How to Write the Perfect Nonfiction Introductory Paragraph (with an Example)
The introductory paragraph of your nonfiction book plays the important role of inviting your readers to embark a new journey of discovery. This is a journey that’ll reveal a new, exciting solution to a problem that they’re currently being afflicted by.
Now, if you’ve done your preparatory work correctly, you’ll have identified the above problem-solution approach through your target audience research, and you’ll have come up with a compelling title that addresses the aspirations of your audience.
Also, you’ll have created your book introduction, or sales letter, to entice your prospective readers to buy your book. So, now it’s the time to ease those readers into the body of your book by creating a doorway into your journey – that’s the job of your introductory paragraph.
Now, technically speaking a paragraph is structured in three parts:
- 1) The opening sentence, where you define your main topic
- 2) The middle section, where you narrow your topic by providing background
- 3) The conclusion, where you state your thesis
But when you’re writing a nonfiction book, your focus needs to switch more to delivery than form, because your readers have already been primed by your alluring book title, the marketing copy on the back of the book (or the description in online bookstores) and your book’s introduction.
So, your main job with your introductory paragraph is to hook your audience so they look forward to reading the rest of the book. In this article, I’ll show you the do’s and don’ts of nonfiction introductory paragraph writing so that you have a good foundation to help you craft the right message for your target audience.
Introductory Paragraph’s Do’s
- The job of your introductory paragraph is to pique the interest of your readers. Make it sound intriguing: use anecdotes, a controversial statement, use humor (with intelligence and in context), tell a compelling story, ask an interesting question.
- Create your introductory paragraph only after you’ve completed writing and revising your entire manuscript. At the beginning, use some basic placeholder text and make sure you don’t spend too much time on it.
- Make your introductory paragraph inspiring – while you want to achieve the task of introducing your main topic, you want to do it in a way that it grabs the reader’s attention.
Introductory Paragraph’s Don’ts
- Never bore your reader with uninspiring language, such as “This book will talk about…,” “The purpose of this book is to…,” “In this book I will show you how to…,” etc.
- Don’t state an opinion or use otherwise soft, doubtful or weak language, such as “I think this topic will be useful for people who….” “I hope that you learn…,” “I wish I could tell you that you will…,” etc.)
- Don’t reveal your solution! You do need to end your introductory paragraph with your thesis statement so readers know how your book will benefit them, but never explain how your solution works.
To put all of the above in context, here’s an example of the introductory paragraph of a nonfiction book that explores the impact of limiting beliefs on people’s ability to achieve their personal goals (the book’s thesis):
“I have always been fascinated by how young children learn new skills. When we were very young we were able to approach new tasks without psychological fear or negative self-talk. We tackled complex new experiences without hesitation because our eager young minds were naturally open to them. For example, when we tried to walk for the first time and fell repeatedly, we never stopped trying. We didn’t think ‘Why bother again, I’ll never get this right’ because we were naturally open to the possibility of walking. But while this natural openness gave us the confidence to try new challenges, it also left us vulnerable to the influence of whose around us. This near total vulnerability left us open throughout many of our formative years to a torrent of negative thoughts and influences from our immediate caregivers that lives within us to this day. The good news is, with the right tools, it’s very easy to eliminate these limiting beliefs from your psyche and create a clean slate.”
Let’s deconstruct this introductory paragraph: The author begins with a personal observation that relates to the book’s thesis followed by an anecdote that we can all relate to: learning to walk.
Then, the author creates a bridge between this observation and the state of mind of the target audience (besieged by limiting beliefs and looking for a way out).
Finally, the author gives the audience the good news by stating the main thesis of the book: there’s a simple way out of this conundrum, provided that you have the right tools at your disposal (which will be disclosed throughout the book).
As a parting thought, before you sit down to write down your introductory paragraph (remember to do this last) I strongly suggest that you first learn from the masters by reading the introductory paragraphs of several bestselling books in your niche.
You can do this at no cost by checking the Look Inside feature in the Amazon bookstore, which in most cases will show you the first page of the first chapter of a book.
Once you get a sense of the narrative, then sit down and try different versions of your introductory paragraph until you find the one that clicks. Finally, run this text by members of your target audience in your network to see if it resonates with them.
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.
Thanks for this discussion Ben. I certainly agree with your premise and have probably composed twenty or more draft introduction pages. May I ask if the example appears in an actual published book? I’d be curious about that and also curious as to how much if any it might be improved. To my mind it’s only halfway there. For starters, what am I going to do with a clean slate? If instead he’d said, “you’ll be as unbounded as a toddler in your current world” that would have been provocative and a hook. –Best, Roy Terry