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.

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

Examples:
"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 . . ."

Examples:

"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.

Examples:

"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 newsletter, Better Writing at WorkFor 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? 
 

50 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for this post. This was very helpful. I am now reviewing more information you have on this site. Thank you.

  2. How can I start writing a letter to a friend that I should be telling her that I was visiting a new country and what did I do there and so on…

  3. Engy,

    You might try an opening sentence like one of these:

    –I am excited to tell you all about my travels to ______ [country].
    –I have been looking forward to telling you about my trip.
    –My trip to _____ [country] was wonderful, and I am pleased to tell you about it.

    Lynn

  4. Good evening Lynn mam,
    in business letter, Which is the correct word to start a letter – I can’t like to start a word with Dear ….., inspite of this I would like to start with Goodevening Mr / Mrs. ….. Its ok or not.
    Pls post your comment immediately.
    Thanks in advance.
    S. Mageshwari

  5. Thank you so much Lynn, now am confident that whenever i write a letter the reader will be thrilled by my composition… all thanx to you. Really helpful.

  6. Sorry, I don’t understand the question, but I’ll give it a try:

    If you are trying to schedule a room, you can say “We need a meeting room for more than two people.” You can also say “We need a room for more than four people for the Board Conformance Meeting.”

    Lynn

  7. I am running low on my deadline for my assignment and an introduction sentence for a bad newsletter to an insurance company from a finance corporate company. I have til 11:59 pm tonight to do this entire letter and I am stuck blank on an introduction sentence, eeek!!

    I pray someone is still up and may be able to help!!
    Thank you,
    Angela

  8. Hey Lynn… can you kindly explain that how we make our cover letter (application) more attractive and grasping like opening sentences for a request or job application?

  9. Hi Mehrinah,

    It depends on the job you are applying for. Some jobs require creative flair; others want crisp professionalism.

    If you would like to tell me the job and try writing the opening sentence yourself, I will be happy to provide feedback.

    Beyond that, you don’t want an opening sentence to be “grasping.” Compelling or engaging, yes. Grasping, no.

    Lynn

  10. Hi Dina,

    I’m glad you liked the information. Regarding your question, are you asking about the salutation (greeting)? If so, type “salutation” in the search box, and you will find what I have written on that topic.

    If you are asking about the opening sentence, the examples above should help.

    Lynn

  11. Hello Lynn,
    Thank you for the interesting Website.
    Is the phrase “I hope this finds you well.” good for the correspondence resumption after some break?
    Nikolay

  12. Hi Lynn
    How would I start a letter to the president persuading him not to cut the Peace Corps budget?
    Love you,
    K

  13. K,

    Try writing the rest of the letter, and then come back to your opening sentence. The right opening may be clear to you then.

    Also, type the word “persuasive” in the search box on this website, and see what you find.

    Lynn

  14. first of all i’m so sorry for my English bad …
    i’m a mathematician PH.D student and i wanna to wright Opening report, so i had difficulties because of my English language…
    i trying to use Google but no results …

  15. Is it OK to start with “It was nice to speak with you earlier”? Or are there better ways to start an email after speaking with someone for the first time?

  16. Hi Anthony,

    “It was nice to speak with you earlier” is fine as a friendly opening. However, you should follow it with something that gets to the purpose of your message. For example, if you are following up on something that came up in that conversation, your next sentence could be this:

    “As promised, I have attached the _________ you requested.”

    If your purpose is simply relationship building, you might continue in a friendly way if you feel the reader will appreciate it. But keep in mind that some business readers are all about business.

    Lynn

  17. Hi Ahmad,

    Your situation seems similar to this example in the blog post:

    Request information: I am seeking the answers to two questions about customs declarations for a shipment to Russia.

    Yours might be like this: For the XYZ project, I need the data on _____ [subject] by ______ [date]. Can you please provide it?

    You would also want to include a greeting such as “Hello Nigel,” and a polite close like “Thank you.”

    Lynn

  18. Hi lynn , I’m asked to draft letter to company secretary context to time consuming process of project . Will u plz help me wd startup

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