How to Clear the Phlegm from Your Blog Posts

Carol Tice

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.



  1. Jenna

    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

      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

    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.

    • Carol Tice

      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

    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

      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.


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