Where to start. Where should the most important information go? Should it be in the first paragraph, or in the last.
The answer: The most important piece of information, the point of the piece, should always be in the first paragraph. Let the reader know up front what the piece is about, so that if the first paragraph is all he or she reads, the reader will know, at least in general terms, what the piece is about, and, more importantly, whether, or what he or she is supposed to do with this information.
So even if the reader does not read the last paragraph with 100% attention – if at all – it can be helpful to reinforce the message from paragraph 1 in the final paragraph. That gives us our “book ends.” The first paragraph and the last paragraph will both contain the most important information. And then you just fill in the space in between.
While it may be about that easy, there is a bit more to it than that:
- To write and organize the first paragraph, decide (a) what you want to tell your reader in that first paragraph; and then (b) include who (who did the action); what (what the action was); when; where; why; and how. This usually will be about a sentence, sometimes two. Example:
We have outgrown our Center City facilities, and need your help to find a new location that will support our current production standards.
Note that the who-what-when-where-why-how information in your first paragraph can be organized in any order. Experiment with variations, and notice how this technique – called syntax – can strengthen your writing. The “why” is frequently a good place to start, although you will find that the majority of the sentences you read frequently start with the “who-what.”
2. Also note that if you can say it all in that first paragraph – not more than five lines – quit. If you have included the who-what-when-where-why-how in sufficient detail in that five lines or less, that’s all you need. You can write less, and say more, saving both your and your reader’s time this way.
3. Next, list – on a separate piece of paper – in any random order as the thoughts occur to you, a word or two to remind you what you want to talk about in this piece.
4. Now, to organize your content, put the same number (“1,” “2,” “3,” and so on) in front of each of the listed items on the same subject, so that all of the items with a “1” in front of them will be on the same subject, all those marked “2,” will be on the same subject, and so on. This organizes your information so that you know what information will go in each paragraph.
5. To organize your paragraphs, now that you know what information will go in each, select an organizational pattern, such as procedural, most important first, time sequence, or natural flow from the first paragraph. Number each “paragraph group” to put them in order.
6. You are organized! You’ve already written your lead paragraph, you know what content will go into each of the following paragraphs. And you know what order the paragraphs will be in. All you have to do now is just put it together.
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