Oct 172008
 

These ways to write effective leads or introductions that hook readers are from a variety of editors, writers, and creative gurus. I’ve also included several examples of their writing tips in action.

First, some good news from a professional writer:

“Editors need freelancers,” writes Thomas Williams in Get Paid to Write: The No-Nonsense Guide to Freelance Writing. “They depend on them. The freelancers they do business with are their stock in trade. Editors and freelance writers are not antagonists but natural collaborators.”

Your editor is your ally – not your enemy! To get and stay on good terms with editors (and readers), consider the following seven tips for writing effective leads or introductions that hook readers. And for more information about the freelance writing book Get Paid to Write by Thomas Williams, click the book cover.

7 Ways to Write Effective Leads or Introductions to Hook Readers

More ways to write effective introductions are in one of my favorite posts on Quips & Tips for Successful Writers: Grabbing Your Reader by the Throat.

1. Tell a personal story. “One of my favorite ways to begin an article is by telling a personal story,” says Peggy Hall, contributing editor at Clean Eating magazine. “For example, in ‘Quit Fighting with Food’, I wrote, ‘When I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Morocco in my mid-20’s, I wasn’t worried about living in a foreign country or speaking a foreign language — I was more concerned about being able to find diet sodas and low-fat yogurt…’  I explained how I finally gave up dieting out of sheer frustration and how once I made the decision to quit fighting with food, I experienced peace and serenity — and even weight loss — without struggle.

2. Transition from your story into a quote or opinion. Hall explains that after a paragraph or two of her personal story, she then transitions into a quote or opinion from an expert. She connects that advice with her original problem or situation. “Depending on the length of the story, I’ll include up to three or four experts, expanding on possible solutions to the situation/problem I set up with the lead. Then, I tie something the lead/personal story into the closing paragraph. In that way, there’s a sense of coming full circle.”

3. Delete your original introduction. “Nine times out of ten, the first introduction you come up with won’t be your strongest lead,” says creativity guru and author Scott Jeffrey. “Be willing to axe your first and perhaps second attempt and trust that an even more powerful introduction will present itself.”





4. Find an odd fact. “Great leads often have seemingly nothing to do with the article’s main focus,” says Jeffrey, author of Creativity Revealed. “An unusual tidbit of information can grab the reader’s attention. Then, you can link the odd fact to your subject matter. Engaging quotes can also work, when used properly, to engage the reader.”

5. Heed the nature of the story. “I’m not sure there’s any one formula for a good, much less ‘great,’ introduction, because an effective intro depends on the nature of the story,” says Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, author of Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer. “My favorite way to develop a strong intro is by going through my notes and looking for the one most exciting, unusual or funny aspect of the story to work into the opening. I do like to combine the classic question lede with something thoughtful about the person, organization or topic to be discussed – something to get the reader thinking and wanting to keep reading.”

6. Pull readers in. “When I’m writing an essay, article or blog, I like to use a short sentence or two that grabs the reader’s attention by pulling them right into the action,” says Jen Singer. “Here’s one example from my Good Grief blog on Good Housekeeping.com: ‘My husband has a new wife. She’s energetic, youthful and tan. She’s got beautiful curly hair, and she looks like she’s been working out a little bit. She goes out to dinner with him, stays out past her bedtime and seems pretty happy much of the time. My husband has a new wife – and she’s me.'” To read the rest of Jen Singer’s article, go to My Husband’s New Wife. Singer is the creator of  MommaSaid.net and author of You’re a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren’t So Bad Either).

7. Pull a surprise punch.“I always try to create a melodical, rhythmic lead that has a surprise punch at the end-something the reader totally isn’t expecting, and therefore draws him/her in,” says writer Jenna McCarthy. “Whenever possible, I’ll try to lead the reader along on a slightly misleading or ambiguous path, so they’re left wondering, “What’s this all about, anyhow?” It works for me – and here’s an example from a recent blog post I wrote: ‘My husband is a great guy. He’s smart, funny, handsome. A great dad. Knows his way around a grill. Will watch America’s Funniest Videos with me. Can catch and kill mosquitoes in mid-air with one hand. For eleven years, night after magical night, I have lain beside him in bed, studying the strong curve of his face, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest and mentally rehearsing exactly how I’m going to kill him.'”  McCarthy is the author of The Parent Trip – and no, she hasn’t killed her husband!

For more tips, read 52 Ways to Write Interesting Leads or Introductions for successful writers.

What are your favorite leads or introductions to hook readers? Or – which of the above did you like best? My favorite way to begin an article is to use a compelling quotation from one of my sources.

  4 Responses to “7 Ways to Write Effective Leads or Introductions to Hook Readers”

  1. My favorite way to start an article, blog or newsletter is with a story. Here’s an excerpt from my workbook, “Words @ Work,” which I use in my business writing coaching sessions and seminars.

    Telling Tales©

    Stories at the office? Why not? Be uncommon. It’s a lot more fun than stringing boring words together. Start your articles with a story or anecdote, and you’ll hook your readers so they’ll want to read all the way through. Same thing with newsletters, blogs, essays—anything you’re writing. Wake yourself up—and your audience. The results will speak for themselves.

    People buy with their emotions. They may learn something new with their intellect, but to buy—or buy into—what you’re selling (just about everything we write is selling something), their emotions need to be engaged. Stories go straight to the heart. They tap into our emotions and don’t require the processing that more formal writing does. That’s why people remember stories from around the campfire years later. In the business world, even without the fire and marshmallows, we can engage our readers’ memories and emotions with good stories. Once that door has been opened, your job gets a whole lot easier.

    “Show, don’t tell” is a storyteller’s tool. When the hero faces danger, rather than writing, “She’s scared,” the novelist tells us about her sweating forehead and shaking hands. “Show, don’t tell” works in business writing as well. Set your readers in a situation; share a story about someone who benefited from your product or service.

    Share a story that is likely to conjure some emotion from your readers. A bad situation you can fix. A recurring problem you can solve. Stir up a little pain, and readers will begin to identify with you as a probable solution. Or just get them fired up about a situation that needs their attention. We’re a storytelling culture, and we like to learn by example—rather than lecture.

  2. Great post! Thanks!

  3. Wow…what a great post. Thanks for the interesting concepts you present here

  4. REALLY cool post. I love telling stories. I try to find the story in every piece I write.

    Kindof like the famous “Wall Street Journal” letter. They just go right into a story and you can’t stop reading it until “checkout” time. lol.

    Kenney

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