Writing Captivating Leads

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The most important paragraph in any article is the first. If the reader is not associated by what is in it, he is not likely to continue reading. The first paragraph has to "grab him by the scuff of the neck" and hold him until he is well into the article, and to do this it needs a "hook" – something that draws him in and keeps him reading.

Writers sometimes leave the most interesting and exciting material to the third or fourth paragraphs, or later, but they should not. If the first paragraph does not draw the reader in, he will never get to the third or fourth paragraph. The first, of lead, paragraph must captivate him; it must be so intriguing that it's almost impossible for him to put it down. And indeed, there are several types of leads that are particularly effective in this respect. They are:

  • The anecdote or story story lead. This is a short story that makes a point and is somehow related to the subject of the article. In many cases it involves a person with a problem, and shows how he solves it. It is one of the most popular types.
  • The startling statement or shocking fact lead. If an article began with either of the following sentences, it would immediately get your attention. "The world's economy is doomed. We will not pull out of the present recession for at least five years." "There is now proof that the world has been visited by aliens." Admittedly, they sound like Tabloid headlines, and you might not want to be so blunt. But they do the trick. They entice the reader to read further.
  • Question lead. In this case you start off by posing a question, and of course it has to be provocative or important enough to perk the readers interest.
  • Action or conflict lead. This is, of course, closely associated with the anecdotal lead. The major difference is that there is explosive action or conflict in the first few sentences. And, of course, this indicates that the rest of the article will be just as action-filled.
  • Mystery lead. Presenting a mystery in the first few sentences and hinting that it will be solved, can be quite effective.
  • The shocking moment lead. It is closely associated with the action lead, but usually only contains a thought, and no action.
  • An appeal to our emotions. This may not be as dramatic as some of the others, but it can be quite effective. Think of emotions such as love, hate, fear, pity, strong feelings, and so on.
  • The mood-setting lead. This is usually more difficult to pull off effectively, but it is used occasionally.

Good leads are also helpful to the writer in another respect. Starting off with a good lead will help him write the rest of the article. It creates flow and momentum. It's like starting a ball rolling at the top of a hill. Once you get it going it will continue to roll on its own; in fact, it quickly speed up. So if you start with "something exciting" you should be able to write the rest of the article much faster.

A question that people sometimes ask in relation to leads is: how long should they be? There's no rule for this; the best answer is: as long as they need to be to get the job done. In most cases a paragraph is enough, but do not assume that once you've got their interest you can slacken off. You may have a little breathing room, but you still have to make sure the next paragraph carries them into the third and so on.

Leads are important in both articles and books. In books, the lead will be the first paragraph of each chapter. So pay attention to how you start each chapter. It should re-captivate their interest. Also, make sure the end of the chapter entices your reader to continue on to the next chapter. The beginning of a new chapter is the most likely place he will stop and put the book down, and of course, you want him to continue reading as soon as possible. So make sure you hint at what is in the next chapter and make it intriguing.

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Source by Barry R Parker