From the Newsroom


Raji Chacko

Make your introduction matter!

Ensure your introduction packs a punch, so your readers stick around to read the entire article.

I have often been deceived into reading articles on topics I care little for, merely because of a well-crafted introduction. Similarly, I have been driven to click away from a topic I approach with eager excitement because of a rather drab and uninspiring introduction. With dwindling attention spans and a surfeit of reading options, a good introduction becomes critical.

Regular news stories are still pretty much bound by the journalistic convention of answering the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How in the introductory paragraph. However, news features and most blogs don’t have to conform to such a rule because they might not be reports of news events as much as an analysis of such events. Therefore, you gain the freedom to draft your analysis or report such that your readers will pick your version over the many others fighting for eyeballs on the Internet.

Reel them in with numbers: Statistics have frequently proved effective in drawing in readers. You will find that a lot of health and economic reports begin with numbers. A surprising statistic is effective in getting readers to read further. It is a little done to death but hey, it works. “Men who regularly skip breakfast may be at a 27 per cent higher risk of heart attack than those who take their morning meal, a large 16-year study has warned.” (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/skipping-breakfast-increases-heart-attack-risk/1145500/) Don’t tell me you aren’t tempted to click on the link, especially if you are a man used to missing breakfast occasionally.

Make it real: An anecdote, an interesting story of something that happened to you or to someone you know, will probably ignite the reader’s curiosity. For a blog, this is a very effective technique because it is already a personal medium of communication, more so than a newspaper. Travel blogs employ this technique very effectively. “I held on tight. Closed my eyes and begged my brain to imagine one of my happy places, often invoked while at the dentist. My brain did not cooperate – it was too busy forming the words “holy crap, we’re going to die!”” (http://wanderingoff.ca/third-world-buses-first-world-fear/)

Quote to engage: Here’s an example of something I nearly read in entirety without actually wanting to. I was ensnared by the use of the quote in the introduction, which is supported by some really interesting narrative as well. ““Robin Hood was almost certainly a pedestrian,” David Crook, the retired former assistant keeper of public records at the Public Record Office, tells me over tea one afternoon at his home in Grantham. Robin, in other words, had no horse.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/apr/14/robin-hood-russell-crowe) Without any interest in Robin Hood or Russell Crowe, I ended up reading half the article before I remembered I had work to do.

Righteous indignation: Some brave writers begin their articles with a question. If you are commenting on the current socio-political situation, you might find this rather apt. “How much more dirt needs to come out before the wind industry gets the thorough investigation it has long deserved?” (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100227983/wind-turbines-are-a-human-health-hazard-the-smoking-gun/). Of course, there was also a hilarious piece in The New Yorker that began with and was full of questions: “Q: What is a frequently asked question? A: Frequently asked questions, or F.A.Q.s, are lists of questions and corresponding answers intended to answer common queries about a particular subject.” (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/shouts/2013/06/faqs-about-faqs.html)

Make them laugh: Humour is a wonderful tactic as well and it does not have to be restricted to humorous pieces. You can lead into a serious monologue with a little light-hearted fun. In fact, it’s very effective in deceiving gullible people like me who are trawling the Net for a few laughs; I am hooked and dragged deeper by my curiosity before I discover that what I thought was generous comedy is a serious indictment of modern-day politics. This one though, I thoroughly enjoyed: “When a rickshaw contains three passengers and one large suitcase, the gymnast of the trio sits in the middle and performs a full-split. He may capitalise on this position and deliver a baby, but this is not advisable. Space constraints will eject man, suitcase or baby.” (http://mrigankwarrier.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/the-biomechanics-of-public-transport/) In addition to being a hilarious indictment of the public transport system in Indian cities, the shock value of this introductory paragraph is sure to have won many readers.

Take an unfamiliar route: I came upon this article while reading something else. It is actually an analysis of recent Hollywood business, but you wouldn’t know that from the introduction, which seems to run at a tangent but is actually rather well-tied to the rest of the tale. “At last week’s Comic-Con event in San Diego, the film director Zack Snyder bounded on stage to announce a bold new merger. His next Warner Bros blockbuster would pit Batman against Superman, two costumed superheroes in one movie. “Let’s face it,” said Snyder, “this is beyond mythological.” The fanbase was galvanised. Hyperbole hit the roof. But in Hollywood, alarm bells were ringing.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/jul/26/blockbuster-film-industry-fan-base-box-office) Now you want to know why alarm bells are ringing and you go on to read that big banners are not really drawing in the audiences like they use to or were expected to. Rather intelligent a tactic, in my opinion.

Paint a picture: “Spring may be just around the corner in this poor part of Helsinki known as the Deep East, but the ground is still mostly snow-covered and the air has a dry, cold bite. In a clearing outside the Kallahti Comprehensive School, a handful of 9-year-olds are sitting back to back, arranging sticks, pinecones, stones and berries into shapes on the frozen ground. The arrangers will then have to describe these shapes using geometric terms so the kids who can’t see them can say what they are.” (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2062465,00.html) This examination of Finnish teaching begins with an example and then harks back to history, analysis, and commentary. Instead of dry facts and figures, it’s an evocative approach to a not very interesting topic.

Of course, regardless of what technique you use to lure readers, they need not stick around and they won’t if there isn’t enough substance in your writing. So, the effort you put into your introduction has to permeate the rest of the article as well.

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