While online publishing can be a little less structured than other media, readers are still the same, no matter where they’re reading an article. A reader is likely looking for answers in the beginning, proof in the middle, and a conclusion that wraps everything up. Just like a song, each section may use different notes and chords, but it all needs to feel like part of the whole in the end.
Your opening paragraph is probably the most important part of your entire article. The hard truth is, a lot of people who click on your article aren’t going to read the whole thing. There’s some research to show how people read online, but ultimately, if you’re not sucking in your reader within your first few sentences, you’re not likely to keep them around for long. Here’s what your opening paragraph needs to do:
- Reiterate the question posed in your headline and hint at the answer. Make sure to leave some mystery so your reader continues learning along the way
- Set the tone of your article - are you being serious or snarky? Are you doing a deep dive into a topic or doing a brief overview?
- Make it clear who you’re writing this article for - is it for fans who have seen every episode of a TV series or a newbie to the show? Is it a person who’s playing their first video game or are they a seasoned player?
- Get to the point, be snappy, and concise. Your reader isn’t here to read several paragraphs of introduction before getting to your actual discussion.
- Invite your reader to keep reading.
There’s a lot going on here, but it’s also extremely important to get it right. Try rewriting your opening paragraph, each time taking a different approach. It might even help to rewrite your introduction once you’ve finished the entire piece so you know what you need to cover in your first paragraph.
We discuss opening paragraphs in greater detail here.
The body of your article is the meat (or tofu, if you prefer?) in your sandwich. It needs to match the expectations you set for your reader in the opening paragraph in regards to your tone, target audience, point of view, and the way you answer the question you posed in your headline.
To present a strong argument for your case, you’ll need at least three points to cover. This will give your article some focus and helps you avoid meandering off topic or having too many ideas without any substance.
You also need to cover each point with equal depth. If your first point has several paragraphs, you don’t want your second point to only be a couple of sentences. If you don’t have much to write about each point, reconsider whether they’re actually worth writing about.
This is equally important if you’re writing a listicle (i.e. an article that presents several bite-sized answers to a topic, like this one from Fan Contributor R.W.V Mitchell). Writers often appear to run out of steam part way through their lists and write less and less per entry. Readers notice this, so if you, the writer, don’t feel strongly enough about the entry, why should your audience keep reading?
Unlike other forms of writing, a formal conclusion isn’t entirely necessary, but for reader satisfaction, wrapping up your points or giving some indication that the reader has reached the end is useful. Conclusions should never have the heading “Conclusion”, begin a sentence with the phrase “In conclusion…” or anything indicating this is the section of the article the reader is at.
Some good ways to conclude your article is to discuss when a movie/TV show/game is coming out or to hit home what you’ve been writing about. Fan Contributor James Akinaka’s final paragraph in 5 Ways ‘Star Wars Rebels’ Invaded ‘Rogue One’ simply alerts the reader to when Star Wars Rebels returns to screens. On the other hand, Fan Contributor Eric Fuchs’s article ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ Is an Overdose of Nerd Candy uses “Nerd Candy” as a subheading for his conclusion and wraps up the article over three short paragraphs. Here, he gives a broader overview of his opinion on the movie, how it relies on nerd references, and wraps up the “nerd candy” analogy.