What an article writing has to do with beer? What are article writing tips? I found out when I did an internship as a journalist at the popular scientific magazine KIJK. For hours I sat brooding on the beginning of my first big story, an article about the history of carnivorous plants.
Eventually, I walked into the office of the late editor-in-chief Monique Punter, a little discouraged. “It won’t work,” I said. “I’ve read a lot of fun and funny information about carnivorous plants, but none of the first sentences seem good enough.”
Punter smiled a little and shrugged. ‘You make it way too difficult? Writing an article is like going to a pub. Just pretend you’re in a cafe with friends. Write down what you would tell them. Then you have a good start ‘
At first, I thought it was nonsensical advice. After all, you don’t talk in fancy sentences when you’re at the bar with friends.
Writing an article: think pub talk
It was only later that I understood that Punter’s advice pertained to the message. The information you cite first in an article is almost always the most striking detail of the topic. You could also tell a friend over a glass of beer.
Take the topic of carnivorous plants: Did you know that there are carnivorous plants (called Nepenthes) that can devour entire rats?
I finally started my article with a paragraph about this plant with some article writing tips, which I then finished in quick succession. Writing an article is not that difficult anymore once you have a good start (although you still need a good nutshell paragraph after that).
I still regularly think about Punter’s advice. Of course, there are several ways to start a story, but I dare say that her bar talk rule almost always applies. Below three examples.
1. Start with a quote
‘We have been living together for over three years now, Johan and I. We are opposites. I am outgoing, like to put my arm around someone’s shoulder. He’s on his own and not at all cuddly. Yet sometimes, when we take a shower, there is just such a magical moment of contact. (…) But mostly he ignores me. And if he visits me – leans his head against me when I watch a movie on the couch – he only uses me as a 37 degree Celsius stove. ”
This opening quote comes from an interview with biologist Freek Vonk in Volkskrant Magazine, written by journalist Tonie Mudde in 2013.
The beginning creates a certain mystery. Who is Vonk talking about? Is he in a new relationship with a man? But the quote is especially very funny since after the intro it turns out that Vonk is not talking about his life partner, but about a monitor lizard that he keeps as a pet. It’s almost like you’re in a bar with him and he’s kidding you. A punter could certainly have appreciated this opening: writing an article should be fun.
2. Start with a question
Did you know that there are 8 kinds of spelling mistakes that your spell checker cannot detect?
A question as to the first sentence is among the article writing tips that are mainly used in blog posts. I started this article myself. And the above example is from a popular content marketing blog.
This opening method of an article also resembles a pub conversation. With the question, you try to arouse the interest of your other pub-goers, a bit like people in cafes and on birthdays often start a conversation with the question ‘Did you know that bacteria from urine are often found in bowls with cocktail nuts?’
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3. Start with an anecdote
One day when the neighbor was not at home, Rachel van de Pol slipped out. She took a bucket of water and a chamois leather, glanced around, and began scrubbing the terraced house window. “It felt crazy, almost like I was doing something criminal.” In addition, she did not have much experience with window cleaning. “I hoped that I was doing well, that the neighbor would notice that her window was extra clean.”
I used this anecdote myself in an article about Rachel van de Pol, who did a good deed every day for a year.
At first, I started the article in a different way. I interviewed Van de Pol in a coffee shop. There she also did a good deed: she wrote an uplifting message on a napkin for the next customer. Because I saw that action with my own eyes, I automatically use the event as an intro.
Later a colleague pointed out to me the anecdote about the window cleaning that I later incorporated into the text. “That’s a much nicer start,” she said. “I’d be the first to tell someone else about this article.
She was right: I hadn’t followed the bar-talk rule.
So whether you start with a quote, an anecdote, a question, or some other kind of opening, think about the bar talk rule. There is a good chance that you will start writing earlier and can therefore go to the pub faster to drink beer with your friends.