5 Writing Experts Explain How to Write a Blog Post Introduction

In Content Writing Tips by Chris Meyer

image of david v. Goliath to signify blog post introduction writing
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It’s a special writer who makes it across the barren minefield that is the blog post introduction.

Because, like it or not, your readers won’t hesitate to chuck your post in the dumpster before they finish the first paragraph.

If content falls in the forest, and no one reads it, what’s the point?

Fortunately, with a lot of practice and a little guidance from the experts, you’ll write content that gets read.

To give you some methods to practice, I’ll run through the tactics that a few professional journalists, bloggers, researchers, and business writers use to write their introductions.

Copyblogger’s 5 Ways to Start a Blog Post

Brian Clark of Copyblogger outlines 5 simple ways to start a blog post:

  1. Ask a Question
  2. Share an Anecdote or Quote
  3. Produce an Image in the Reader’s Mind
  4. Use an Analogy, Metaphor, or Simile
  5. Cite a Shocking Statistic

These are all great tactics for starting a blog post. But why?

Understanding WHY these are great tactics is at least as important as knowing the tactics themselves. So let’s figure out why these work.

With methods #1, #3 and #4, you’re actively engaging your reader. For example, in method #1, you make the reader think. With #3, again, you’re creating something in your reader’s mind.

The reader is an active participant; they’re part of your story.

#4 is a little different in that you’re causing your reader to make a connection between two thoughts that they hadn’t previously connected. Still, in method #1 (question), #3 (image), and #4 (analogy), your reader plays a role in your story immediately.

The other methods might not engage in such a direct way, but the anecdote and the shocking statistic work because they play on readers’ emotions by making them curious or shocking them, respectively.

Every method brings you reader into the experience of your blog post. And that’s how you must go about writing a blog post introduction, so focus on creating an engaging experience that involves the reader.

Blogging Wizard’s 6 Steps to a Captivating Intro

Where Copyblogger cites 5 ways to start a blog post, the Blogging Wizard gives you 6 steps.

Here they are:

  1. Address Readers from Sentence One
  2. Start by Describing an Emotion
  3. Identify Reader’s Problem
  4. Play off Their Hopes/Dreams
  5. Promise Something the Reader Wants
  6. Transition by Hinting at How to Solve their Problem

I highly recommend checking out the full article and Alicia Rades’s clear explanation (along with examples) of each step.

By the way, notice how both Rades (of Blogging Wizard) and Clark (of Copybloggers) describe very reader-focused tactics? That’s because a good introduction is personal.

And to be personal, you have to know your reader well enough to see things from their perspective.

The best way to do that is to ask yourself questions like these:

What is the reader feeling? What does this reader want? What is his/her problem?

The answers to these questions provide the fodder you need to put these expert bloggers’ advice into action.

Writing a Lead with NPR and the New York Times

Hannah Bloch of NPR writes, “The journalism lead’s main job is to make the reader want to stay and spend some precious time with whatever you’ve written.”

Even though Bloch presents this as advice to journalist, it’s very relevant to writing blogs.

Here are the 6 types of journalistic leads, according to NPR:

  1. Straight News Lead: the classic who, what, where, why and how introduction.
  2. Anecdotal Lead: just like the type of intro Copyblogger mentioned; start with a story.
  3. Scene-setting Lead: describes a scene that’s relevant to the piece in great detail.
  4. First-person Lead: this is when you begin a piece from your own perspective. To be used sparingly, according to Bloch.
  5. Observational Lead: an observation about the story and its broader context.
  6. Zinger Lead: this kind of lead should make your reader spit out the coffee he’s drinking… and then keep reading.

The New York Times had one lead to add, called the “delayed lead.” This type of lead is an introduction “in which a person is introduced before his or her relevance is revealed.”

Here’s an example:

As a young girl growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Mae C. Jemison watched telecasts of the Gemini and Apollo spaceflights and knew that that was her destiny. No matter that all the astronauts were male and white and that she was female and black. She simply knew she would be a space traveler.

You may notice familiarity between NPR’s 6 types of journalistic leads and the 5 ways to start a blog that Copyblogger pointed out.

Here are Copyblogger’s methods again:

  1. Ask a Question
  2. Share an Anecdote or Quote
  3. Produce an Image in the Reader’s Mind
  4. Use an Analogy, Metaphor, or Simile
  5. Cite a Shocking Statistic

Scene-setting leads produce mental images. A zinger lead could be a shocking statistic. And both bloggers and journalists start their pieces with an anecdote.

Maybe bloggers and journalists aren’t so different after all?

The Research Writer Textbook Approach

“You can always work with readers inclined to say, I don’t agree. What you can’t survive are readers who shrug and say, I don’t care.”

– The Craft of Research

According to the authors of The Craft of Research Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams, the common structure of an introduction shares 3 elements.

1. Contextualizing Background

This contextualizing background should help you establish common ground with your reader, or “a shared understanding between reader and writer about the general issue the writer will address.”

2. A Problem Statement

The other reason for the contextualizing background is to establish a stable context that you can then destabilize with the problem. The example the authors use is the opening to Little Red Riding Hood.

Silly as it seems, the structure of “stable context destabilized by problem statement” is clear:

(Stable Context Starts) One sunny morning, Little Red Riding Hood was skipping happily through the forest on her way to Grandmother’s house, (Destabilizing Problem Starts) when suddenly Hungry Wolf jumped out from behind a tree, frightening her very much.

If you’ve ever analyzed the structure of jokes, you can think of the contextualizing background as the set up and the problem statement as the punch line.

3. A Response to the Problem

In your response to the problem, you give either the short version of your solution, or a promise to give it throughout the rest of your piece.

The Research Approach: A Specialized Tool

While the bloggers and journalists above gave us a few approaches that work in a variety of scenarios, the research writer’s method is for a very specific type of writing.

This intro works well for longer form white papers, research-heavy ebooks, and opinion pieces.

The Art of the Executive Summary

“Use a story.”

That’s how consultant Thomas Heath explains his technique for writing executive summaries on proposals (in other words: an introduction).

His clear definition of the three parts of a story is powerful:

“All stories have three basic parts: a situation that interests the audience, a challenge to that situation, and an answer to that challenge.”

So, according to Heath, to write a story in your intro, all you have to do is:

  1. Say something positive that’s true and sparks interest.
  2. Describe a challenge to the situation.
  3. Present your answer to the challenge.

That’s it. Dead simple. And it’s pretty much the same as the Research Writer Textbook Approach except Heath applies it to writing executive summaries.

Wise Words from George Lois

“If you’re the kind of creative person who gets your best work produced — justifying and selling your work is what separates the sometimes good creative thinker from the consistently great one.”

George Lois revolutionized advertising, and he doesn’t mind telling everybody.

And even though he didn’t write blog post introductions, his thoughts are equally true when applied to writing content today.

Because when you write a blog post, you are selling ideas to your reader in exchange for his or her continued attention. Your blog post’s intro is the pitch, your chance to sell the reader. Take it seriously.

Could Your Inbox Use an Occasional Insightful Idea and/or Book Recommendation?