I used to bomb introductions. I did it constantly. During my school days, red ink went flying just a few sentences in. I like to think they’ve gotten better since then, but I’ll admit it: Sometimes, my first attempts still fall flat. Unlike my teenage self, I know it and (importantly!) I don’t just shrug my shoulders and hit “send” anyway. While it would certainly be easier to give up and hope my readers will skip to the next paragraph—you know, the one after that ride through “what is she thinking?” land—I know most of you don’t have that much time on your hands. And I know when it comes to considering your own audience, you’re savvy to that observation, too.
But how do you improve a rough-‘n’-tumble beginning? It’s all about the hook.
What’s a hook?
A hook is something that makes your article stand out. The first sentence must grab the reader. And the second sentence has to reel her in. And the third sentence? Well, it has to push her back in her chair and keep her eyes glued to the screen. That’s a lot of work for a pile of words to do, which is why introductions—and the hooks that urge you to keep reading—can be challenging to craft well.
Hooks can be anything: surprising statistics, counterintuitive opinions, oddball quotes, or interesting anecdotes. If you have a photo that obviously requires an explanation, even that can capture your reader’s attention.
How do I know if my introduction has a good hook?
Ask yourself this: Would this introduction make me keep reading? If you’re not sure, ask somebody else to read what you’ve written—just the intro, mind—and then see if they want to know more about the topic, based on that first paragraph. Some people, like your mom (bless her), will say “yes, of course!” even if you’ve handed her the nutrition label from a soup can. Give her a hug and then find someone who will actually tell you the truth, especially if it’s of the “nope, trash it and start over,” variety.
Troubleshoot your introduction
Here are four helpful questions to ask yourself about your writing, whether you’re staring at a rough draft or getting ready to write one:
- Why is this information my readers need to know?
- What makes me passionate about this subject?
- Why do people need to know this right now?
- What would surprise my audience about this topic?
And one more thing
Sometimes, you need to get the bad, boring stuff out of your head before the good stuff begins to flow. Don’t be afraid to be boring at first. Just because you start that way doesn’t mean you have to publish that way.
And you know what? I killed half of the introduction to this piece while I was editing. Why? It was 100 words too long and I’d already made my point. Brevity is your friend, even if it hurts to hit delete.