First paragraph instead of lead one: 5 reasons why it doesn’t work

10 mins read

A capacious, laconic lead is a complicated, but important element of the text. The inexperienced author often gets rid of it, replacing it with the first paragraph, but this it is a bad idea.

Time became the main resource of the Internet: even a goldfish has a longer attention span than the average Internet user. It takes literally a few seconds to make a decision on what is interesting and worth spending time on. With text content, everything is determined by the beginning – heading and lead (teaser, insert, or setting): as to whether someone will read your article or not.

While the goldfish still keeps attention, the user is already distracted.

Most of the authors do a good job writing headings. But the clickable heading which promises substantial and informative content defines only a number of views.  It is the lead that defines the bounce rate and whether your article is worth spending time on. There are a lot of problems but mainly that most often the author does not see a difference between a lead and the first paragraph.

However, the first paragraph and the lead are neither equivalent nor interchangeable. There are at least 5 reasons why articles using the first paragraph as a lead most likely “will not come forward”.

1. The first paragraph does not contain important information

In the first paragraph, the author can come from far away, without serious consequences operating with intricate metaphors and multilevel verbal designs. The introduction is only the first step towards a subject and it can have only the mediated, indirect relation to the rest of the text.

It is impossible to make a conclusion on whether the article is important for you and worth spending time on the basis of the first paragraph. The lead has to provide this information: looking through it for several seconds, the audience has to define whether it is worth reading further.

2. The first paragraph does not capture the text essence

The lead is an Elevator Pitch: in 10 seconds you explain to the reader how important the rest of the text is. Then the user is ready to evaluate the text personally or to decide to devote the time to more useful things. The first paragraph is a Small Talk: a couple of minutes on pleasant emotions and searches for a common ground to create a feeling of solidarity with the reader. Its purpose is to conciliate the interlocutor, to adjust mutual understanding, and to prepare for further conversation.

The lead “sells the article”, the first paragraph – invites to pour coffee, wrap in plaid, and “to enjoy the purchase”. The first paragraph without the lead is a persuasive seller who hasty rushes towards with the question “Show Something to You?”. “No, thanks, I’m just looking”, – the buyer who lacked 10 seconds with irritation answers to be defined. Then turns and goes to the next shop with just the same goods.

The first paragraph for lack of a lead – the persuasive seller who is not allowing the buyer to look round.

3. The first paragraph can be volume and empty

The task of the first paragraph – to create the necessary spirit, to provide the suitable context preceding the main part. Therefore, the introduction can be quite verbose and empty. The lead cannot afford it: in its case, the quantity of content in each symbol and desire of the audience to deal with you are inversely proportional. Ideally, the lead is equal to the size of a searcher snippet, is displayed in it, and produces 160 (Google) to 240 symbols (Yandex). Approximately, the lead will be replicated in the same volume after the heading when leaving the article in reposts on social networks, channels, and chats of messengers.

Ideally, lead is equal to the size of a snippet of the searcher.

In addition, the lead should display the content of all your article in detail and relevantly. Also, it has to include a maximum amount of important data. As can be seen, lead preparation is one of the most difficult stages of work on the text. Each useless symbol from 130, for example, in Telegram – is a lost opportunity to interest the bigger number of readers, minus part of an audience and consequently traffic, and finally – minus part of your income. So, using the vast introductory paragraph which will break in an improper place instead of a capacious and short lead is a wrong choice.

4. The first paragraph does not place everything in context

The first paragraph can dispense with accents and priorities. Unlike a lead which accurately explains why the text is written.

The lead explains at once what occurred.

Agatha Christie for certain would be horrified by the idea to turn a detective story upside down. So, if you one time make the decision to leave a frail world of Internet content and go to immortal fiction, forget this article.

Methods and principles of articles in information or publicist style, which occupy almost all text content of the RuNet, and patterns of fiction are significantly different. Though the lead of inartistic (so-called non-fiction) text can use intrigue, create the overestimated reader’s expectations, that is not only unethical but also fraught with the dissatisfaction of the audience in the end. And subsequently, with falling of efficiency of intrigue method in non-fiction texts. So, if you can dispense with artistic touches in your Internet article lead – do it.

The meaning of a lead consists in answers to the questions “Who?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “When?”, “Why and “How?”. It is clear, that even the laconic answer to each of them will exceed the basic 130-240 symbols several times. So choose those which will most precisely display the main idea, and try not to miss the moment when it is time to shut up. Usually, it comes when the useful effect of the available quantity of symbols still exceeds the potential risk of loss of audience because of a sudden break of the message.

5. The first paragraph is closely connected with the text and is unclear without the rest

Paradox: though the lead has to embody the article’s essence, its quality is defined by a lack of structural contact with the main text. A good leader is a self-sufficient unit: even without the rest, it will give a clear idea of a subject, whereas its absence will not influence your text. Unlike a lead, the first paragraph represents an important element of a context so without it, the main part will lose the introduction and will create a feeling of fragmentariness.

If the first paragraph, as an introductory chord, which is written right at the beginning, is much simpler to write a lead when the article is already completed. At this moment you already know what you want to say, which is the purpose of your text and for the reaction, you expect from the readers.

Very few people will consider work of the Internet article author without a lead.

Principles of a lead preparation: 

  • Reflects the main thought and the idea of your text, even if it does not reveal it completely.
  • Contains a maximum amount of the facts at minimum volume, and does not create the overestimated expectations of the audience.
  • Holds no more than 2-3 lines (ideally – up to 160 symbols).
  • It is self-sufficient: if to throw it out, the text will stay comprehensible and full-fledged.
  • It is written after the text is finished.

Though the work on a lead is difficult and means developing the ability to write capaciously and laconically, its absence can bring all your work on article preparation to naught. The replacement of a lead with the first paragraph most often conduces to the loss of readers. And it means that time for preparation of the text was a waste of time.

Alexander Serkov

Alexander Serkov is the chief editor of PRNEWS.IO, has been with the company since 2013.

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