Whatever you’re working on, you too can write excellent introductions by rethinking your writing process, and by taking a tip from journalism.
1. Write Your Introduction Last
Seriously. That’s because I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen writers stuck at the first sentence because they’re trying to write the introduction first.
But if you think about it, getting stuck is only natural: how on earth are you meant to introduce anything if you haven’t written it yet?
In real life you probably wouldn’t try to introduce a complete stranger to your best friend. And if you did, you’d soon run out of things to say. Why? Because you know nothing about the stranger.
So, go away and write your essay, story or article first, then come back to the introduction. Bar any substantial edits, it should always be the last thing you write.
Otherwise, you’ll find that you need to come back and rewrite it, possibly quite a few times.
2. Think About the Function of Your Introduction
When you’re told how to write an introduction at school or university, you’re encouraged to think of your introduction as a signpost to the main body of your piece.
I think that’s fair enough, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s better to think about your introduction from a psychological perspective rather than an anatomical one – about the effect it has on your readers.
In any piece of writing, the purpose of the introduction is to prime your readers, and make them receptive to what you have to say.
So yes, it has to be a comprehensive signpost. But it must also be easy to take in, and appealing. Unless you’re writing for a tabloid, clarity and simplicity win the day.
That’s why, when learning how to write an introduction, we can benefit from looking at the way journalists approach the task.
3. Take a Tip from Journalism
Start to think of your introduction in terms of ledes, or standfirst, names given by journalists to the first paragraph in a news story. The ledes often appear in bold type, a larger font, or italics, depending on the publication in question.
This blog post has one, if you recall. But just so you don’t have to scroll all the way back up to the beginning, here’s another example I just snapped on my phone, from The Guardian:
As you can see, there’s nothing fancy about this introductory paragraph. It’s short, it’s easy to read, and even if you didn’t go on to peruse the rest of the story, you’d be left with a good idea of its content and its tone.
I think it’s fair to say that an effective introduction is more of a microcosm than a signpost.
How to Write an Introduction: The Quick Read
Journalists don’t write introductions; they write ledes. You should do the same. And your lede should be the last thing you write.
Here’s an article telling you exactly how to construct a first-class lede. I always use this method when I’m writing introductions, even if it’s the first line of an email, or the beginning of a report.
As long as you keep the tone of the lede consistent with the main body of your work, this approach transfers brilliantly to every kind of writing.
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