The First Sentence
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I’m Patrick Schmidt in Political Science and I’m window shopping today to make a point about first sentences. Stores know they must entice you in if they’re going to make a sale. As a writer, you’re selling something too: your argument. Readers, like window shoppers, make snap decisions about whether they’re interested. Many professors tell me they can predict the grade a paper is going to receive by the end of the first paragraph. In the real world of too much information, you’ll be lucky if readers give you that much time. That’s why I argue, you should spend more time on your first sentence than any other. What makes a great first sentence? Well it should be beautifully written of course, elegant, active, and perfectly clear. And there’s nothing like a typo in the first sentence to make the reader doubt your cred. But more important, you want the reader on your side from the start. There’s no point in boring them or insulting their intelligence with a trivial sentence like, the 20th century was an important time for politics. Well duh. On the other hand, you don’t want to pick an argument with them needlessly either. It might seem harmless to say, the twentieth century was the most amazing time for politics. But I as a reader happen to think that the 12th century was far more amazing, and now I doubt whether you know anything about history. So, before you can say you are finished with what you’re writing. Go back to the beginning, and take a look at that first sentence. Good luck, and write well.