In terms of the usefulness to time-to-explain ratio, the following is the best advice about writing popular non-fiction you will ever hear:
Delete your introduction and conclusion paragraphs.
A standard introductory paragraph goes like this:
“Abortion has been in the news cycle lately due to [recent news headline]. There are many different views on the ethics of abortion, with differing perspectives from the religious and non-religious. In this article, I will analyze the different arguments for and against abortion and hopefully conclude which are the more persuasive.”
Ask yourself whether the introduction adds anything to the main thrust of your argument or story, or informs or entertains your reader in any way.
Your introduction usually has nothing to do with your argument. The newsworthiness of the topic is an entirely different matter to the reasons for or against abortion. If you wanted to write about how much people are talking about abortion, dedicate an entire article to that. If you’re not doing that, then the content doesn’t need to be there.
What’s more, introductory paragraphs are usually boring. They’re dry and are mostly concerned with establishing that which does not need to be established. What you write in the introduction will probably not be news to the reader. If it is, then the article is not for them. For everyone informed, it will be unnecessary, and will only encourage them to find something else to do.
You might want to write an introduction in the first draft and delete it later. Invariably, you write an introductory paragraph to get your head around what you’re writing and why you’re writing about it in the first place. If it helps, go for it. It’s for your own benefit more than the reader’s.
To the reader, an introductory paragraph just looks like you’re trying to justify why your article should exist. Appeals to topical relevance come across as weak. Have confidence in your convictions. Your article exists because you’re a great writer are interesting to read. Get to the bit we’re all waiting for already.
You delete the conclusion because it also adds nothing and is probably just a retread of the introduction. If you’ve finished what you have to say, just stop.
A tip that gets spun around a lot is, “Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you’ve just told ‘em.” But that is bad advice. If you are writing an article for a popular audience and not an academic paper, introductions and conclusions are a waste of space.
Compare it to a conversation in real life. People don’t normally warn you in advance that they’re going to tell you a story about what happened to them on the train this morning. They just say, “So this guy on the train this morning …” They don’t sit you down and say, “Many things happen to people on trains. Some good, some bad. In this story, I will tell you about what happened to me on a train this morning.” Much less, at the end, do they tell you what you’ve just heard. You would think they’d lost their marbles, yet we do it in our writing all the time.
The classic writing style, as psychologist Steven Pinker argues in his book The Sense of Style, is a bulwark against clunky academic writing. The classical stylist aims to take the reader by the hand in order to teach them something new in an entertaining way. The reader should be engaged, meaning they’re being taken on a journey by the writer. It should be easy.
Introductions and conclusions make the reader’s life more difficult by putting a barrier between them and the content they are trying to access. It alienates the reader by forcing them to look at the article in the abstract rather than being truly involved in it. The article ends up feeling like a piece of homework rather than a means of entertainment. Don’t compel your readers into the unpaid labor of slogging through a turgid introduction.
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