What follows the headline is your opening first sentence or paragraph and it’s called the opening.
It could be just one sentence or a very short paragraph, but it must open with plenty of punch.
The purpose of the first sentence
Your first sentence should dominate as it’s the most important piece of the article after the headline.
The headline has served its purpose of stopping the reader in their tracks with a captivating promise. They then move on to read your opening sentence or paragraph which is where you convince them to continue to read.
Remember, the only goal behind the headline is to get them to read the first sentence.
So, like a waterfall that starts with the headline, the next goal is to get them to read the first sentence. Then your only goal behind the first sentence is to get them to read the second sentence, and so on.
In a nutshell:
The headline captures your reader’s attention. The first sentence keeps it.
How long should the first sentence be?
It must be short.
The most important tip is that your opening first sentence should be short.
It could even be as short as a one-word or two-word sentence. The goal, however, is to create expectancy and anticipation, maybe even to shock or awe.
5 popular types of openings
There are a few well-trodden and proven ways to open an article. They can be used in combination or any which way. Below are the 5 most popular:
- Ask a question
This creates curiosity and gets the reader thinking and it’s that thinking that equals active engagement with your writing.
Your reader is already captivated.
- Share a quote or an anecdote
Opening with a meaningful quote can speak to some of the pain or problem your reader is trying to solve. Just make sure the quote is 100% accurate.
Sharing an anecdote is also a good way of opening. The key though is how you tell the story. An imaginative writer can start the anecdote right in the middle of the story.
- Invoking the mind’s eye
This is when you’re asking the reader to create a mental image of something. Using words like “Do you remember when …” or “Picture yourself …”.
You can also project the future by painting a picture in your reader’s mind of what their life would be like if they take you up on the promise you made in the headline. You would use words like “Imagine when …”.
- An analogy, metaphor, or simile
Opening with an analogy can be very powerful as it’s a comparison of two different things that have some similarities. Something like “Her hand was as cold as ice” or “You’re as annoying as nails on a chalkboard”
On the other hand, a powerful metaphor can do the trick. A metaphor makes a comparison between two things that aren’t alike but have something in common. Two examples are “Laughter is the music of the soul” or “Scars are the road map to the soul”.
Opening with a simile can be more descriptive and elicit the emotional response you’re seeking. A simile is the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind. Examples are “They fought like cats and dogs” and “They are as different as night and day”.
- Cite a statistic
A statistic is a good opening so long as it has some shock value and it’s unique. Again, it must grab your reader’s attention. A statistic that’s fascinating.
A statistic that’s been overused will be ignored. Make sure it stands out, it’s new and unique.
Finally, make sure the statistic you’re wanting to use is exact, not rounded off. For example, if the figure is 16,435 then use it. Don’t round it off to 16,000.
Same goes for a percentage. If the percentage is 11.89% then that’s what it is. It’s not 12%.
By making statistics exact also implies you’ve done your research and it shows authority.
The most important take away is that your opening first sentence should be short and grab your reader’s attention.
Achieve that and the reader will want to read the next sentence, and then the next and so on. Just like a cascading waterfall.
Remember, the headline captures your reader’s attention. The first sentence keeps it.