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December 13, 2023

A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Compelling Introductions

A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Compelling Introductions

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I’ve been complimented for every single one of my introductions this month. Whether they were intros for blogs, case studies, or whitepapers—they all followed a compelling narrative.

But my introductions from ten months ago had to be heavily reworked by my editors, and often completely rewritten.

So what changed in this time?

I started following a structured approach to writing intros—the Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis model, also known as the Hegelian dialectic (more on this soon). 

I used to get a lot of feedback on my intros, but no more

In this guide to introductions, I’ll show you how to create a compelling introduction, no matter what your argument. I’ll explain each step with multiple examples that I’ve developed and sourced on my journey to improve introductions. By the end of this guide, there you’ll be itching to write your next introduction. 

An example of an AI-generated intro

Let’s start at the very beginning. 

Characteristics of a good introduction

1. Logic

When you write logically, you make it easy for your audience to continue reading without zoning out. Logic connects the dots for your readers and keeps them from making assumptions. It also ensures they conclude what you want them to. 

2. Persuasiveness

Your introduction should compel the reader to keep reading. If your writing is not persuasive, you’ll lose your reader early on, and your brilliantly devised arguments will have no audience. 

3. Context

Context is vital to set the stage for the arguments you will present in the rest of your writing. Without context, your reader might not know where your story fits into the larger scheme. 

Most frameworks for writing introductions only guarantee one of these elements. Hegel’s dialectic guarantees all three. 

Who is Hegel, and why should you care about his dialectic?

Georg Hegel was a German philosopher who challenged a 2000-year-old concept of logic developed by Aristotle. The reigning model was deductive reasoning—which is still used in criminal investigations and law practice. 

But Hegel’s model, Thesis Antithesis Synthesis (TAS), was more potent because it resolves previous arguments as it presents the next. 

Let’s look at how it works. 

The thesis makes a claim. 

For example, ‘People now know the earth to be spherical.’

The antithesis introduces an objection to the thesis.

“But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, in the 5th century, 1200 people were prosecuted for making the case for a spherical earth. Contradicting our planet’s flatness was considered blasphemy.”

The synthesis creates a new thesis that resolves the objection posed by the antithesis. 

“Until one day, a scientist named Pythagoras risked being stoned to death to prove the earth was round. 

Hegel’s dialectic can seem complicated when you first analyze it. “But how will I come up with objections to my statement?”, “what if there isn’t a widely accepted claim about the story I’m telling?, “what if I’m writing on a boring topic and can’t use TAS to make a compelling argument?” — all of these are questions I’ve had while experimenting with Hegel’s model. 

So can you use this framework to write every single intro for the rest of your life?

Short answer: yes. And I’ll show you how. 

How to use the Hegelian Dialectic 

There are three things you’ll need to apply Hegel’s Dialectic to your intros:

  • Conceptual understanding 
  • Thorough research
  • Good note-taking skills 

Let me explain. 

You must thoroughly understand your topic to execute an argument in the fewest possible words. To do this, you need to either research well or be a subject matter expert. 

Finally, you need good note-taking skills to dissect existing information in an argument and restructure it to fit Hegel’s model. 

Simply put, you need to break down every information cluster and put it together more compellingly. 

Let’s do this step by-step with large chunks of information.

Step 1: Separate your information into ‘Claims’ and ‘Objections’. 

Let's do this for a Wikipedia article on The Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil's Triangle, is an urban legend focused on a loosely-defined region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where a number of aircraft and ships are said to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The idea of the area as uniquely prone to disappearances arose in the mid-20th century, but most reputable sources dismiss the idea that there is any mystery.” 

Note: to easily identify objections, look for statements that start with ‘but’, however’, or ‘interestingly’. 

Step 2: Keep only the interesting claims and see how they might be interconnected. 

Get rid of fluff. 

The Bermuda Triangle is an urban legend focused on the North Atlantic Ocean. Several aircraft and ships are said to have disappeared here under mysterious circumstances.” 

Note: your choice of ‘interesting claims’ will depend on the audience and purpose of your article. For example, Claim 2, “The Bermuda Triangle is focused in a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean” might be important for an audience of geographers but unnecessary for a general audience. 

Step 3: Introduce the objection immediately after the claim.

The Bermuda Triangle is an urban legend focused on the North Atlantic Ocean. A number of aircraft and ships are said to have disappeared here under mysterious circumstances. But most reputable sources dismiss the idea that there is any mystery.”

By this point we have already generated intrigue. 

Step 4: Leverage the intrigue into a hook for the rest of the article. 

The Bermuda Triangle is an urban legend focused on the North Atlantic Ocean. Several aircraft and ships are said to have disappeared here under mysterious circumstances. But most reputable sources dismiss the idea that there is any mystery.

However, people continue to disappear without a reasonable explanation and that left us curious. 

So we talked to 30 scientists who’ve worked in the region, and here’s what they say.”

Once you start practicing TAS for all content you come across, you’ll find it increasingly easier to construct sound arguments that build narratives—even when you have to write on a dull topic. 

Think I’m exaggerating? 

Let’s try this for a snippet with relatively boring information about the spice cardamom. 

Here’s the Britannica entry: 

“Cardamom, also spelled cardamon,  is a spice consisting of whole or ground dried fruits, or seeds, of Elettaria cardamomum, a herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). The seeds have a warm, slightly pungent, and highly aromatic flavor somewhat reminiscent of camphor. They are a popular seasoning in South Asian dishes, particularly curries, and in Scandinavian pastries.

At first glance, this snippet does not contain an objection statement. There are no statements starting with ‘but’, ‘however’, or even ‘interestingly’. To be able to create a Hegelian argument from this, we need to spot contradictory ideas. 

This is often much harder to do. Here’s what I did:

I read this snippet again and noticed that cardamom is a common ingredient for both curries and Scandinavian desserts. But one of these dishes (curry) is extremely spicy, and the other(dessert) is sweet. This tells me that cardamom is a versatile spice, and there must be a history to how it came to be used in drastically opposite recipes—this gives me both an objection and a hook

Let’s build our table:

Let’s piece this into an introduction using our four-step framework. 

“Cardamom is a spice of dried fruits or seeds with a warm, pungent, and highly aromatic flavor. People in equatorial South Asian countries use cardamom to make spicy curries like Chicken Korma, Changezi Chicken, and Butter Chicken. 

But halfway across the globe in Scandinavia, Cardamom is used in sweet desserts. 

How did Cardamom travel to Scandinavia from South Asia and become a key ingredient for both sweet and spicy recipes?

Read on to find out.”

Now, not every snippet of information will fall into claims and objections. Some are more intricately woven and far more complex. 

Let’s look at how we can still develop them into a compelling argument. 

A twist on the standard Hegelian Dialectic

Let’s look at this snippet on Terrorism from Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus:

“Terrorists are like a fly that tries to destroy a china shop. The fly is so weak that it cannot budge

even a single teacup. So it finds a bull, gets inside its ear and starts buzzing. The bull goes wild with

fear and anger, and destroys the china shop. 

This is what happened in the Middle East in the last decade. Islamic fundamentalists could never have toppled Saddam Hussein by themselves. Instead they enraged the USA by the 9/11 attacks, and the USA destroyed the Middle Eastern china shop for them. Now they flourish in the wreckage. 

By themselves, terrorists are too weak to drag us back to the Middle Ages and re-establish the Jungle Law. They may provoke us, but in the end, it all depends on our reactions. If the Jungle Law comes back into force, it will not be the fault of terrorists.” 

If I had to turn this into an introduction, here’s how I would structure it.  

Thesis: It wasn’t the US government that toppled Saddam Hussien–it was Islamic fundamentalists. 

: But how could a remote, technologically deprived community take down a powerful ruler like Saddam Hussien? 

: By enraging the US government. Like a fly that enters a bull’s ear to enrage it and wreck havoc, islamic fundamentalists used the United State’s military forces to decimate the Middle East. 

By themselves, terrorists are too weak to drag us back to the Middle Ages and re-establish the Jungle Law. They may provoke us, but in the end, it all depends on our reactions. If the Jungle Law comes back into force, it will not be the fault of terrorists.

The key is to identify the point of tension or pivot from the larger claim, no matter how complex the argument. Once you do this, you can build both your thesis and synthesis around the contradiction.

To strengthen your conceptual understanding of TAS, let’s look at some examples of how TAS can be used to sell products. 

Examples of the Hegelian Dialectic

Each of these examples explores an expertly used method to build an argument. Pick whichever one works for your product, purpose, and audience. 

Example 1: Adding context to a factual statement 

Sample problem: convince readers to sign up for a Twitter ecommerce Platform. 

Thesis: “Since Twitter is about building relationships—brands that offer the right products to their niche communities will attract engaged crowds.”

But Twitter’s ecommerce features are new and few. And they don’t come with community-focused tools.

To close the gap for our readers, we came up with 6 creative ways you use Twitter ecommerce features to build community and sell products.

I’ve opened this intro with a widely accepted fact about Twitter—that the platform encourages brands with strong communities. I’ve used the antithesis to introduce the service offering (Twitter ecommerce) and highlighted the problem with the offer as it stands (no community-focused tools) . The new synthesis tells the reader they can leverage the power of the platform even without the community-focused tools by reading our blog. 

This persuades the reader to read on. 

To make a compelling thesis, you don’t even have to start with a true statement. You can also start with:

  • Desirable scenarios
  • Common beliefs
  • A shocking piece of news/data 

Let’s see how: 

Example 2: Building desire with a hypothetical scenario

Sample problem: convince readers to try a software for managing deals.

Thesis: “In an ideal world, closing deals would be a two-step process. You would talk to a prospect and send across a contract that would come back signed. Viola! Deal closed. 

“In reality, there are seven stages in the sales process.”

“Good news: with effective deal management, you can bring your sales process very close to the 2-step process.”

I’ve started this introduction with a scenario my readers desire. Then I’ve introduced why the desirable situation is not common or realistic. Finally, I tell my readers that the common situation can be converted to the hypothetical one by trying out our solution. 

Example 3: Challenging a common belief

To build an antithesis to a common belief you can agree with the belief while introducing a new angle. Or you can contradict the belief with new evidence. Here’s what each of them looks like:

1. Agreeing with the belief: 

Thesis: You probably think that you know why dinosaurs disappeared. The popular theory is that 66 million years ago, a giant asteroid crashed into the surface of the earth and wiped off all life, including the mighty dinosaur. 

Antithesis: But this story has another layer: the meteor was not a random cosmic phenomenon. 

It followed a cyclic and predictable pattern. One that’s going to repeat in 2044. 

Will humans go extinct in 2044?

Synthesis: Read on to find out what scientists know about the asteroid that might wipe out humanity—like it did dinosaurs. 

2. Contradicting the belief

Thesis: You probably think that you know why dinosaurs disappeared. The popular theory is that 66 million years ago, a giant asteroid crashed into the surface of the earth and wiped off all life, including the mighty dinosaur. 

But you’d be wrong.

Recently discovered fossils tell us that mass extinction was caused by a violent volcanic eruption. 

One that might happen again. And once again, wipe out all life on earth. 

Synthesis: What does the ancient eruption tell us about the one predicted for 2044? Read on to find out. 

Example 4: Introducing a shocking piece of data 

Thesis: Company X made 20 types of water bottles in 2000. 
19 of them not only didn’t sell but had to be discarded with hefty environmental fines.

But one brought in $10 million dollars in 2 years for this tiny, 3-person brand. 

So, what did that one bottle do?

Example 5: Enraging the reader with an accusation 

Thesis: If you’re having a sales call just once, you’re already failing at sales. 
All of that data on customer pain points, competitor tactics, and product problems—uttered once and then gone with the wind. Those were the things your company needed to retain its best customers.

But with so many things vying for your attention during the sales call, how do you find the time to take helpful notes?

Enter: [Brand]’s automated note-taker. You focus on the call, it focuses on the notes.

Variations of the Hegelian Dialectic

Did you know a number of popular copywriting formulas follow Hegel’s Dialectic?

The “Problem-Agitate-Solution” and the “And-Therefore-But” framework are two examples. 

Even though you can start from scratch every time you write an intro, these formulas might save you time. 

In this section, I’ll also explain where and when you can use these popular frameworks

1. Problem Agitate Solution (PAS) Framework:

You start by introducing a problem. Then you agitate the reader by highlighting specific details of the problem. Finally, you conclude with a solution that leaves the reader reassured. (If you’re using PAS to sell something, the solution is where you would introduce your product. 

Here’s an example:

Problem: Installing a new software can often feel like climbing a ladder in the dark—you know there’s a next step, but not where it is.

Agitate: You make yourself sit through demo videos, fumble around with buttons, and attempt to understand the interface—only to give up in exasperation. To make matters worse, email reminders keep popping up to tell you how you’ve failed at this simple task. 

Solution: There’s a way to make it go away. XYZ’s software installer takes away the pain of setting up a new software. Its automatic integration does the grunt work for you. 

In essence, the problem and agitate statements are an aggravated thesis. The antithesis is implied. In this case it’s the assumption that there is no way to install software without the grueling grunt work. The synthesis tells us there is a way to avoid the grunt work by using XYZ software. 

When to use PAS: Advertisement copy, introductions, short video scripts. 

Note: PAS is not limited to these formats but I’ve personally found myself agitated to the point of annoyance when either the ‘agitate’ or the ‘solution’ segment is dragged out for long form copy. 

2. And, But, Therefore (ABT) Framework:

The ‘And’ statement makes two, interconnected powerful claims. The ‘But’ statement introduces a problem with the claim. “Therefore” statement introduces a new claim that resolves the problem. 

Here’s an example:

And: New dinosaur fossils are discovered every two years and they’ve added to our understanding of life from 66 million years ago. 

But: But the evidence from the last five years has been increasingly contradictory. Fossils of some regions tell us that an asteroid wiped out the species, but other fossils indicate a violent volcano. 

Therefore: To understand the truth of the matter, we’ve invited 12 paleontologists to our show to answer our burning questions (pun intended.)

The ABT framework is a variation on Hegel’s Dialectic because the introductory claims are layered. Usually, the first claim is the big picture and the second one is a finer detail. The rest of the structure mimics Hegel’s Dialectic. 

When to use ABT: Medium-length blogs, short landing pages, and short to medium video scripts. 

Note: ABT can be used for longer-form writing than PAS because it builds lesser tension. There is no segment that intentionally aggravates the reader, so there is more room to build an argument. 

Now that we’ve looked at how to construct compelling arguments using the Thesis Antithesis Synthesis model, let’s look at tried and tested ways to add more oomph to your introductions. 

Pro tips for leveling up your introductions 

These are ideas and strategies I’ve collected over the years and they’ve worked for me every time. 

1. Start with a story 

Use the Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis model to tell a compelling brand story. 

Here’s an example from a blog on Unique Selling Propositions. 

“Rolls Royce went from selling 10,000 to 40,000 cars in one year in 1957—a 400% uptick in sales with just one uptick in marketing—a unique selling proposition (USP). 

The USP was simple—it was a fast, quiet car. The statement read: ‘At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock’. 

But what made this USP powerful enough to bring in 400 million dollars in sales?

Memorable, defensible, and customer-centric positioning.” 

Measurable results add an extra layer to this example. When people see a numerical transition, they are more likely to believe your story. 

2. Add verifiable proof 

Proof can be a testimonial, results from your dashboard, or even a statistic. Social proof helps your readers trust you and believe in your story. 

Here’s an example of how I have used a Google result to back up what I was saying with my content:

My blog on Twitter Ecommerce for Sprout Social, is now the featured snippet!

Beating both TechCrunch and HubSpot—which had no.1 and no.2 slots for over a year!

How did I do this?

A step-by-step guide to outranking competitors while creating value. 

Because I have proof, readers are more likely to read my guide. 

3. Introduce a pain point 

When you start your writing with a popular pain point it tells your readers you understand them. As a result, they’re more likely to continue reading. 

Here’s an example of how starting with a pain point attracts a wide audience. 

Here’s an example that combines a pain point with proof:

Once you add these expert tips to your TAS toolkit, you’ll never write a boring intro again. 

How to get past the creative block

While TAS provides a tried and tested framework to work (and rework) your introductions to perfection, it requires tremendous creativity. It’s hard to nail TAS even after multiple tries. 

A mock debate helps me when I’m facing a creative block with introductions. Ideally, I try to get a friend to participate as the opponent. But I often have debates with myself where I ferociously defend each side. 

As a result, I can distinguish superficial arguments from meritorious ones.