Almost any substantial body of text has at least one item of text which comes before the main text, and which tells the reader something about that main text. I will call these text items before-texts.
Some common types of before-texts are:
These before-texts can serve various purposes. For example, a title gives a name to a text, which enables it to be referred to by others. And it's easier to search for something if you have a name to search for.
But for the writer who struggles to find readers willing to make the effort to read his/her writings, the before-text serves a more important purpose.
The author of any written text implicitly asks the reader to make a commitment to make the effort required to read the text.
For some types of text, this doesn't matter much. The text is so lightweight, or so interesting and well-written, that the beginning of the text serves as its own before-text – the reader reads the first sentence, the reader is immediately drawn in, and he/she cannot stop reading.
But not every written text can be like this.
So, to make it easier for the reader, before he/she makes a full commitment to reading the main text, the author looks for a way to ask for a much lesser commitment from the reader. In return for this lesser commitment, the author endeavours to give the reader information about why the main text is worth the effort.
Which is why we have so many different kinds of before-text.
Which is why there are people whose jobs it is to write headlines and sub-titles and teasers for other writers' writing.
The "Goldilocks" problem is the problem of being "just right" – not having too much of something, and not having too little.
With before-texts, the problem is: how much text should there be in the before-text?
If the before-text is too short, then it may not say enough about the main text. The reader has no indication that the main text is about something of interest to him/her, and the reader just moves on to the next thing to read.
If the before-text is too long, then the before-text has become something that is too much effort to read. So the reader doesn't even bother to read the before-text. For example, the abstracts of many scientific papers. (It could be argued that it is not the purpose of a scientific abstract to act as a "teaser", and that scientists don't need to write teasers because good science "speaks for itself". But still, even scientists live in a world where both time and attention are in short supply.)
One possible solution to the before-text "Goldilocks" problem is to have more than one before-text. There would be a very short before-text, and then a slightly longer before-text, and then maybe a longer one, and then finally the reader would start reading the main text.
A sequence of before-texts of gradually increasing size seems to solve the commitment problem – instead of requiring a full commitment, the reader is asked first to make a small commitment, and then a slightly larger commitment, and so on. (It's a bit like courtship: first there's a smile, and then someone says "Hello", and then the two of you go for a coffee, and then maybe a movie, and then perhaps a short holiday together, and then, somewhere down the line, you get married.)
But increasing commitment is only one side of the equation.
Because it's not just about getting commitment from the reader, it's about the author giving as much as possible back to the reader, as soon as possible.
A framework for gradually increasing reader commitments may tempt the author to just "fill in the spaces", but the author fails to give the reader maximum value in return for the effort that the reader makes at each step within the framework. In which case the reader may still give up before getting to the all important main text.
So it's important to design a framework for before-text structure which forces the author to be consciously aware of the importance of providing as much value as possible, as soon as possible, with the smallest possible commitment required of the reader.
With these considerations in mind, and without too much further ado, I present to you an example of the pitch blurb – a framework I have designed for writing blurbs that "pitch" content to skeptical and apathetic readers.
This particular example of a pitch blurb is for a hypothetical article about "The Kardashians", aimed at some reader, who, somehow, has never heard of the Kardashians, but might be interested to find out something about them.
The pitch blurb has three components: the title, the ultra-short blurb and the indented lines.
The title describes the thing that the blurb is about. Often it is the name of something. The title goes at the top, which is where titles normally appear.
However, the title is not the most "urgent" item in the blurb. So it is not displayed in the largest font, and it is not shown in the darkest font.
The ultra-short blurb is the most "urgent" component of the pitch blurb. It is the "before-before-text" of the before-text, the "blurb to the blurb".
It is written in the the largest font size.
It is just a few words which express as clearly and concisely as possible the main idea of what it is that is being pitched.
It might be a sentence, or it might be a noun phrase. Or a verbal clause.
It is written in lower-case (most of the time) because when you have just a few words, extra stuff like upper-case letters is just distracting (for the same reason I leave out unnecessary punctuation like fullstops). Lower case also heightens the contrast between the ultra-short blurb and the rest of the pitch blurb. (And you could choose to use a font face which is specially designed for large lower-case letters, but I'm not enough of a typographer to know what that font face would be.)
Don't try to say too much in the ultra-short blurb, because then it will have too many words, and it won't be ultra-short. If there's more to be said, put that in the following indented lines, which exist purely for the purpose of expanding upon the content of the ultra-short blurb.
The indented lines expand upon the ultra-short blurb.
Each indented line is one or maybe two sentences.
All the lines should be of similar length, and short enough to fit on one line of the screen without wrapping (although this obviously depends on how big the reader's computer or device screen is).
The progressive indentation emphasises the sequentiality of the lines.
The clear separation into individual lines visibly limits the commitment required by the reader. In particular, the reader can instantly see how long any of the sentences are. In a more traditional blurb, or abstract, a five line paragraph might be concealing a very long five line sentence. And you wouldn't find this out until you had read two or three lines and realised that you weren't anywhere near finished yet.
Having a well-defined sequence of individual lines makes a promise to the reader – after reading each line the reader will know at least one more useful item of information about the content being described by the blurb.
I use bold text to emphasise components of individual lines. If done carefully, this can reduce the effort that the reader would otherwise have to make to decide which parts of the sentences are most important. Also, mixing bold and normal font adds a pleasing variety to the appearance of the blurb.
(One could also use italics where appropriate, however italics can be harder to read than both bold and normal text, so I would generally avoid italicising any text in the indented lines, or anywhere else in the blurb, unless doing so makes a major contribution to clarity.)
And here's another example, which is a pitch for me: