When I submitted my first article for consideration, I knew next to nothing about writing for publication. But Paul Poirot, the editor of the journal to which I submitted that piece, taught me a valuable lesson about writing that I’ve tried to apply ever since: Speed your lead.
The lead, of course, is what the professionals call the first paragraph (sometimes a little more) of your piece. It is supposed to pull the reader into the body of your article, to make him want to keep reading.
I no longer remember what my lead paragraph for that first article was, but it obviously wasn’t good enough for the editor. He accepted my submission for publication, but the second paragraph of his letter declared, “I’ve suggested a slight rephrasing to speed the opening paragraph, but believe you’d approve. We can check it further when we send galleys.” (Emphasis added.)
He was gently telling me that my original version had rambled, said more than it needed to say, was verbose. He was telling me that I needed to get to the point quickly rather than beating around the bush or delaying it with nonessential information.
One can create a good lead using many different techniques, including these:
- a thought-provoking question (but not question answerable with a mere yes or no),
- an interest-capturing quotation,
- a startling statement or statistic, or
- an exciting or amusing anecdote (but not long and involved; keep it short).
But whichever method you decide to use, get with it! Don’t dally or delay or pile on the verbosity. Get quickly to the meat of your article and begin introducing your successive points. Your editor, and your readers, will appreciate it. And your writing will be better.
I framed Paul Poirot’s letter accepting my first-ever submission. It hangs on my office wall today, fulfilling two purposes: it encourages me when I am discouraged with my writing progress, but it also is a reminder to speed the lead of everything I write. Maybe Poirot’s advice to me will be a good lesson for you, too.
Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson