By Grace Bonde, Sophomore Writing Coach
The school year is almost winding down to a close, and right now most students are focused on struggling through the upcoming weeks of testing, doing homework when it’s finally nice outside, and the end of the year finals. Even though many of us are thinking about wrapping things up, I would like to go back to the beginning…of our papers! More specifically, the opening sentence, or lead, that introduces your audience to the rest of the paper.
Introduction paragraphs are hard to write. I believe we can all agree on that. They take a lot of creativity and have to be created anew for every written assignment. There is no easy formula for writing an interesting lead that sets the tone for the rest of the work. Leads, unlike the structure of a five-paragraph essay, are not laid out in a fill-in-the-blanks format. Instead, we have to improvise and hope something fitting comes to mind.
The way you choose to open your paper is very important, though, because it sets the tone for the rest of the reader’s experience. It is the first impression made, and just like between two people, a bad introduction has the ability to upset the following relationship. Therefore, an introduction sentence should try to prepare and excite readers for what is to come next.
Luckily, many great writers have discovered some helpful hints and tips for writing effective introductions every time, especially leads. From the Purdue Online Writing Lab, I found some lists of tips for writing a lead and what to avoid. A few important things they say effective leads need are specificity, brevity, and honesty, tips I have taken my own musings on and summed up below:
- Specificity: It is important to be relevant to your topic and detailed enough that readers won’t feel overwhelmed or bored.
- Brevity: Readers want to know what the writing’s purpose is, and they want to know it fast; be succinct and to get to the point quickly.
- Honesty: Have a lead that can keep its promise about why it relates to the paper.
I also found that there are many things to try and avoid when writing a lead- here are a few that felt most pertinent to my writing, and they will hopefully help you out.
- Flowery Language: Focus on strong verbs and nouns rather than saturating your lead with too many adjectives.
- Unnecessary Words and Phrases: Ask yourself what you are trying to communicate, and if a word doesn’t seem to be helping reach that goal, hit the “backspace” bar.
- “It:” Make sure you aren’t using this word when it isn’t clear what “it” means. Don’t confuse your reader with an unclear subject in the first sentence of your paper!
To try to sum all that up, leads should clearly convey to the reader the purpose of the paper, relate it to the readers, and give the point of reading it. Basically, it’s all about selling your readers on actually reading your paper. To read the Purdue OWL’s full body of information on leads, go to this link (right-click and open in a new tab to read the full article).
My last tip of advice for writing strong leads: If you are struggling to start a paper or are completing a timed writing assignment, skip the intro and come back to it. Once you have your thesis, that’s all you need for the main part of the assignment. Then you can come back to add a lead and round out the conclusion when you finish, or earlier if you think of one.