“Begin at the beginning … and go on till you come to the end: then stop”
-Lewis Carroll from Alice in Wonderland
We expect a beginning.
Beginning, middle, end. That’s how stories go, that’s how life goes.
And as in life, first impressions count for a blog post. So when you write a post, it needs more than just any old start; it needs one which will keep people reading. It needs a proper introduction.
But how do you write a great introduction?
Don’t write one…
Just because your readers will ‘begin at the beginning’, doesn’t mean you have to. Start writing the main body of your post or, if you have some really good ideas for an introduction, jot them down and move on.
Don’t try too hard to mould the perfect intro at this stage. If you do, you’ll only have to go back and change it later.
Writing is an ongoing creative process. It doesn’t matter how certain I am beforehand, as soon as I start writing a post its contents change like ever-shifting sands. And you can’t build a good introduction on such unstable foundations.
Once the main body of your post is written, you know exactly what it delivers. In the same way, you know exactly what your introduction can promise to those lucky people who keep reading.
This doesn’t have to mean humorous (although it is a good way of entertaining, if appropriate). You can entertain with interesting facts, thought-provoking ideas, or a unique explanation of your topic.
One way you can entertain is to use a story, or narrative, style opening. For example:
I’ll never forget the time my brother tried to start a blog. I walked into his room one morning to find the carpet covered with shards of plastic. He looked up slowly from the mangled wreck of his keyboard.
“I just can’t write it!” he said
That’s how this very blog post could have started.
Narrative introductions can be genuine or fictional. My brother has never tried to start a blog, but this fictional event leads into the idea that getting the introduction right is one of the hardest parts of writing a post.
As long as you aren’t inventing anything that will be misleading to your readers, there is no harm in using a fictional story. An authentic one can be even more powerful, however. Like the time your business saved that other company thousands in expenses…
Whatever the truth of your story, a narrative opening can be very effective because they have an emotional impact. A good story unconsciously places us in the middle of what’s being described. It hooks the reader. It makes them want to know more. It entertains.
A wider point to bear in mind is that entertainment and education are not mutually exclusive. The best blog posts are all educational on some level. Your introduction shouldn’t make your reader feel like they are about to sit through a lesson. If it does, they won’t be sitting through it for long.
And speaking of lessons…
Forget what you learned in school
It’s a fair bet you’ve written a lot of essays in your time. School was full of them. I was taught that an introduction to an essay should set out what it was going to contain. Something along the lines of:
‘This essay will demonstrate that …. It will do so by… blah, blah, blah’
This is a bad model to follow for a blog post.
Your introduction is to get people to keep reading. Telling them, in one form or another, what the post is aiming to do is just repeating what they already know. They’ve seen and clicked on your title after all – that should have told them exactly what to expect. If it didn’t, you need to work on your title.
Give people a reason to keep reading
It’s worth repeating that the goal of your intro is to keep people reading. An intro should make it absolutely clear that there is a benefit to reading on.
Reasons you can offer include:
- An entertaining style – giving people the belief that if they read on they will be able to sample more of your wit and textual magnetism
- A sense of information yet to come – whet people’s appetite that they will learn great things about the topic they have come to read about
Even skim reading is a win – most people do it on the internet anyway – and at least they haven’t clicked away!
Keep it short
Like a ringmaster in a circus, you can use your intro to whip your audience into a state of anticipation. But don’t forget: it’s the show they’re here for. A short, punchy introduction will do a better job than a long and rambling one.
After all, your readers are investing their time in reading your post. They’re hoping to gain some value from it. If you wait too long to deliver their reward, they may lose interest.
But keep it nonetheless
At this point, you might be thinking – why bother with an introduction at all? If it’s the content people are here for, why not lead with that instead of surrounding it with fluff?
It’s definitely a valid question. I believe there are many things an intro can accomplish though:
- You can ease the reader into your subject
- It’s an opportunity for you to set the tone of your piece
- It makes your post look more fully formed – a complete work rather than a copy and paste job
Think about it this way: if you clicked on an article called, say, ‘5 ways to improve your public speaking’, what would you think if it launched straight into number 1?
To my mind, it’s jarring, it makes a poor first impression, and I would be less inclined to read on. I would feel no assurance that what I was about to read would be worth my time.
You can’t win them all
No matter how good your introduction is, it won’t convince everyone to keep reading. That’s just a fact of life.
So instead of trying to please everyone, you should have in mind the kind of person you want to read on. These are the people you are writing the article for. It is good practice to think of them at every stage of the creative process for your post.
- Their age
- Their outlook on life
- Their profession
Tailor your introduction to them. What do you think would grab their attention?
The End of the Beginning
I hope this post will be useful to you. Please feel free to leave a comment.
If you find you have been struggling with any aspects of blogging for your business – hopefully without smashed keyboards involved – why not get in touch?
I’d love to hear from you – no strings attached!