How to Clear the Phlegm from Your Blog Posts

Do you sometimes write blog posts that fail to get any comments?

It could be the phlegm.

What do I mean?

Many bloggers start their posts in a rambling, roundabout way. Then, readers don’t read through to the end…which is usually you need to happen if you want readers to leave a comment.

You’ve got to write something at the top of your post that makes readers want to read more.

I don’t know about you, but every time I read a post that starts with something along the lines of, “I went to the mall with my sister the other day…” and proceeds to launch into a long anecdote about something that only tangentially relates to the headline of the post, I move on immediately.

You’ve lost me. And likely many other readers, too.

In journalism, we call this a “wind-up” or anecdotal lead (or lede). You’re backing into your topic or working up to it, rather than jumping straight to the heart of it.

We also call it a throat-clearing lede.

In other words, your initial sentences that aren’t directly related to your topic are like phlegm in your throat. You have to clear them out of the way before you can get started telling us useful stuff about your topic.

The problem? Your reader may not want to wait while you write your way slowly over to the point you were trying to make, which you’re planning to get to by paragraph three or four. Or eight.

We may not like phlegm. Really, it’s sort of eeewww.

We don’t want to get that on us while we’re waiting for the useful info your headline promised.

Throat-clearing doesn’t work well in blogging

Your audience has a short attention span, and you need to grab them from the very first sentence and compel them to read more — not make them wade through the literary equivalent of sticky goo to get to something interesting.

You might do it with a simple question that you know troubles your readers — like I’ve done with this post.

Or with an arresting sentence that you just have to know more about. For instance, I once wrote a short newsweekly article that began:

Briefly, it was Bambi in bondage.

Don’t you just want to know what that was about?

Recently, I’ve been massively enjoying the works of comedic novelist Christopher Moore. Consider this opening from Island of the Sequined Love Nun:

Tucker Case awoke to find himself hanging from a breadfruit tree by a coconut fiber rope.

I defy you not to read on.

In blogging, there’s one more point to consider:

That first sentence is an SEO opportunity

Ever notice how your first sentence (or the one you write in your SEO plugin under “description”) shows up in search results along with your headline?

Yeah. So if you put key words in there, you’re helping browsers immediately see that this post will be about something of interest.

For instance, in the case of this post, I have the words, “write” and “blog posts,” so that writers and bloggers can easily spot this is a relevant topic for them. I’ve also got the always attention-getting word “fail.”

You want to get key words in your first sentence. It will help you get more readers to your site.

When they get there, they will probably read your post all the way through. They might even leave a comment.

Eliminate the phlegm

How can you kick the habit of writing throat-clearing ledes?

Here’s the secret: If you’re in the habit of writing rambling ledes, simply trim them off later, once you’ve spotted the point where the post should really start.

Eventually, you’ll train yourself out of starting posts with a little phlegm and start writing your strong first sentence right off.

What’s your favorite first line of a blog post you’ve written? Leave a comment and share your phlegm-free opening lines.


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35 comments on “How to Clear the Phlegm from Your Blog Posts
  1. Jenna says:

    Hello, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar
    one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam feedback?
    If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
    I get so much lately it’s driving me crazy so any support is very much appreciated.

    • Carol Tice says:

      The answer is Akismet — I get about 200 pieces of spam a day. Thankfully, my readers never have to see them, and I don’t have to put all comments into moderation to screen them out, which is annoying.

  2. Ruth Ekblom says:

    Hi Carol,
    Thank you once again for a great post. The analogy is so apt. Just as a speaker has to clear their throat before speaking, as a blogger I have to clear the ‘phlegm’ from my writing before I write. I like the idea of writing it anyway, and then editing away. It is certainly something I need to do in my own posts.
    Thank you also for arranging the great webinar with Jon. There is so much to take on board, but I hope I can take my own work on to a higher level as a result.
    Ruth Ekblom recently posted…Principle v principalMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Glad you enjoyed the Webinar, Ruth! I just think Jon’s a genius. I was thrilled to have a chance to give my readers that much time with him.

  3. Amy Richland says:

    I completely agree with you. I am one of those readers who will move on to another blog the minute I smell phlegm. As an information seeker, I’m seeking concise bullet points with just the right amount of supplemental info to expand on it — usually no more than two paragraphs, three if it’s funny or in-depth.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m willing to go along for a story, if I can tell it’s going somewhere interesting…but too many opening anecdotes are just rambling and off topic, or not compelling.

  4. Heide Braley says:

    I do like your style of writing. It is very easy to read and assimilate. Thanks for the useful information. I will put it to use gratefully.
    Many thanks!
    Heide Braley recently posted…Story SalesMy Profile

  5. Mike says:

    Great metaphor, means I’ll always remember this point!
    I agree, we should start our posts like a story, with a hook to grab the reader, and then a few sentences to hold them long enough for them to settle down and enjoy the rest.
    Mike recently posted…Once Upon a TimeMy Profile

  6. You know what I love most about your blog, Carol? You always, always practise what you preach – and you make your tips look so doable!

  7. Ganna says:

    Well said and yeah, I agree that those kind of headers don’t really get lots of good readers. I tend to encounter those kind of blog posts and yes, I skip on it, in a flash. 🙂

  8. Miss Britt says:

    Great timing! This is a habit I’ve just recently discovered I have and I need to break it if I’m going to reach my goal of being published in magazines.
    Miss Britt recently posted…Happiness Highlights: Relief from the LonelinessMy Profile

  9. Sarah Kolb says:

    What an excellent (if somewhat gross) analogy. I recognize my own blog posts in some of your descriptions — my next will be an exercise in brevity. 🙂 Thanks for the tips!
    Sarah Kolb recently posted…Friday Favorites: Big Picture EditionMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Not saying posts have to be brief — I write some pretty long ones myself — but the long intro before you get to the point is very tough to pull off in blogging.

  10. Tom J says:

    Some great tips here, I think the first couple of paragraphs to any blog post are the most important, once you have a good hook in place, it tends to draw your readers in. Also you don’t have to have the first couple of lines of your paragraph to show up in the search engines. There is loads of great tools you can use to create your own meta description, for example on wordpress the plugin: All in one seo is fantastic for this.
    Tom J recently posted…is madbid legitMy Profile

  11. Amandah says:

    Thank you for the reminder. I’ve been revising my approach to blogging thanks to your blog and a blog bootcamp I signed up for.

    BTW: The headline of this blog post sucked me in straightaway. Another great reminder to take the time to write eye-catching headlines.

    I’m looking forward to Tuesday’s webinar with Jon Morrow!
    Amandah recently posted…50 Email Marketing Words That Scream SPAMMy Profile

  12. Alan says:

    Hi Carol,

    I am new to your site, though I have been banging writing for some time. I went back to your anecdote as you suggested and clearly see what you mean about good use of them – they need to have a point.

    As a freelance writer, I am always writing for others. Your post today made me think, who am I writing for?

    Myself – no.
    The client’s reader – no.
    The client – yes!

    This is just as bad as writing for oneself and I instantly realize that writing for my client’s readers is more productive than writing for my clients, even if there may be some initial resistance.

    Thanks for a great post. I look forward to more.


  13. Lisa says:

    Great post again! I remember calling it a delayed lead in ’84. Or crap! My J-school professor rocked. He had spent 20 years at AP and taught us how to write under newspaper deadline pressure. Too bad that in the early ’90s he got chased off b/c he didn’t have a doctorate and students complained he was harassing them w/ his methods. Not sexually, just b/c he was tough!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well dang. I benefited greatly from having a very strict high school English teacher myself.

      I think another way to get the first sentence right is to make sure you’re writing for your readers and not yourself. Then you’ll automatically craft a first sentence aimed at drawing readers’ attention.

  14. Kirk says:

    Thanks for the timely post, Carol. I’ve been working hard to refine the openings to my blog posts. Your advice is a big boost.

    Kirk recently posted…Conference Time…and Interviews on the HorizonMy Profile

  15. Anne Baley says:

    Great thoughts, Carol. An editor once advised me to try lopping off the first sentence in my opening paragraph. More times than not, the lede will be snappier and more interesting, while getting right to the heart of the matter without shuffling around.

    That first sentence, that hook, is often the hardest part of any post or article to write. Once I get a grabber the rest of it just sails along, but if I know I’ve got a blah lede, I have a hard time making anything sound interesting. That first line always sets the tone.

    By the way, 1000 points for reading and referencing Christopher Moore. In my opinion, he’s the funniest writer alive.
    Anne Baley recently posted…What to Buy Before You Arrive to Save Big Money in Disney WorldMy Profile

  16. R. E. Hunter says:

    Thanks Carol, this is something I definitely have trouble with. Of course I’m so new to blogging that some of my posts just didn’t get a significant amount of traffic. But I’m sure I could tighten up the writing, especially the intro. I’ll keep this in mind.
    R. E. Hunter recently posted…Short Story: A New BeginningMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Just try it and the results will really surprise you RE —

      I was writing daily posts for CBS’s now-defunct BNET when my editor pointed out to me that first lines are SEO, and that I needed to start writing them with that in mind. And I felt that dull, squishy-cold smack of ice cream cone to the forehead. Duh!

      I’d seen how first sentences appear in search with your headline, but never made the connection. Once you make this one change, it makes a big difference in the response you get…I encourage everyone to try it out.

  17. Thank you for the useful tips Carol!

    My blog focuses on giving advice to new writers but does occasionally add a little anecdote here and there to let my readers know that I have been in the same boat at times.

    I think what is really needed is a little balance between the two types of blog posting.

    Look forward to your web seminar tomorrow!
    Jessica Benavides Canepa recently posted…For Writers: The Art of Making Your MarkMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      As I said to Luana, I’m not down on anecdotes…just ones that ramble around and the reader can’t tell where we’re going or whether they’ll learn anything relevant to their own lives.

      A good first line telegraphs that I will want to read this, because it’s for me and has helpful stuff for my situation, as one of your readers.

      For instance, here’s a post I did that relied heavily on anecdote and got 42 comments…take a look at the first-line setup for it.

  18. Excellent points. I know I ramble in my personal blog, but I need to do see if I’m being concise and ‘punchy’ in my others. Thank you for the suggestions about this.
    Walker Thornton recently posted…Blogging for Small Businesses-A Competitive EdgeMy Profile

  19. Myrna says:

    What a lovely post, and I’m glad that I found it… I’m so excited to spot something more from you and learned more tips to get more blog traffic…
    Myrna recently posted…Prix de l’ancien immobilier à Paris en baisse de 5 à 10%My Profile

  20. Debra Stang says:

    I always *try* to have a point to my blog writing, but that doesn’t mean I always succeed. Next time I feel stuck writing a blog post, I’ll have to stop and ask if I’m rambling again!

    Debra Stang recently posted…5 Things Stephen King’s "Misery" Taught Me about WritingMy Profile

  21. I see your point, Carol.

    Sometimes I wonder if the real problem is how much personal blogging we should put in niche blogging. They’re two different types of blogging, that’s true– although a little personal in niche and a little niche in personal helps garner a reader’s attention.

    Your tips here may be a good starting point to give new life some old, almost-forgotten posts on my blogs. Even personal blogs, that’s it. 🙂

    ~ Luana S.

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s not about getting rid of the personal, Luana. I’m definitely not advocating that. But you have to start with a sentence that sucks me in. Maybe set up your anecdote with a tantalizing question. Or make that anecdote begin with a compelling sentence…ideally one that’s got key words in it, so I know it’s going to be a story of interest to me.

      See what I mean?

  22. Hi there

    An interesting way of putting it. There are times when I fall into the rambling trap.

    I have developed a system which assists me in focussing on the main theme of the post or article being written. Such a system, which ever one suits you best, definitely assist in removing that phlegm.

    Thanks for some great advice.
    Keith Williams recently posted…Has Your Work Ever Been Hijacked? My Personal ExperienceMy Profile

  23. Qarau says:

    Another great post Carol. Sometimes it’s just a matter of rearranging your paragraphs as I am discovering. I write, rearrange and edit to get rid of the phlegm. Thank you again for this great tip.
    Qarau recently posted…What is every dad’s greatest fear?My Profile

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