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Writing An Introduction Or Chapter 1: What To Say & How To Say It?

Are you writing--or thinking of writing--a book or article for the general public? Have you thought about how to begin?

One of the biggest mistakes I see in the first draft of a nonfiction / how-to book is that writers often either start out by providing too much background to readers or they don't provide enough--and just launch into advice. What your readers really want to know is whether you can help them with their problems. And they want to feel they can trust you.

Whether you are writing a book or an article, your initial words offer an opportunity for you to forge a connection with your readers and present yourself as an authority on your subject.

A successful introduction motivates your readers to read on and provides a sense of what readers can expect from the rest of your book or article. If you feel overwhelmed by how you can provide all that in your introduction, don’t worry—if you think like your reader, you should find the job much easier to accomplish.

In the introduction your reader is trying to find out:

  1. “Will this book help me solve my particular problem, challenge or goal?”
  2. “What kind of results can I expect to get by reading this article, self-help book or how-to book?” Or “What kind of experience might I expect in reading this piece?”
  3. “Does the author have some kind of system to help me and is it something I can easily learn, use and incorporate into my life?”
  4. “Will this article or book be enjoyable to read? Is it entertaining? Moving? Approachable and informational?”

Your reader also wants to know about you:

  1. “Has this author helped many people? And what are his/her credentials?”
  2. “ What kinds of results have other people gotten with the author’s system or work?”
  3. “Do I like this author? Do I relate to him or her?”
  4.  “Most importantly: Do I trust this author?”

Your introduction should:

  1. Motivate your readers to invest their time (and perhaps money) in the article or book
  2. Inspire your readers to envision what they might get out of the piece
  3. Begin to develop a relationship between you and your readers
  4. Help readers understand how the book or article will help them
  5. Tell readers how to get the most out of the book (less necessary in an article)

Starting on page one, you want your writing to come alive for readers: show your readers through by providing details and actions that help readers draw conclusions. When you tell (“He wasn’t taking well to treatment.” “Jane loves her doctor.” “The side-effects bothered her.”), you’re not making your story real for your reader. You are blandly telling information. This format makes the article or book two dimensional. When you use the five senses to show your reader, the information pops off the page. Be sure to fill your introduction with plenty of stories that make your points and your readers will become engaged.

While I talk about an introduction for a book, you may prefer to skip the introduction and start with chapter 1. After all, some readers skip introductions because they expect the meat of the book starting with the first chapter. So, feel free to start your book at chapter 1 if you have such concerns.

Leave a comment and let’s hear from you:

  • Have any questions on writing an engaging introduction or first chapter?
  • Any tips you’d offer others on writing an introduction?
  • Want to share something you did with your article or book’s first chapter?
  • Or a writing challenge you’re experiencing right now?

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