Are Your First Few Paragraphs Killing Response?

Do your first few paragraphs encourage your prospect to dump your letter in the garbage?

Or are they fulfilling your lead’s four crucial objectives:

  • Building a relationship with your prospect …
  • Developing credibility …
  • Establishing urgency …
  • And, most important, getting your prospect to read on!

If you’re like most copywriters, including me, the first few paragraphs you write for your promo are what I call “warm-up copy.”

This is copy that tries to guide your reader into the important part of what you want to say. Maybe it explains the reason you’re writing. Maybe it establishes the background for your copy. Maybe it’s a personal little story you think helps get you in touch with the reader.

Regardless, though, it tries to set the stage for what follows. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you’re writing about a nutritional supplement. You start by explaining how depleted the nutritional value of our food is. It makes sense to do this. Or so you think.

You’re setting up a rationale for using supplements. You’re going to get your prospect to buy into the idea that nutritional supplements in general are really needed. Once you do that, you’ll “spring the trap,” and get him to understand that what you’re selling is the best possible solution.

But what you’re really doing is losing your prospect. Warm-up copy like this kills response.

Don’t worry. You’re a normal writer if you write warm-up copy. All of us do it. Journalists even have a name for what happens when they write warm-up copy. They call it a “buried lead.”

“Buried lead” hints at a solution.

The solution to eliminating warm-up copy is to find your buried lead. And, the way to find it is by using Michael Masterson’s “Rule of Thumb.”

So after you’ve written your copy — or at least a good amount of it — go back and read the first page or two all the way through. Once you’ve read the entire page, read it again. But this time, block off the first paragraph with your hand, an index card, or your thumb. (Hence the name “Rule of Thumb.”)

If you do not lose any of the power of your writing by eliminating that first paragraph, it’s not part of your lead. It doesn’t belong in your lead. Get rid of it. Either delete it or use it someplace else in your copy.

Do this again for the next paragraph. If you don’t lose any power by blocking it out, get rid of that one, too. Do this with each paragraph in your copy until you get to a paragraph you honestly feel your copy cannot do without.

That paragraph is your buried lead. Make it the first paragraph of your promo.

In all likelihood, the paragraphs that follow this true (buried) lead are stronger than the ones you eliminated with the Rule of Thumb. Evaluate them anyway using the Rule of Thumb until you feel your lead is strong enough to fulfill its four crucial objectives.

Something interesting happens after you’ve used Michael Masterson’s “Rule of Thumb” religiously on all of your promos. You write less warm-up copy. You write it less often. You’re able to instinctually start writing leads that pull your prospect into your copy.

I’d love to hear your experience with writing warm-up copy. Do you regularly write it? Has Michael’s “Rule of Thumb” helped eliminate it and strengthened your leads? Drop me a line at, and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

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Published: March 12, 2012

1 Response to “Are Your First Few Paragraphs Killing Response?”

  1. Interesting concept -- and it makes sense. Will give it a try!

    Guest (Marissa Bishop)

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