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What follows are some general tips for using the personal touch in the opening section of your essay. Using your own recollections, fieldwork, or research stories is a great way to introduce your topic and argument to a general audience.However, the story you’re telling – even if it’s your own personal experience – should not be only about you.The writing is too dull, too dry, too navel-gazing, too “academic,” or it’s all four of those things put together. Editors can usually tell if they’ll accept your piece after reading your lede alone. So if you have a timely topic for an 800-to-1,200 word nonacademic piece, and you want to grab an editor’s attention, the first thing you should be thinking about is the “hook” for your lede.
The trick is to make the “I” universal enough that readers can invoke themselves in the narrative.
As critic Mark Athitakis warned in a recent essay in on memoirs, if you’re going to use yourself to tell us something, “just recognize that ‘I’ is the least important word in it.” Instead, try focusing on the importance of the moment or the event.
Ultimately, there is only one basic rule to writing a great opening paragraph: “Don’t be snoozy.” (I stole this phrase from a former journalist, Will Harper, who once gave a lecture with this gem at its center.) If you’re reading this, my guess is that you’re at least interested in writing op-eds or short essays for places like .
You may already have a terrific idea and a topical subject.
We studied the openings of Pulitzer-Prize-winning stories, looking at the writer’s mechanics.
The purpose: to drill into our neophyte heads that the lede is the single most important part of any story. It’s where you grab your readers and it’s how you keep them.
Back when I was getting a degree in journalism, we spent so much class time talking about how to write a good “lede” that the subject should have been its own minor.
We scribbled and rewrote our introductory paragraphs.
Competition is fierce and a lot of professional writers are your direct rivals for space.
One of the biggest reasons that an editor will pass on a scholar’s submission is – and prepare yourself for some tough love here – it’s more than a little boring.