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What Is a Lead Paragraph?

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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2016
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This is a lead paragraph. It is the first paragraph of an essay, article or book. The lead paragraph contains the essential information about the article or essay and the hook that keeps readers interested. It is extremely important to get it right; otherwise readers will be led elsewhere.

The lead paragraph of an article’s primary function is to hook readers. This means it needs to entice readers by letting them know what the article is about, while not telling them everything they need to know. Once a reader’s interest is piqued, he or she will continue reading to the bottom of the piece.

The paragraph needs to be brief and specific and it needs to have active sentences. Such paragraphs are best prepared by considering the what, where, when, why and how of the article. The writer also looks to highlight the conflict in the article, because it is the conflict or angle that provokes a response. The lead must also be deliverable in the body of the article.

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Essay lead paragraphs require slightly different information to those found in articles. The essay lead needs to address the question directly and demonstrate an understanding of the question. It then explains the angle of the answer taken in the essay, the route this was taken and a basic outline of the answer to the question. None of this information needs to be in detail or explained in depth; this will be done later in the essay. The leading paragraph of an essay should be written last, after the conclusion.

The term ‘lead paragraph’ has also found its way into novels and chapters. While less important in the chapter, it is also one of the hooks that persuades readers to buy or borrow a book. Readers will often look at two or three parts of the book when deciding to buy or not: the blurb, the first page, and with some, the final page.

The key element of any book or article lead paragraph is the first line. This is the case especially in fiction where the first paragraph does not explain the whole story. Classic first lines include Leo Tolstoy’s “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” in ‘Anna Karenina.’ Another example is Dodie Smith’s “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” in ‘I Capture the Castle.’ The first line is the first step in a great first paragraph.

Learning to write a good lead paragraph requires practice as well as good writing skills. The best first paragraph rarely comes to mind straight away. Writers often go back once they have finished the rest of the piece to work on the first line and the first paragraph. This is because editing naturally improves flow and allows the mind to build on what is already there, but also because the writer understands the piece more thoroughly once finished than before it is written.

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