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Bill Bennett

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Get straight to the point when writing online

Don’t waste time warming up when writing for online audiences. Get started straight away.

Readers are busy. Some are lazy. They scan text looking for meaning and they want it fast. Other writing competes for their attention. Competition it is only a click away. Grab them before they go.

Your first paragraph should summarise the entire story in less than 40 words. A 30-word intro is better. Less is more.

And make sure the words in that snappy first paragraph aren’t all in one sentence. Long sentences are always hard to read and off-putting. If you start off that way readers are already half way to the exit.

Don’t overload

Don’t overload the first paragraph with too many facts. Save details for later. Journalists are trained how to do this. We use something called the inverted pyramid structure.

Move straight to the action. Passive first sentences send readers fleeing. You can read elsewhere about the passive voice and why you should prefer to avoid it.

Online, opening words are often a teaser to lure readers. If Google indexed your story, the first 150 characters are often used as the descriptive text telling people what to expect when they click the link.

It’s a good idea if that tells most of the story.

If you struggle to write short, snappy first paragraphs, imagine you are writing a tweet.

Twitter’s original 140-character limit is excellent training for writing introductions. It forces you to get straight to the point. Twitter has since relaxed that limit, but see what you can achieve with fewer and shorter words.

There are times when you can’t avoid a lengthy first sentence. Sometimes a product name and a quoted person’s job title can swallow almost the entire 30 words. That’s when you need to get creative. Move as much as you can into the second or third paragraph.

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