Journalism how-to… The all important intro!

How important is an intro?

The answer: very.

We are constantly told to never judge a book by its cover, to not always judge first impressions. This is good advice as many first impressions can go astray. This is what makes job interviews so scary!

However I think it is human nature to judge a book by its cover and to go on first impressions – we all do it so we all know how important it actually is to have a good cover, a good presentation, a good interview, and in the case of a news story: a good intro!

Summary Intro

Most often used in news stories: Using the Ws and the Hs but avoid labels (i.e. Doctors, lawyers, politicians) – Have the main elements, not too long, but interesting. Short intros use just one element for EMPHASIS.

What methinks:

While these intros are good to start out with if you’re writing news stories, I think it’s more fun to write and read if there is a little more suspense and creativity. Why read on when everything is summed up in the first par?

Delayed, Teaser and Surprise Intros

A delayed intro will not use all the information in the first intro par, just hint at it. The writer still tries to catch the interest of the reader though. The key point is not until after the reader is well into the story, but not too far, generally the punch is only momentarily delayed – and often comes after a dash. A surprise intro specifically delays the punch until the second clause of the intro.

For short stories the punch could be right at the end. These forms do not follow the inverted pyramid – it would actually be an upside down pyramid or a diamond.

What methinks:

I like this idea because I like writing that isn’t straight and isn’t upfront to the point. It is also a little more relaxed, perhaps reserved for opinion pieces, news stories with a tinge of colour, or online writing.

Narrative, anecdotal, picture, and background intros:

Used in features, colour stories and opinion pieces. Narrative and anecdotal intros starts like an author might start a book or a chapter. They can be very effective if done well. The main goal is to set the scene, paint a picture, present a setting, a background with a bit of creative flair. A picture intro uses a lot of descriptive words to really flesh out a word sketch. A background intro is pretty self-explanatory, it is much like a narrative/picture intro but with more of a story background added.

Most importantly, these kinds of intros invite the reader to connect with the story and the subject on a personal level. These leads may run over many pars.

What methinks:

I like these types of intros a lot. I also think that most writers prefer them also because they are interesting and fun to write and requires a good imagination and skill with words and word-painting. I really enjoy thinking of unique ways to write and grab a reader’s interest and I think that spiking their imagination by making them create an image in their head is the best way of doing it. However, done poorly and these kind of intros can just be misleading and confusing – the worst thing an article can be.

When I approach stories using a narrative et al. intro I try not to be too frivolous and try not to overuse adjectives, sometimes less can be more. If subtlety and innovation are applied, an intro can be really powerful, successfully lure in a reader and complement the rest of the story.


Cumulative Intros

Reserved for the more complex stories. When there are several components involved try to introduce them over several sentences, to build up the scene as clearly as possible. The intro may run over quite a number of pars. A shotgun intro is an example of this: many short sentences; punch, punch, and punch.

What methinks:

I haven’t had much experience in writing these kinds of intros. I would imagine with complex stories that it is imperative to be as clear as possible, which is why I can see the benefit of a shotgun intro. Shotgun intros I think would work well on Twitter and online platforms that are all about the SPEED of delivering news.

Contrast intros:

Used to show contrast, how things differ: e.g. rags to riches.

Good to use in historical stories or mini-sagas: first refer to the past then to the present/opposite situation. A flashback intro contrasts the past with the future, and can refer to times in the present which resemble situations in the past.

What methinks:

I like contrast intros because I find them interesting to read and they are the kind of intro to grab my interest. I want to know why x is different to y. The key is getting the contrasting info in a short enough introduction – too long and the reader is lost, too short and the reader is confused.

Shock and Punch intros:

Get the readers interest but dramatically. Still reflect the core of the story and avoid sensationalism. Unlike the punch and shocker intros, a staccato inro should be used to set the scene, an exciting scene. And most importantly, of course, keep the reader reading.

What methinks:

From the examples I’ve read a punch intro seems to be obviously shorter and punchier than a shocker. A shocker may drag on a little bit more but the shock will come in the second clause. Although these intros are effective perhaps they seem to be reserved for the tabloid papers – even though sensationalism is supposed to be avoided quite often it isn’t. I also think they can become a bit confusing for the reader but maybe that is a technique in order for them to read more? I wouldn’t personally use the staccato intro for a colour story, I prefer to take time setting a scene – staccato intros seem a bit jagged.

However, I would imagine all three would also work well online, considering the amount of information that can be fit on the home page of a news website.


Personal intros

Uses the first person (I did this, I did that) – while a big no no in news journalism, opinion pieces, bloggers, some features in newspapers magazines and online will write this way – usually if the writer is a big name, writing an opinion, the magazine writes in that tone, if it is a letter etc.

What methinks:

I have never had the pleasure of writing an opinion piece as not many people are interested in my opinion however I have blogged a fair bit, like right now. As you can see I haven’t started with a personal intro, but with the dreaded question intro (see below). These can be so tacky and look quite unprofessional in the professional field of publication so if using a reference to self, while it is sometimes so tempting, I would only want to do it if I was a well established journalist/interviewer/writer etc.

I remember being told in Intro to Journalism last year: You’re a student, no one wants your opinion. I totally agree.


Direct address, question and quotation intros:

The direct address intro really involves the reader by addressing the reader as ‘you’ (“you can expect to pay twice as much … ”). Used sparingly in articles on cooking, gardening etc. The question intro will ask a question then answer it but are not very popular among subs. The quotation intro is ever less popular, and will most likely only ever be seen in features or magazines. Effective quotes are usually the best quote available and set the tone. They can either be a) an AMAZING quote that sums up a story as well as a journalist could (these are rare to get) or b) a quote that is short but works as a good shocker or punch quote and is relevant to the story.

What methinks:

I can see where the question and direct address intros would be useful in gardening and cooking articles, but I have never had to use them so far. I quite like the quotation intro, I think they have a edge to it similar to the shocker and punch intros. They have the risk of displacing the reader but if the quote is good enough, really encouraging them to read more.


Other intros


A freak intro can be anything, but are rare. An open letter for example.

A follow up intro refers to something they have already reported on.

A second day intro reports on a running story and gives it a fresh angle.

KITTEN TIME! These are two of my favourites… two VERY SCARY VIDEOS!!!


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