The opening line of any piece is so crucial – it needs to tempt the reader in or tell them what’s going to follow. Or better still, do both.
Here are the opening lines of three essays written by apprentice pro footballers.
1. Ever wondered why some teams are so successful?
2. In football, the hardest job to nail down for a consistent period of time is the manager’s job.
3. One of the most important things in football is that everybody plays well together, as a team.
They are all quite good openings aren’t they? With some intrigue, or promise of interesting points to come.
Now have a look at the following opening lines. All written by experienced senior managers in British industry – educated to degree level, and on large salaries.
1. This course imagines the possibilities of design as a transformative revisioning of systems that matter.
2. The company strives to create a niche for itself through the quality of our work.
3. We believe that culture = behaviour + infrastructure, so will therefore very commonly set up/train up an ‘Irritant Eradication’ team who rigorously, methodologically and very quickly remove all of the infrastructural barriers to behavioural performance and replace them with things that will encourage and enable the required performance.
The first one is trying to sell a university course to school students. The third is trying to sell management consultancy to growing businesses. And the middle one I’m afraid is typical of the sort of trite nonsense we see every day. The reader is not going to have any idea what any of them are talking about, and so will almost certainly read no further.
I thought about showing here how we’d rewrite them. But actually, there isn’t any point, as none of them contains the right information anyway, whether translated or not. So what are the communications skills our teenage wannabe footballers have that senior managers in business don’t?
My guess is that the footballers haven’t overcomplicated what’s required when writing something. They’ve followed their instincts and done exactly as the writing text books would tell them:
Think about what you want to say. Then say it in the clearest way possible.
There you have it. How to write your opening line. And if you can’t manage that, I can always give you the phone number of a trainee footballer who’d be glad to help.