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First Sentences and First Impressions

The first sentence in your piece of writing is your chance to help and hook your reader. Readers immediately start setting their expectations with the first words they see on the page. If you learn to develop your skill at informing, persuading or hooking them with a story, you’ll be that much better at writing overall.

Comparative examples of bad and good first sentences (Download, 2 pages PDF)

Set Up Expectations

A strong first sentence summarizes or orients the reader to the details of your observations you are about to explore. Reading is about context. Once you know where someone is going when they make their point, you fill in a lot of blanks already. In this sense, people don’t read words, they read ideas. A reader understands what you are about to tell them from a helpful first sentence that tells the reader what to expect.

Guide Interpretation

Your first sentence can tell people what to think about the point you’re about to make. The first sentence can not only set up expectations about facts, it can also set expectations around feelings. If you try to set up a situation with a first sentence, whether it is the overall argument in your writing or a transition to a follow up point, you can keep the reader engaged with effective interpretation. You can’t necessarily expect people to agree with your point of view immediately, but you can come out swinging with a boldly persuasive first sentence.

Hook ’em Right Away

A first sentence can also be the first chance you have to interest your reader in the story you’re about to tell. You can introduce a quirky character, an ominous setting or a bright conversation with a tightly crafted first sentence. From there, you can let your story unfold, because you’ve hooked the reader into something they’re ready to learn more about. Similar to persuasive interpretation, an intriguing first sentence that sets up your writing through storytelling can hook the reader so they want to read every word.

Let Light Readers Read Lightly

If you have readers on the go or who have a lot of interests, they may only want to get a good summary of what you’re saying by scanning the first sentences in your writing. No matter how your writing unfolds, with facts or narrative, you should do what you can to make it easy for the reader to get what they need in a short amount of time by writing first sentences that provide enough details. The reader that you hook will appreciate your first sentences like the first bite of each dish in a savory meal, while the reader that passes by will appreciate them like the free samples offered at the grocery store that provide an impressionable momentary delight.

The Experts

If you’re really interest in writing technique, especially for online writing, check out my page that lists experts in the field of content strategy.

See my list of experts in content strategy

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