Encapsulating key points of a message in the opening paragraph helps not only with clarity but also with persuasiveness.


When important highlights are stated clearly and succinctly at the start of a message, it can increase your chance of persuading the reader to accept your ideas, if that’s your intent.

If you want the message to be persuasive, two factors must be in place according to social psychologist Richard Petty, an expert in persuasion who studies how people process information and how their attitudes change: 1) they must have the ability to comprehend it, and 2) they must be motivated to read it.

Reading em, fingers holding phoneHere’s what that means:

Ability — The reader or listener must have the ability to process a message carefully. Struggling to understand the first few sentences of a message can be a barrier to careful reading and, thus, could affect the success of your persuasive attempt.

Duane Wegener, a social psychologist, said in an email that a confusing opening paragraph could lead people to dismiss what you are saying due to your presumed lack of expertise or care, or it could lead them to be negatively biased in their thinking about the rest of your information on the page.

Trying to read in a noisy atmosphere or reading a difficult font also can affect a person’s ability to pay close attention.

Motivation – To induce someone to read, you need to get them to read your message carefully. They won’t do that automatically, even if they’re your friends. You need to show that the message is relevant to the person: that it has consequences or that it is personally meaningful in some other way.

Trustworthiness — Another factor in the success of a persuasive attempt is whether the audience views the communicator as trustworthy. People want to hold correct attitudes, according to Petty, and when they trust the writer or speaker enough to feel confident they are getting accurate information, they will spend more time processing the message, so that they can develop a “correct,” or accurate opinion.

So remember three key reasons why someone might not read your message carefully:

  • You force her to muddle through an unclear opening paragraph.
  • She fails to see why the message is relevant to her.
  • She assumes that other people on her team are reading the same message, and therefore, it’s not urgent for her to pay attention to it.