Beyond Attention Grabbing: 5 Ways to Build an Introduction Everyone Wants to Read
Grabbing attention is mightily important to internet writing and every other type of writing as well. Have you ever read all of something that was boring in the first few paragraphs? You skipped over those boring words to read something else nearly the minute your attention was not grabbed, didn’t you?
That’s the way we readers roll in 2017. We are blasted with a staggering over-abundance of choices in media today, and that abundance has allowed us to evolve into discerning, media-savvy people. And that’s a wonderful thing all around for readers.
But, it’s not so handy for writers because where once there were only books and pamphlets, now there are nearly limitless sources and types of information available. We’ve got to up our game if we wish to keep on playing.
Let’s just face it, many of us must write and write engagingly regardless of competition or medium or anything else. To this end it is useful to borrow and update introduction methods from journalistic, creative and essay writing.
Please don’t forget that any time you think of an unusual approach to your introduction, you should always write a draft of it even if you are unsure of its quality.
An idea for an introduction that doesn’t seem to lead into the rest of the writing or that seems to stall for other reasons will prove this in the first draft, so your own process edits out bad ideas with no second-guessing necessary.
If you find yourself without an idea, try using these angles to write an introduction.
Nothing more indelibly hallmarks quality writing than an appropriate, helpful introduction.— J.M. Dunbar
The 5 Types of Introduction
- The Provocative Introduction
- The Contrast or Conflict Introduction
- The Cumulative Interest Lead
- The Question Lead
- The Descriptive Lead
- The Combined Lead
1. The Provocative Lead Introduction
Very sexy, very sticky, the provocative introduction sweeps in wearing a corset and cracking a bullwhip. It yanks at the reader’s attention toward it and then ties it down with velvet bonds. Whatever else, the provocative lead is memorable, as in naked telegram memorable.
The most famous provocative lead is “In the beginning God created Heaven and earth.”
Here are some others.
He thought he had killed his wife, but then he nearly fainted when he realized she was alive and he was covered in someone else’s blood.
Slaughter wasn’t what he thought he was sent to do.
We never thought it would go so far when we placed that advertisement.
Partly dismembered bodies floated like jetsam around us in the water.
When writing for a blog or any other internet publication, you must compete for readers with a staggering range of choices in reading material, and you must interest your reader quickly, within just a few lines, because today’s readers are habitual skimmers. The blurring pace of the internet makes hooking your readers’ attention quickly ever more important.
When writing for other purposes, you still must compete for your readers’ attention, and the provocative lead still works.
If you are having trouble writing your own provocative lead, look at a few crime novels. Novels in this genre often start off with a big provocative bang of an introduction. It’s easy for those authors because their stories are shocking and murderous. If you are writing a yearly company safety report, you may not have such an intriguing story to tell, but you can still use techniques from provocative leads to write a better introduction about yearly safety goals.
We have learned the most about writing from others’ writing, so don't overlook that obvious source of information when you get stuck.
2. The Contrast or Conflict Lead Introduction
This lead uses differences to highlight the topic. In a perfect world, the differences highlighted will line up in a sensible order and outline the parameters of the piece of writing you are introducing. Make that happen if your world fails to line up perfectly.
Here is an example of a contrast/conflict lead:
I simply won’t use expensive hair dye anymore. Although the marketers claim the higher end dye stays on hair longer, it does not! The commercials also claim that the color of the hair after dying is more vivid and has a brighter shine, but the difference is indiscernible. They also claim that cheap hair color damages hair more than the more expensive types, but there is no proof this is true.
Obviously, the contrast/conflict introduction lends itself to comparison/contrast writing, but it also works well when writing about a process, or evaluation or definition. It does require a bit of thought, but don’t leave this approach out of your writing arsenal.
Use Road Maps
A good introduction is similar to a road map with a trip highlighted in yellow. It names or implies the main points of the piece that follows and it leads the reader onward.
3. The Descriptive Lead Introduction
The descriptive lead is considered the storyteller’s lead because it is structured like a scene from a story. Since introductions need to be of interest and have a hook, or cliffhanger, writing a microcosmic scene can work well.
To write an introduction using this lead, try imagining the whole point of your writing in miniature, just shrink it all down in your mind’s eye. Then try to write a description of what you saw there. Rely on broad swipes and specific details.
Here is an example of a descriptive lead.
The marching band from the high school played throughout the entire afternoon, though just that endless playing itself should have alerted the townspeople that something unimaginably horrible was imminent. The children, let out of school to march along Main Street in their Halloween costumes, collected candy from the merchants along the parade route. Just about everyone in the small town was there. Everyone, that day, unfortunately included Billy Bob Bauer, the towns preeminent drunk driver. No one could see where the screaming was coming from until it was too late to get out of the way, which is why so many people died that day.
Don’t forget to appeal to all five senses when writing description: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.
As you re-read your draft, the details in the descriptive lead should stand out vividly. That is what description does best and why it works so well as a method of leading into your writing.
Maintain dramatic tension in your descriptive introductions. Give away some details, but keep the bulk of them for the body of the paper.
Writing Tip: Try thinking of writing the descriptive lead introduction as if you were a burlesque dancer. You want to take off enough of your clothes to let the audience know they will get to see more flesh eventually, but don’t show them so much that they already know where all your birthmarks are located before the lap dance.
The more writing techniques you master, the easier writing becomes and the better you become at it.— J.M. Dunbar
4. The Cumulative Interest Lead Introduction
This lead, which uses a list of salient facts or statistics. It works so well because people are attracted to these lists. To be effective, the list needs to be long and overwhelming.
Similar to the descriptive lead, this lead’s list of facts will imply the thesis or main point of your writing because the facts you use draw another type of picture, hinting at the facts to come.
Here is an example of a cumulative interest introduction.
The cats’ shots cost $206.00 per year. Their food, a good brand, costs $576.00 per year. The litter costs another $275.00 per year. Treatments to prevent fleas and ticks costs about $480.00 per year. A spay or neuter costs $200.00 with shots included. Emergency veterinary care can cost thousands of dollars. Although having kitties isn’t at all free, it is still worth the price to me.
If we were to build a paper from just this introduction, shots, food, litter, treatments, spays, and emergency care would be the primary points of the paper. We can guess that the paper’s thesis will be that having kitties is worth the expense. The use of specific dollar amounts strengthens the thesis and leads the reader to the writer’s conclusion.
Since an introduction organized this way lends itself to clarity, the cumulative interest lead is useful for complex subjects.
5. The Question Lead Introduction
The question lead, in which the primary question answered in the writing is asked as a way of introducing the reader to the writing, is taken from journalism. This lead is powerfully overused, but with the right approach, it still works every time.
To write an exceptional question lead, picture your readers and imagine how to phrase the question so that it has obvious impact on your readers’ lives. Think about their values, and beliefs especially, because appeals to these are potent and can attract sustained curiosity about what you are writing about.
Avoid rhetorical questions. Focus on questions that involve the reader.
If someone told you that 80% of childhood suicides where accomplished with a gun that was kept in the child’s household and that 90% of all suicides by firearm are successful, would you change your opinion about gun control? Would you volunteer your time to influence your community and legislators to do the same?
So, in developing this introduction, you will also be providing a stylish, albeit sketchy, outline and a clear indication of your thesis and of what is to come in the writing.
The Combined Leads Introduction
Combining Introduction Techniques
Lastly, don’t forget the best type of lead in to your introduction: one you fused together because it was perfect for your writing purpose. So, if you find a way to use two or even more of these introductory leads, do it.
The best writing, the kind everyone wants, is original, succinct, clearly written and engaging.
What Works for You?
I prefer the ________ lead.
Try these practice exercises to improve your introductions with imaginative leads.
1. Just pick any one of the types of leads and writing an introduction to a essay reflecting on the upcoming alien invasion. You may take any position on the invasion, happy, sad, scared, but try to write a dramatic, entrancing introduction.
2. Using another type of lead, write an introduction for a character sketch about your most loathed relative. Which lead do you think will work best?
3. Choose your least favorite type of lead, the one you dismissed using the minute you read about it, and write an introduction to an essay, editorial, or article about a revival you attended where snakes were handled. Be serious.
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