7 surefire ways to write an opening paragraph

by simon on May 6, 2010

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So, you’ve written a stunning headline, one that pulls your audience into your copy, eager to find out more.

What do you do next? You’ve done the hard part, so it would be a shame to lose them now.

Whatever you are writing, be it an advert, a blog post, an article, press release or letter, your opening paragraph needs to be compelling. It needs to grab your audience and keep them reading.

Are there techniques available for doing this? Tried and tested formulas?

There sure are: these are seven techniques for writing effective opening paragraphs. They come from the world of direct response copywriting, but will also work for blogs, articles, adverts, and probably many other forms of writing.

1. Be startling, or shocking

This techniques depends on delivering a startling or even shocking idea or statement that derails the reader’s train of thought, interrupting their patterns and breaking any boredom. It needs to be something that makes them sit up and take notice.

‘US jails are a valuable source of slave labour.’

‘There are some crimes so stupid, the only effective response is laughter.’

‘A thousand people will die needlessly this week, because they lack access to a medicine that can be produced for pennies.’

Using a shocking or startling statistic is one of the best ways to use this technique.

‘A third of US bees didn’t make it through the winter.’

‘A quarter of all cars on the road have tyres that are dangerous or illegal.’

2. Tell some news

This has always been an effective technique, but is especially useful on the internet these days, where people want to be given information, and are highly resistant to a blatant sales pitch.

‘In the next three years, the future of our whole civilisation could be decided.’

‘A billion dollar a year organisation has sprung into existence, thanks to a bright idea born on a University campus.’

3. Give an overview, or preview

You could use your opening paragraph to preview the rest of your article. Present the core of the information up front, and then go on to summarise. This is very like the journalistic or inverted pyramid style of writing.

4. Use a quotation

You could find a powerful and compelling quotation, ideally from someone famous, known to and popular with your intended audience.

5. Tell a story

This is the fundamental technique of all copywriting. You can use anecdotes and narrative to bring life to articles and posts, even when writing nonfiction.

You could, for example, tell a story about a customer who has used your product or service, or about a reader who has recently commented on your blog.

You could tell a story about the person who invented the product. Or about a person who could benefit from your service.

Ideally, you want to tell your story quickly and powerfully, perhaps by using a relevant analogy, metaphor or simile.

6. Refer back to the headline

Let’s assume your headline worked – it got the reader’s attention and pulled them into your body copy. You could do a whole lot worse than refer back to it, use the same thought, give the same message, in your opening paragraph, to remind them that this is something they really need to read.

7. Ask a Question

By asking your reader a question, you engage their mind, draw them into your copy, and, or course, spark their curiosity.

Bonus option: here’s an eighth option, one you can use instead of any of the above, or ideally in combination with one or more of them:

8. Hit them with the benefits

Load the opening paragraph with benefits, and yet more benefits. These could be the benefits of using your product or service. Or you could simply tell the readers the benefits to be gained from reading the rest of the article. This kind of direct of approach is often the best way forward with busy readers.

Photo by pic of lock by seanmcgrath

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