to buy? Your content needs to revolve around a single idea. And this idea should be expressed at the very beginning using a single, clear sentence.
A well-written first sentence must lead the reader into the story (that’s why we call it a lead). And to write it, you must know what you want to say.
Thinking this way about how you start your articles might require you to unlearn what you’ve been taught at school or elsewhere: start with a warm-up. Nobody has time for warm-ups! You need to be clear about what your content is about. If your message is more than one sentence or is a long, convoluted sentence, your readers won’t get it. They need you to get to the point so you can all move forward together.
If you have doubts about your main point when working on your first draft, skip the introductory paragraph. Write the whole piece, then come back to your lead.
You can also try writing the summary sentence first and putting it into the lead. It’s a good approach because when we write conclusions, we typically summarize the main point. By starting where you want to end, you can focus on the one thing you want your readers to remember. This one thing is something your readers don’t know yet. If you put it upfront, they’ll be more interested in discovering why it’s true.
You can be creative when it comes to expressing your main point in the lead. Here are a few ideas on how you can start your writing:
This is how journalists start news articles. A summary lead states the facts and includes the who, why, what, and how of the event. Here’s an example of a summary lead from an article on TechCrunch:
Cryptocurrency mining has become the latest target for the Chinese government seeking to phase out industries considered a drag on the country’s economy.
“Drag on the country’s economy,” huh? This lead raises a lot of questions and promises to answer them if we go on reading.
A punch lead uses strong verbs and short sentences that have one purpose—to create an impact so readers will take notice.
From an article published to Intercom.com:
Atlassian grew into a $20 billion-dollar company without a formal sales team.
This sounds hard to believe. Sure, I want to know how they did it!
This lead draws a contrast between two extremes—tragedy and comedy, past and present, age and youth, beauty and ugliness—to make a strong statement. For example:
In 2005, two college friends decided to build a website to exchange their favorite videos. Today, YouTube is owned by Google and gets over 25 million unique visitors to the site each month.
A humble beginning and boastful end. It’s a great start for an article that wants to prove you don’t need a ton of cash to get a successful business off the ground.
This type of lead starts with the writer’s personal experience. I start some chapters in this book with context leads. You can also find lots of context leads on Medium. They’re pretty common on personal blogs. Let’s see a few examples:
From a story called “Clickbait Literature: Why ‘Real’ Writers Can (and Should) Embrace Buzzfeed” by Gigi Gastevich:
I just read a story that made me cry. Would you believe the story is on Buzzfeed?
With this lead, the author makes a point that Buzzfeed, which is considered a standard of mediocre copywriting, isn’t that bad after all and can teach us writers some very important lessons.
The question lead starts with a rhetorical question that cannot be answered with a straight yes or no and arouses the reader’s curiosity.
Have you ever found yourself in an echo chamber at work — you look around and everyone thinks like you, talks like you, looks like you, and problem-solves the way you do?
Rhetorical questions are a great way to put your main idea in focus. The article quoted above is about diversity and inclusion, and its main idea is that innovation, creativity, and problem-solving don’t happen in a homogeneous environment.
This lead starts with a story. It’s my favorite type of lead. If you start with a story, you capture the reader’s attention right away. Your readers will then want to continue reading to discover how the story ends. Stories are memorable. Studies show that we’re wired to remember stories much more than data, facts, and figures. Stories are a perfect way to persuade people and move them to action.
Many articles in MIT Technology Review start with a story. For example, here’s how an article called “The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI” begins:
Last year, a strange self-driving car was released onto the quiet roads of Monmouth County, New Jersey.
It sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. I’m hooked.
Indeed, stories get readers hooked. But only if you tell them well. The good news is that writing stories, just like writing engaging leads, is a skill you can learn. By paying attention to how others start their articles and by applying their tactics in your own work, you can develop a skill that will help you make your leads irresistible.
If you got this far… share this blog post with your team so they know how to write great introductions for their articles!
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Before you go, make sure you also read my article about how to write a blog post.
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