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“It was a pleasure to burn.” – “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – “1984” by George Orwell
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” – “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
These opening lines hooked readers into some of the most influential pieces of literature. Part of these books’ popularity can be attributed to the fact that they each grabbed the readers’ attention from the start. Each of them gives us the feeling that the following hundreds of pages are worth reading.
Writing an attention-catching opening line is not restricted to novel writing, the principle also carries over into content creation. By giving some extra attention to the opening lines and the following introduction of our content, we can make our content stand out, grab our readers’ interest, and show why our content is worth the audience’s time.
Why should we spend time on introductions? Can’t we just give the reader a nice appetizer of an opening line and cut to the meat, the main course, of our content? We could, and some circumstances may certainly call for us to do so, but most of the time, we can introduce content to our advantage, rather than just letting them take up some of our word count.
Introductions are the first opportunity we have to stand out. Think of when you’re looking for information on the web. Do you read every word of every page that seems related to whatever you’re searching for? If you do, kudos, but most internet travelers don’t have time to linger on every page. They read the first few lines of the page, then move on if it doesn’t catch their interest or seem like it will meet their needs. These two ideas — catching interest and proving that our content can meet the reader’s needs — are in an elaborate dance. They must be effectively balanced within an introduction to keep the reader reading and aware of what they’re in for.
In summary, the purposes of an introduction are to make yourself stand out (which can include introducing your voice), to introduce the topic, to give an idea of why that topic matters, and to connect to the reader. The rest of this post will explore the different parts of the introduction and how those principles can be practically applied to creating an effective introduction.
Image via Flickr by Zak Greant
Let’s go back to the opening lines of this article, which serendipitously are also the opening lines of some of the greatest novels ever written. What effect do they have? What do they accomplish? Each of them are vastly different, and yet each of them piques our interest. They raise questions. Why is it a pleasure to burn, and what is being burned? What’s significant about the clock striking thirteen? And since when did clocks go to thirteen? How can it be both the best of times and the worst of times? Isn’t that a paradox? No, these hooks don’t give us a summary of the whole novel, but they make us want to read further to answer our questions.
As mentioned previously, the hook is the first step in making content stand out (other than the title, perhaps), so it deserves proper attention. It makes the reader want to keep reading. Thus, in many cases, if we don’t have an effective hook, the rest of our content could end up becoming just a jumble of meaningless chicken scratch floating through the ether of the internet.
The type of hook we use to open our content can depend on style. A hook may immediately show why our content matters, it may pose questions, it may introduce our voice (which can be a hook in itself), and it may even connect with the reader using relatable scenarios. The type of hook you choose could also depend on the audience or the voice preferred by a client, as prescribed in the style guide. Whatever the type of hook may be, it should catch the attention of the reader and lead them to the meat of the content.
Once your audience is hooked, you’ve made a kind of two-way promise. Your audience has agreed to continue reading your content while you have agreed to maintain the consistency of whatever caught their eye in the first place, whether that was your voice or the information that you promised to the deliver. The rest of the introduction is where we begin to fulfill the expectations we set with the hook.
If it wasn’t accomplished in your hook, now is the time to show the reader why your content is significant and why it will benefit them to read it, the line and sinker if you will. This is where you have the opportunity to connect with the reader, to show them that reading your content will help them save money, be healthy, or answer burning questions. Does this sound a little bit like what your college writing teacher told you about essay introductions and thesis statements? Who knew college works?
Along with making some kind of connection with the reader (I don’t say “after you made some kind of connection with the reader,” because these pieces could really be in any order depending on the type of introduction), an introduction should give the reader a general (or specific) idea of what you’ll cover in your content, whether the content is written or mostly visual. This is where the reader really decides whether or not it will be worth their time to continue reading into the bulk of your content.
Content copy is like a house, and we’re the lucky real estate agents that get to guide the audience through the wonderful mansion that we’ve constructed. Before taking them through all the rooms and showing off all the features of the home, we should take the time in the impressive entryway to set the mood for the rest of the tour. That entryway is our introduction. How the reader feels after the intro will frame how they read the rest of the content. Once the reader is caught on the hook of an introduction, the rest of the content mansion can be enjoyed in all its glory.