“I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Doesn’t that intro paragraph make you want to keep reading?
It did for the millions of people who bought the book, saw the film, and got the t-shirt.
And once you learn the steps to writing a great introductory sentence, you’ll be able to have a similar effect on readers no matter what you’re creating—SEO blog content, a high-converting display ad, or a steamy romance novel.
The hidden benefits of using a great intro, no matter what you’re writing
In writing, the purpose of an intro is to make readers want to keep reading.
If your intro sentence or paragraph (I’ll be using both terms interchangeably in this guide) achieves that goal, it’s “good” and it’s doing a fine job.
Great intros, however, go the extra mile. They evoke strong emotions. They compel readers to forget everything and focus on what you’re saying. And they can even act as an indicator that brilliant writing awaits.
Before we dive into the steps you’ll need to take to craft a brilliant intro, here are some of the reasons why you should always dig deep and turn your “good” intros into great writing that blows your reader’s hair back.
A good intro commands attention
The internet is a busy place. You have less than 5 seconds to captivate readers. You won’t do that with a boring intro.
Good intros can make ho-hum topics fun
Writing about something boring like tax filing? Good intros can breathe life into the assignment and keep readers entertained in spite of the tedious subject matter.
A good intro makes readers want to share your writing with others
“Oh my gosh, Kelly, you have to read this. It’s so good!” Nobody ever said that about a boring book with an average intro, did they?
A great intro can elevate average writing
Short on time and smashing together an “okay” blog post? Kick it off with a captivating intro and you might manage to trick readers into thinking that the overall quality of your work is better than it actually is. Of course, readers won’t be so forgiving if you consistently publish shoddy writing, so only use this writing trick when it’s absolutely necessary.
Good intros are important because Stephen King said so
If none of the above has convinced you, then let me defer this stern lecture to Stephen King. In an interview for The Atlantic, King spoke about how important a good opening line was to the success of written work.
“There are all sorts of theories,” he says, “it’s a tricky thing.” “But there’s one thing” he’s sure about: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.Stephen King
How to write a great introductory paragraph
It doesn’t matter what type of asset you’re writing: an e-newsletter to your subscribers, a social post, a blog post, a white paper, even a landing page. The process of crafting a great introduction is always the same.
First things first: don’t write the intro first
Most writers leave the intro ’til last. Reason being, once you’ve finished the first draft of a writing assignment, you usually have a bunch of ideas and angles in your brain that could make for a great intro to the piece.
Stephen King admits that he doesn’t think much about the opening line as he writes, in a first draft, at least. For him, the perfectly crafted and inviting opening sentence is something that emerges in revision.
If you can’t get into a good flow with your first until you’ve got an intro on the page, just put something down quickly but don’t overthink it. You can make it better when it’s time to revise.
Use one of these tried-and-tested formats
Great intro sentences and paragraphs tend to be based on one of the following formats. Pick one and see if it helps you generate a few ideas.
- Make a bold statement that jars the reader (the written equivalent of a mic-drop moment)
- Ask a question
- Start with an entertaining an anecdote
- Tell playful joke
- Share an interesting fact
- Make an emotional appeal
- Say something controversial to grab the reader’s attention
- Paint a picture that builds intrigue
Evoke one of these powerful emotions
- Anger (Use this one sparingly, unless you’re writing hate-inducing articles for Breitbart.com—in which case, please get the fuck off my lawn.)
Make sure the format, style, and tone work well for your reader’s needs
Great writers actively empathize with their readers. Remember to write an intro that’s geared towards the audience you’re trying to reach. To do that, take the following factors into consideration and edit accordingly.
Genre: the intro for a non-fiction educational guide will be very different from the intro for a romance novel.
Audience values and expectations: if you’re writing for conservative readers, expletives are probably no-go.
Subject matter: avoid opening with a joke if you’re reporting on someone’s murder. Similarly, avoid boring the reader to death if you’re writing for a satire publication.
Language and complexity: don’t make it overly complex if you’re writing for a broad audience. If you’re writing for a niche audience, jargon specific to that niche should be fine.
7 real-world examples of great introductory sentences
Here are 7 great introductory paragraphs to inspire your next draft.
Legal Update: Calm’s GDPR Announcement
New laws aren’t meant to be exciting – but this one could sedate a buffalo.Copywriters @ Calm, GDPR Announcement
Calm turned their announcement into a marketing opportunity and stole the show with their announcement blog post: The ultimate insomnia cure? New GDPR law becomes bedtime story for grown-ups.
Stating that the incoming law “could sedate a buffalo” is the ultimate mic drop. And it’s hard evidence that you can dig deep and write a great intro even if you’re addressing something boring.
Blog Post: Wealthsimple
He never wanted to be a professional boxer, he wanted to be a substitute teacher. Until his father got sick. The money story of the legendary five-time world champion, Olympic gold medalist, and one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in history.Wealthsimple, Money Diaries
You might not have heard of boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard before today, but doesn’t that intro make you want to read the story and learn more about him?
That introductory paragraph is from one of the many stories in Wealthsimple’s Money Diaries. The interview series is a study in how to write captivating intros that hook audiences into clicking and reading.
I’m so obsessed with the quality that I’m throwing in another example.
Check out this introductory excerpt from Wealthsimple’s interview with Kylie Jenner.
At 19 years old, Kylie understands what it means to be a frugal Jenner. Like: Say no to the $40,000 watch.Wealthsimple, Money Diaries
The contrast between “frugality” and “$40,000 watch” is jarring and creates intrigue. Is that what frugal living is like for someone who’s on the verge of becoming a billionaire?
And note how the use of “Like” reflects the way Kylie Jenner speaks? That’s a brilliant way to paint the interviewee’s character and connect with Jenner’s fans who’ll likely be interested in the interview.
Announcement Email: Mailchimp
You may know and love us for email, and we’ve celebrated every send, open, and click with you. And now we’ve outgrown our name.The copywriting team @ Mailchimp
Mailchimp’s rebrand and platform upgrade was HUGE news to customers and e-newsletter subscribers. Most impressive is that Mailchimp was able to summarise the news and tell users what was happening in a quick e-newsletter introductory paragraph. 24 words communicate the announcement and entice readers to scroll down and learn more.
Landing Page: Medium
Anyone likely to subscribe to Medium is going to be fed up with the usual bullshit content floating around on the internet. Y’know: shirtless selfies on Instagram coupled with empty inspirational quotes (death to platitudes!). Buzzfeed’s sponsored videos masquerading as entertaining videos. 10 things about celebrity number 5 you need to know right now.
That’s why this intro—the H1 tagline—is so good.
“We believe in feeding minds, not mindless feeds.”
It encapsulates Medium’s values, speaks to the target reader’s needs, and communicates the value they’ll get from signing up.
Investigative Journalism: Diana Marcum
The two fieldworkers scraped hoes over weeds that weren’t there.
“Let us pretend we see many weeds,” Francisco Galvez told his friend Rafael. That way, maybe they’d get a full week’s work.
They always tried to get jobs together. Rafael, the older man, had a truck. Galvez spoke English. And they liked each other’s jokes.
But this was the first time in a month, together or alone, that they’d found work.Diana Marcum, Dreams Die in Drought
The intro makes my heart break a little. Why was employment so hard to come by? Would the men manage to get a full week’s work? What would happen if they didn’t?
Diana Marcum won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for feature writing, for her coverage from California’s Central Valley which offered nuanced portraits of lives affected by the state’s drought, which brought “an original and empathic perspective to the story.”
Novel: The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag
The doctor said I was a paranoid schizophrenic. Well, he didn’t say it, but we knew he was thinking it.”Robert Rankin, The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag
In 20 words, Robert Rankin paints a very clear picture of the character being introduced and leaves us (the readers) wondering what will happen next.
Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road
To say that the opening scene in Mad Max: Fury Road is gripping is a gross understatement. The heart-thumping cinematic rollercoaster doesn’t just hook viewers—it reaches out from the screen and yanks you into the world of the film.
It’s the motion picture equivalent of what a great introductory sentence can do for your next written piece. Check out the YouTube to see what I’m talking about.
How to tell if your intro is any good
You’ll know if your introductory paragraph is hitting the mark because it’ll move readers and make them want to keep reading. For me, a good intro usually evokes the same feeling I get when I eat a delicious, sugary treat and say “Mmm, that’s good.”
If you feel bored while reading your intro, or if the writing is hard to read… you’ve got some revising to do.
And if you’d like some quick feedback on your intro, post it in the comments below and I’ll share my thoughts!