In an age of churned-out, banal copy, writers often fail to really think about what they’re writing about critically. With clients and writers working to deadlines, the low-road of bish bash bosh – here’s some ill-considered bland text to meet this deadline or earn this payment – has become an unfortunate norm. But, it’s not fair to label all writers and clients like this, of course. Many writers also do not apply discernment to their writing because they simply don’t know how.
Speech, and probably some forms of creative writing, can be incredibly discursive, flitting from idea to idea without engaging with the formulaic necessity of editorial pieces that’s imperative for the reader. Moreover, other articles might not only include far too many topics, none of which are explored in any decent capacity, but also have no overarching premise, leaving the reader thinking the article was pointless and probably a waste of time. There is no real set ‘rules’ for writing, but a bag of loose ends is never the goal for a piece of journalistic work. If the reader is left with questions, then writing skills need to be revisited.
This will be about intros to articles (journalistic/blog) specifically but the principles may be applied to other kinds of intros if you feel they fit.
Why intros are important
They clarify the whole purpose of an article, signposting exactly what will be covered for the reader. Starting with a solid introduction enables the whole article to be structured in accordance as well as starting and ending on a clear note.
But intros do more than that – they also offer a chance to express why the reader should care and read on. An intro is the foremost part that’s read beyond a title, so achieving clarity and reader engagement are paramount to the writing endeavour. So, let’s start with some questions to ask when writing an introduction.
What is the premise/argument/purpose of the article?
Even if an article is intended to just give information to introduce a topic, that’s absolutely fine, as long as this is expressed. Alternatively, many articles take an angle on a specific topic, or put forth some new information about something that makes it really interesting. This should be clearly defined in a statement in the introduction.
What’s the point?
Once the overarching purpose has been found, then consider what the point is of writing about this. What are the implications of this particular coverage? The following questions may also help with finding the answer to this.
Who? What? Where? Why? How?
Background journalistic questions (WWWWH) might seem like an overused expression by this point, but never discount these questions: they are crucial to systematically explaining information and giving fundamental background information. In an introduction, there doesn’t have to be a lengthy answer to each of these, but they do need to be touched upon. Depending on what you’re writing, it might be the case that only a few of these are relevant to cover.
Why is this important?
Has there been something else that has helped to bring this to light? Is this something that is likely to tie in with the readership, or just affect many people in general? Does this affect something else? What is the significance, and how can this be expressed? You’ll be in charge of defining the gravity of the premise.
Why cover this now?
Has something notable happened in the world/the country/the local area/the industry or field recently that links in somehow? Reference, whether cultural or otherwise, makes information more understandable to readers, so finding connected insights will make a far stronger introduction and thus article overall. This could be as diverse as an international event or a website getting a bad review – see what dots you can connect. Don’t try to force anything to fit if it’s not relevant, but it’s surprising how many things are connected, thematically or otherwise, if you look into them. By linking your premise to something else that is timely, this inherently gives your whole piece more weight. You can explain more about how these things are connected in your main article; remember the intro is just for outlining.
Has the topic been neglected, or is there something new to say?
Perhaps no one has covered this topic or thought of your idea before. Maybe new information has surfaced, or you have found new information, that adds a new dimension to an existing discourse.
Is there a specific angle?
The way that you approach a topic can often be unique and interesting. You might be approaching the topic from a niche angle or alternative perspective.
Are there any other reasons why this is timely/relevant?
Do you have specific advice that is vital to the field or reader? You might also find some interesting research or stats to back up your premise and points you will cover. Try and honestly think why this article is a must-read, and prove it (show don’t tell).
One of my favourite things to do for any article, intro and beyond, is to imagine the reader saying ‘How am I enlightened by reading this?’
If you don’t have an answer for that, it’s time to go back to the drawing (writing) board.