As a content writer, one of the most challenging things I do every day is to write introductory paragraphs.
I would go so far as to say that if I’m writing a 1,200-word blog article, it takes me up to 20% of my total writing time to write the first 50-70 words.
I might have a relevant, on-target blog topic that catches the interest of my audience, a solid outline, and the knowledge and research to provide useful, engaging information. The challenge is knowing where to start: how to capture the attention of my audience, provide a logical leeway for the rest of the content, and still use the SEO keyword…all within the first couple of sentences of the article.
The resulting challenge feels somewhat like a riddle, demanding both my creativity and logic.
That being said, it helps to enter into battle armed with strategies and formulas for writing an introduction that works.
Here are a few I’ve developed after successfully kicking off hundreds of blog articles.
Keep your first sentence short.
Resist the temptation to write a rambling first sentence that summarizes everything you’re about to tell your reader. Instead, aim to write a short, interesting hook.
Then, if you’d like, follow up your short sentence with a longer sentence that provides a bit more detail and explanation.
Here are a few examples from my own work.
Tens of millions of people are now working from home as a direct result of the coronavirus. In fact, some of the largest companies in the world–such as Apple, Google, and Amazon–are asking employees who regularly work in-office to stay home.
Note that? I started off with a short, declarative fact followed by a longer sentence that name-drops some major corporations (adding credibility and relevance).
The truth is, being productive is more science than art.
For this intro, I started off with a short, interesting statement that begs a bit of explanation. Anyone that’s interested in being more productive will most likely keep reading to understand why–and how–they can master the “science” of productivity.
Speak to the needs or circumstances of your audience.
Your reader needs to immediately know that what you’re writing is relevant to them. Speaking to their needs, their wants, or even their circumstances lets them know that what you’re about to say will be worth their time.
While using the words “you” and “your” can help, they’re not always necessary…especially if you’re writing in a more editorial style (see examples above).
Here are a couple of my own examples.
What are your customers really thinking about your brand? Were they thrilled with their last purchase? Or disappointed?
This introduction asked a question that your audience may already be considering. Asking the question, of course, suggests that the article will provide a needed answer or solution.
One of the most significant benefits of working for yourself is setting your own rates. One of the biggest drawbacks of working for yourself is also… setting your own rates.
Here, I pointed out a paradox that’s unique to a particular audience. Doing this lets your reader know that you’re about to provide super-relevant information–and a solution to a problem.
Present an interesting piece of information.
Start off your article by providing a remarkable statistic or fact. You’ll not only engage the interest of your readers, but you’re establishing yourself as a credible source that’s drawing on real evidence to back your claims.
Here are a couple examples of how I’ve used stats to create immediate interest.
A recent study showed an average national patient growth rate of 45%, but a patient churn rate of 48%.
In this intro, I used statistics to highlight a potential “blind spot” that was relevant to the audience (in this case, healthcare providers). In theory, they’ll continue reading to discover how to prevent this problem from happening in their own practice.
The average American earns $44,720 per year. That doesn’t sound terrible–until you factor in the reality that younger workers (between the ages of 20–24) are making $28,000 per year on average.
Again, I used two statistics to point out a discrepancy that’s worth noting on a topic that’s interesting to just about everyone–money.
Keep it brief.
You’re not writing a novel. You’re writing a blog post. Be creative, say something surprising, and then get to the point.
When I first started writing, I would try to build up lots of suspense in my introductions, keeping the main point “hidden.” Don’t do that. It’s bad for engagement and it’s bad for SEO.
Here’s an example of an introduction that doesn’t beat around the bush (Also: Avoid clichés).
As a full-time employee, your pay isn’t necessarily connected to the specific amount of hours you work. That being said, time-tracking – keeping careful track of how you spend your working hours – may not sound like a valuable use of your effort.
Time-tracking, however, has the potential to transform your job, help you meet your goals, and give you powerful leverage with your employer.
This intro spoke to the circumstances and mindset of the reader (I’m a full-time employee and I don’t need to track time) before getting to the gist of the article: Time-tracking can yield awesome benefits, even for conventionally employed professionals.
Final lesson: Introductory paragraphs are hard. Don’t spend too much time on typing, deleting, and ideating if you can’t come up with something great.
When I’m really stuck, I write a terrible intro, and then I move on to the rest of the article. Then, I revisit my introduction with fresh eyes and fresh ideas. Typically, something will come to me quite quickly–giving me just what I need to round out the article and give it the great start that it deserves.