Author Topic: Grabbing readers with the first paragraph  (Read 8900 times)

Joe Carillo

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Grabbing readers with the first paragraph
« on: February 03, 2011, 07:20:07 PM »
Mr. Charlie Agatep, president and CEO of the public relations firm Agatep Associates Inc. and group chairman of Euro RSCG Manila, would like to share with Forum members this e-mail that he sent to the company staff to help improve their writing skills: 

This is intended for our writers mainly, but I thought we could all learn from the words and wisdom of Jeanette Smith (The New Publicity Kit) and William Zinsser (On Writing Well)—as they stress the importance of the first few paragraphs, or the lead.

In any form of writing—whether a PR letter proposal, an invitation letter to President Benigno Aquino III, or a feature article for Canon products—the importance of the lead cannot be overstated.

William Zinsser said: “The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn't induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead. And if the second sentence doesn't induce him to continue to the third sentence, it is equally dead.”

The length of the lead could be one or two paragraphs; there is no pat answer. But it must capture the reader immediately and “force him to keep reading.”

In writing a feature article, Jeanette Smith quotes Hugh Mulligan: “There is no set pattern for beginning a feature story. But there is one decree. The lead must grab the readers’ attention. In other words, good feature writers ‘bait their hooks’ in their leads, then follow up with facts (the five W’s) later throughout the story.

On the difference between a straight news story and a feature story

In a news story you have to be objective, meaning that you are not supposed to insert your opinion. You can’t say, “He was a remarkable fellow.” Hindi pwede ang opinionated sentence.*

But in a feature story, there is no requirement to be objective. No need to aim for that lean, brief writing style that marks a news article. A feature story aims to entertain or that sense it is like a short story, “it must read smoothly, build in intensity, and carry the reader along right
to an end that is a climax.”

A feature story is not written in the inverted pyramid style. You can begin your feature story with the human side of the news, perhaps in a conversational style, like, say, “You’ll never guess who I met today.”

Or, writing about cheaper medicines, you could start as follows: “This is hard to believe. A year ago the cost of a tablet of 5mg Norvasc (generic amlodipine for high blood pressure) was PhP44. Now you can buy the same tablet for only PhP 2.75! That’s a 93.75% decrease in cost.”

So guys, let’s examine our first paragraphs, whether it’s in a PR proposal or in a feature story, and unless those first paragraphs can create some “commotion” in the reader’s mind, let’s make it a point to do a rewrite.

The beginning paragraph of The Stranger by Albert Camus, a Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature, starts this way: “Mother died today. Or perhaps yesterday, I don’t know. I received a telegram from the home: ‘Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Sincerely yours…’ That doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps it was yesterday.”

I hope to see better first paragraphs in our future articles or letters.

*This mixed English-Tagalog roughly translates to “An opinionated sentence isn’t acceptable.”