We live in a noisy world overloaded with information on virtually everything. Why should anyone pay attention to you? I’m sure you have a good answer to that question. But you must remember: a first impression is everything, and it’s critical that you can make your readers understand the value of hearing you out. Otherwise, you will likely find them very quickly moving along.
That is essentially why you need to write a strong introduction. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you do it? Read on for some answers to these questions and tips for writing a great intro. Then, if you really want a deep dive, consider an online course that will take you through the process of writing powerful prose.
Make them care
The very first words you commit to the page carry a lot of weight. Not only do they need to pique a reader’s interest, but they also need to be relevant to your content; the subject you are taking on and your specific points about that subject. The connection between this attention-getting device and the meat of your writing does not have to be immediately obvious, but it does need to be there, and you will elucidate it in your introduction.
Here are some common categories of attention-getters that might help you kick up ideas you can use for your topic:
A quote: You can use the enlightening words of someone recognizable to foreshadow your thinking.
A surprising fact: Something factual that defies readers expectations will always prompt someone to want details.
Humor: Look at the most shared content online, and you’ll see that much of it is funny. People love to laugh, so offering some humor can draw them in.
A curiosity or aphorism: You can also use original statements if they have potential to strike up interest and prompt further explanation. It’s best to make these brief.
A definition: Defining something, particularly if it is a specialized or original term can be used to great effect as an attention getter
A story: You can sometimes use a personal anecdote, as long as it doesn’t take up too much space.
The kind of succinct and impactful statement you need to make here is a common attribute of advertising copy. So if you would like to learn from the pros on how to get through with just a short statement, try an online course on copywriting.
Don’t get carried away
If you have a good grasp on attention getters, you should also know that getting attention is really only part of their criteria. Used to their greatest effect, these devices will also connect smoothly to the rest of your document, often even providing some foreshadowing of what’s to come. Remember that you are making a case for your writing; putting your best foot forward. If you set up and then fail to deliver, it’s likely readers will not want to stick around.
Put simply then, you do not want to sacrifice the logic of your first paragraph to whatever will get the most attention. Take the option that allows readers to see why your prose is worthwhile.
And on a final note remember that you need to build a transition that bridges from your first statement to the topic description. If you find that takes some significant explaining, you probably want to consider a different opener.
Set the stage
After your opening device, you will dedicate some space in your introduction to fleshing out the background a reader needs to know to understand your major points. Make sure that what you include here is tightly linked to your statement, and avoid non-essential details. You will want to be as concise as possible.
You can think of this section as an input/output mechanism. It takes your initial words, which pull the reader in, and ultimately uses their momentum to produce your thesis or central statement.
Without a doubt, this can be difficult to achieve, and some instruction in writing concise and effective prose can do you a lot of good. You might try a course in constructing persuasive copy to kickstart your skills.
Get to the point
Typically, your introduction needs to conclude with a statement summarizing your position. In an academic setting, this is called your thesis statement, and a thesis statement has some specific requirements. First, it has to make a specific claim about your topic that will focus the rest of your piece. Second, it should outline the direction you will take in drawing out that claim.
Now, if you are not writing for an academic setting, you might be able to play more loosely with the overall statement, and in some cases it can even be implied, if it is sufficiently clear based on the flow of your introduction. But it can do you a lot of good to write out your thesis statement for yourself so you ultimately know what idea you are building toward.
For example, this article has an implied thesis. If it were written out directly, though, it would essentially be this: “There are five things you should do to write a great introduction: use an attention getting device that connects to your central statement; avoid stretching your logic with that device; write a concise background that flows from the first statement to the main point; lead in to your point; and consider doing all of this after you have written the rest of your text.”
You can probably see why writing out such a statement is helpful for organizing your thoughts. It leads naturally to an outline of your supporting points and even helps you determine how you can introduce the topic. For that reason, it is often a good idea to write this part out first, even if you don’t use the drawn out statement in your final draft.
If you’d like some practice and guidance on how to structure your writing, you might try a free online course in professional writing.
Do it last… maybe
That your introduction comes first in the final product does not mean you have to write it first. In fact, it can be helpful for some to write it after the rest of the prose. That’s because you may have a much clearer picture of how you want to introduce the material after you have put in the major writing leg-work.
On the other hand, if you have sufficiently outlined your piece, you might find the introduction a natural place to start. You will have a good idea of the text’s overall logic, and if the words come to you, then by all means, start at the beginning. This can ultimately be a good choice because you will be avoid taking shortcuts or losing steam on your intro, using your initial energy to make it great!