All but the shortest articles should start with introductory text (the "lead"). The lead should be written in a way that makes readers want to know more. The appropriate length of the lead depends on that of the article, but should normally be no more than one paragraph.
Provide an accessible overview
The lead section should briefly summarize the most important points covered in an article in such a way that it can stand on its own as a concise version of the article. Consideration should be given to creating interest in the article.
In general, specialized terminology and symbols should be avoided in an introduction. The first paragraph should define the topic with a neutral point of view, but without being overly specific. Use the first sentence of the article to provide relevant information which is not already given by the title of the article.
Journalistic ledes typically take two forms:
- Magazine/tabloid ledes most often are "teasers" that intentionally omit some crucial details to entice readers to read the full story, or even "bury the lede" by hiding the most important fact.
- Newspaper and broadcast ledes are extremely compressed summaries of the one-to-three most important facts in a piece, given in the first sentence.
Why bother writing a good introduction?
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The opening paragraph of your paper will provide your readers with their initial impressions of your argument, your writing style, and the overall quality of your work. Your introduction is an important road map for the rest of your article. You can show what your topic is, why it is important, and how you plan to proceed with your discussion.
Opening with a compelling story, a fascinating quotation, an interesting question, or a stirring example can get your readers to see why this topic matters and serve as an invitation for them to join you for an interesting intellectual conversation.
Strategies for writing an effective introduction
- Start by thinking about the question (or questions) you are trying to answer. Your article will be a response to this question, and your introduction is the first step toward that end.
- Try writing your introduction last. You may find that you don't know what you are going to argue at the beginning of the writing process, and only through the experience of writing your paper do you discover your main argument. Sometimes it's easiest to just write up all of your evidence first and then write the introduction last.
- Pay special attention to your first sentence. Be straightforward and confident. Avoid statements like "In this article...". Assert your main argument confidently.