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How to Write the Opening Sentence

In a Business Writing Tune-Up class, an attendee wrote what he wanted to get from the class: “My most time-consuming task is developing a good opening sentence. Any tips on that?”
Yes! The first sentence can be the trickiest one to write–not just for novelists and essayists, but for business writers too. Here are three tips and many examples to help you write your first sentence with less effort and more confidence.
Graphic illustrating what to consider when writing the opening sentence.

1. In your first sentence, answer the question your readers are asking: What is this about?

“This report explains our plan for refurbishing returned, damaged products.”

“This recommendation offers a solution to the problem of delayed responses to customer inquiries.”

“During a recent claims adjusting process, we discovered some concerns with your property that must be addressed.”

“I am pleased to inform you that we have hired a new Vice President of Human Resources.”

Too often writers open with ineffective “throat clearing” that loses readers and gets in the way of the real message. Answering the question “What’s this about?” at the start of the communication will help you avoid wordy, unproductive openings.

2. Start your first sentence with “I am writing to . . .”


“I am writing to update you on changes in our travel policy.”

“I am writing to request permission to reprint your recent article on finding the right mentor.”

You may think this approach is inelegant and obvious. Maybe someone chided you, saying, “Of course, you’re writing! You don’t need to tell people that!” Nevertheless, the opening “I am writing to . . .” helps you and your readers recognize the purpose of your message.

Once you have drafted your message, you may be able to eliminate or edit the opening “I am writing to.” For example, you can remove those words from this opening sentence:

I am writing to Thank you for your generous contribution to the auction benefiting the senior soccer team.”

You can shorten “I am writing to request permission” to “I am requesting permission.”

3. For a persuasive message, include you or your or both words in your first sentence to focus on your reader and your reader’s needs.


“When you think about your financial future, do you feel confident or anxious?”

“Get answers to all your benefits questions at this Friday’s Benefits Fair and Field Trip.”

“You and your team can get first choice of interns by participating in our new recruiting program.”

“If you are interested in offering your executive communication classes in Canada, please consider hiring me, a Canadian consultant with significant experience in persuasive speaking.”

Use these opening sentences as models for a variety of writing tasks:
Respond to a letter of complaint: Thank you for writing to us about your experience in the airport last week.

Confirm an agreement: I am happy to confirm our agreement about the summer institute.

Provide a reference: Jessica Dell has asked me to provide information to you in support of her job application, and I am pleased to do so.

Request a letter of reference: I am applying to graduate schools in marine biology, and I would be very grateful if you would write a letter of reference for me.
Request approval: I would appreciate your approval to attend a training program on project management to meet my annual performance goals. Here are the details:
Request information: I am seeking the answers to two questions about customs declarations for a shipment to Russia.
Share information: I received some important information from Dr. Owens, and I believe it will be useful to you as you analyze the research data.

Explain a change in policy: I want to let you know about a new tuition reimbursement policy we will implement in January.

Report on a site visit: This report covers observations on your hazmat program by the Safety Inspection team that visited your site on November 12.
Deny a request: Thank you for writing to ask about attending the conference in Baltimore. I wish I could approve your request.

Apologize: Please accept my apology for missing the meeting yesterday. I am sorry that a medical appointment prevented my attending.

Congratulate: Congratulations on successfully passing the bar exam. Your hard work has paid off!

Invite: You are invited to Venture Capital Chat on Thursday, December 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Arena Theater.
Market a training program: Do you ever feel awkward or lost at networking events? This 90-minute program, Networking Made Easy . . .
Introduce a procedure: This procedure explains how to complete an action form to request services from Building Maintenance.
Introduce a new employee: I am pleased to introduce Kathlyn Vargas, Manager of Training and Development.
Introduce yourself: As a second-year student in the Executive MBA program, I am writing to request a brief meeting with you to discuss opportunities in market research.
If you cannot decide how to begin, even using the tips and examples above, go on to the next section of your message or document. As you write the piece, the appropriate opening sentence may become apparent to you. You may even realize that your intended second sentence or section is perfect as the opening.
Don’t struggle with openings. Many business readers prefer that you get to the point rather than presenting an elegant, clever opening. Think “efficiency” rather than “masterpiece.”
Note: This article originally appeared in my monthly newsletterBetter Writing at Work. For more tips that take your writing from adequate to excellent, get Clarity, Conciseness, Zing, and More: 262 Ways to Take Business Writing Beyond the Basics. 
Which types of messages are hardest for you to start?


Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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