Writing an Introduction

This is page one of a guide to Writing Well.

What happens on this page

Amazon does something clever when deciding which products to release: They draft a fake PR announcement as if the product were about to ship. Then they share it with their employees. If their employees aren't interested in buying the product after reading the announcement, Amazon knows to go back to the drawing board.

In doing so, they save themselves years of misguided work.

The same technique applies to writing. But, instead of prematurely writing an announcement, you're going to prematurely write your introduction.

On this first page, I'll show you how to write a strong introduction. Once you've nailed your intro, you'll know you have something to say.

First, choose your topic

The best topic to write about is the one you can’t not write about.

It’s the idea bouncing around your head that urges you to get to the bottom of it.

You can trigger this state of mind with a two-part trick.

First, choose an objective for your article:

  1. Open people’s eyes by proving the status quo wrong.
  2. Articulate something everyone’s thinking about but no one is saying. Cut through the noise.
  3. Identify key trends on a topic. Use them to predict the future.
  4. Contribute original insights through research and experimentation.
  5. Distill an overwhelming topic into something approachable. (This guide.)
  6. Share a solution to a tough problem.
  7. Tell a suspenseful and emotional story that imparts a lesson.

Now pair that objective with a motivation:

  1. Does writing this article get something off your chest?
  2. Does it help reason through a nagging, unsolved problem you have?
  3. Does it persuade others to do something you believe is important?
  4. Do you obsess over the topic and want others to geek out over it too?

That’s all that's needed: Pair an objective with a motivation. Now you have something to talk about.

Next, let's figure out what you're going to say.

Which idea, of all those swimming inside your brain, are you compelled to pursue the way Ahab was driven to hunt Moby Dick?
– Steven Pressfield

Introductions with a twist

In school, you were taught introductions do two things:

Ignore that advice.

Your real objective is to hook readers into reading more.

It doesn’t matter how you hook them, so long as you later fulfill your hook.

A hook is not a gimmick. It’s a fundamental psychological principle: A great intro — like an electrifying opening to a film — buys goodwill with your audience.

Buy enough goodwill and readers overlook a weak first half of your article. They ride the momentum of your great opening.

A great intro is an insurance policy for your mistakes.

What exactly is a hook?

A hook is any half-told story:

Hooks tease your best talking points. They urge readers to keep reading by triggering the storytelling machinery in their heads.

This guide’s hook was telling you that writing is mostly thinking, and that I’ll make you a better thinker by the end of this guide.

How to generate hooks

You create hooks by finding questions you want answers to:

  1. Ask yourself, “If someone else wrote my intro, what are the most captivating questions they could pose to make me excited to read this?”
  2. Write those questions down. Even if you lack the answers.
  3. Rank your questions by how much they interest you.
  4. The top questions become your hooks: Pose them in your intro and don't reveal their answers.

You and your audience evolved the same storytelling machinery in your heads, so questions that hook you will hook most of them too.

When generating hooks, you discover what both you and your audience genuinely care to learn about.

Are you bored right now?

If you don't care to learn about the writing process, you can skip half this guide and pick up at Page 3 (Rewriting) for rapid fire advice on improving your writing.

Question examples

If you’re writing about bodybuilding, interesting questions might include:

Or, maybe it’s one of life's big questions:

Or, perhaps it’s “boring” research on job statistics:

Everything can be made interesting when framed through compelling questions.

Your questions don’t have to be mind-blowingly interesting. They just have to be good enough for your target audience to keep reading.

Hooks become talking points

When you identify a good hook, you also identify an interesting talking point: the answer to the question becomes an idea you'll explore in your article.

This means if you find a really interesting hook, you’re forced to write a really interesting article to fulfill it.

That’s the point.

Hooks show you what a job well done looks like. This is why you're reading a whole page about introductions and hooks.

(The next page explores how to fulfill your hooks.)

Hooks save time

It gets even better.

When hooks are the first part of your article, you have a critical opportunity to ask others for feedback: “After reading my intro, do you want to keep reading?”

If they say no, you saved yourself from writing an article no one cares about.

If they say yes, you'll have confidence you've found an interesting perspective.

Writers think the best time to ask for feedback is after their first draft. Nope, the best time to ask is after writing your introduction. (I'll talk more about feedback in a moment.)

Combatting skepticism

Think of hooks as pulling your readers toward you.

There’s also a force pushing them away: skepticism.

Often, skepticism outweighs the strength of your hooks, and readers quit reading early. You can do something about this. You can proactively counter the five types of skepticism within your intro:

An example of combatting skepticism

For an example of an introduction that both hooks you and combats your skepticisms, click the button below to show the first section of my Muscle Guide.

While reading its intro, identify the sentences that establish credibility, novelty, and depth in an attempt to combat your skepticisms.

Muscle guide intro+

This handbook is the result of one year's research into what the latest science shows is the most efficient way to build muscle.

It's for both men and women. It's primarily for beginners, but there's plenty of science-backed advice for intermediates too.

I wrote this guide because — even in 2019 — much of the casual weightlifting advice is unsubstantiated or misleading. I can't blame bloggers for it, because many of the facts in this guide have not been broadly published outside of the scientific literature. 

As a result, this handbook contradicts some popular bodybuilding recommendations, including the myth that women have a harder time gaining beginner muscle, that exercise rest times should be kept to 1–3 minutes, that most body weight exercises are useful, that machine exercises are ineffective, and so on.

Throughout this handbook, I support my claims by citing studies and showing you how to measure your weekly gains so you can confirm you're growing. 

Speaking of growth, if you're starting without muscle, you can grow it fast if you're diligent about eating, exercising, and sleeping: You can gain around 15lbs (6.8kg) of muscle in 3 months when closely following a researched program such as this. (Afterward, muscle gains slow drastically.) 

These results are achievable for every man and woman. Having “bad genetics” is not a thing preventing beginners from gaining muscle. That's another myth.

In addition to thoroughly citing research, this guide is also comprehensive. I dislike tutorials that provide 75% of what you need to know then leave you with questions.

To make this handbook a complete reference for building muscle mass, I've spent a year fine-tuning it to include nutrition and workout plans.

We'll learn what the research says about:

Inspired? Good. If you weren't willing to spend 1–2 years in the gym to get results before now, be excited because you can compress beginner gains into 4 months.

Oh, and I have nothing to sell you. This handbook is free. There's no promotion.

How to ask for feedback

Let’s return to the topic of asking for feedback. It's the only way to validate that your hooks work.

It's important to ask for a specific type of feedback:

  1. Ask several people to rate your intro from 1 to 10 on how interested they are in reading more. Also ask, “If you were writing about this topic, what questions would you most want answered?” If their questions captivate you, swap them in.
  2. To avoid high scores from friends just wanting to be kind, tell them: “Don’t be afraid to give me a low score. The more that people tell me this isn’t good yet, the more I'm motivated to make it even better. You’ll be helping me focus.”
  3. Keep asking for feedback and rewriting your intro until you reach an average of 8/10. An 8 validates you’ve identified a compelling perspective. It’s a sign that self-doubt is probably unjustified.

Just aim to make your intro interesting enough to get readers wanting more. Don't chase perfection.

This handbook is a first draft. Please share your feedback here as you read it.

Now onto the fun part

On the next page, you'll tease all the thoughts out of your head.

You will fulfill your hooks.

Continue to the next page

Page 2: Writing your first draft

How do you squeeze the best thoughts out of your head?

Next page →