In twenty-five words or less

Ever seen the words “In twenty-five words or less?” As a blogger, you have just about that number of words to grab the reader’s attention.

The preceding paragraph has exactly twenty-five words. If you are reading this one I have made my case.

Here’s a display of that paragraph that shows there are just 25 words:

Ever seen the words “In

twenty-five words or less?” As

a blogger, you have just

about that number of words

to grab the reader’s attention.

The most important words are the title. It is your first and only chance to get the reader’s attention. You want to give them a reason to read the first paragraph.

The purpose of the first paragraph is to give the reader a reason to go to read the second paragraph, and so forth.

Each of the initial paragraphs must be an attention-getter. Forceful, punchy writing is needed at the start to get the reader into the meat of your post, so they can see the thoughts you are trying to convey.

Having a strong beginning is also important in that sites such as deli.cio.us Dave and WordPress display only the first part of a post in their summary for it. See for example WordPress open-source posts. I’m very fond of the latter link in that for some days I have been the “featured” open-source WordPress blogger. “Thank you, WordPress.”

That’s why the newspaper is such a useful tool for a blogger. Each story is the work of reporters and editors who have spent years learning how to start of a story with forceful writing that attracts the reader’s attention, writing that makes you want to read on.

For example, here are the titles and first words from two stories on the first page of the Business section of today’s New York Times:

Committed to Coal, And in a Hurry, Too

Texas Utility Plans 11 Plants Even as Touch Emission Rules Seem Inevitable

By Matthew L. Wald

FAIRFIELD, Tex. — In a huge pit, gigantic buldozers and earth-moving machines are removing two layers of coal, the last shavings in a monumental task that has dug 200 feet down and expanded across 20 square miles over the last 35 years.

The coal feeds two plants nearby that help keep the lights on and the air-conditioners humming throughout Texas. But in doing so, the operation has released hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide, the main contributor to global warming.

Note the details in the first paragraphs expressed in just three numbers — 200, 20, 35 — that tell you the article is about a big enterprise, in both space and time.

The second paragraph ties a large mining operation into its impact on the environment and global warming, so you know the article is not just about the scale of the mining.

Here’s another example:

Big Bonuses Seen Again For Wall St.

By Jenny Anderson

On Wall Street, the rich keep getting richer.

For a fourth consecutive year, year-end bonuses are forecast to be highly lucrative, with the payouts rising 10 percent to 15 percent from 2005, according to Alan Joohnson Associates, a leading compensation consultant.

Here the details come in the second paragraph. The first paragraph is just eight well-chosen words that make you want to read on. The article would be much weaker if the order of the paragraphs had been switched. That would have made the article appear to an editorial, not a report.

Here’s another example taken from the Op-Ed page:

Nicholas D. Kristoff

America’s Laziest Man?

Last year, Barry Diller took home a pay package worth $369 million, making him the highest-paid chief executive in America.

His shareholders didn’t do so well. Stock in the main company he runs, IAC/Interactive, declined 7.7 percent last year. For the three years ending in December 2005, the stock was up just 11 percent — compared with 49 percent for the. S & P. 500.

The title is just three words. Who wouldn’t want to know who was America’s laziest man? At the least you want to make sure the New York Times doesn’t think it’s you.

The second and third paragraphs offer some details. The rest of the piece is equally well-written. While Mr. Diller may be laughing all the way to the bank, I’m sure he will see this piece and then will know that a great many of his fellow citizens are also laughing — about him.

It’s even possible this post will be brought to Mr. Diller’s attention. One of my first posts was in the form of a public letter to a CEO. It was not to rebuke the CEO but to thank him. I often see in the WordPress Dashboard referrer’s list that someone is systematically looking for blog posts about that CEO.

Mr. Diller, if you see these words, then know that while you may be laughing all the way to the bank, I trust your shareholders are much less amused.

The first paragraph in this post has twenty-five words and the title has five, making for a total of 30 words. Let’s see if we can fit both the title and first paragraph into twenty-five words. This means we have to cut out five words:

In twenty-five words or less

Ever seen the words “In

twenty-five words or less?” You

have just about twenty-five words

to grab your reader’s attention.

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