Writing Leads (or Ledes)

What is a lead/lede?

 A lead is an opening paragraph that gives the audience the most important information of the news story in a concise and clear manner, while still maintaining the readers' interest. If a reader does not read beyond your first paragraph, they should still have an idea of what your article is about and the most important information from that article. There are many different strategies for writing a good lead as well as many differing opinions, but the strongest opinion is that they are hard and take time. Don't plan on rushing a good lead.

Writing a Lead

  • The Five W's and H. Before writing a lead, you need to ask the fundamental questions of newswriting; who, what, when, where, why, and how. Be sure to answer these questions in your lead and leave the less important information for later in your article. Remember the inverted pyramid.
  • Keep it Simple: The best lead is one that is concise and clear. Think about your story and then write a simple but powerful way to reflect it. Don't bog your reader down with overly complicated language or extra words. You must be clear and concise.
  • Don't bury your lead: Your lead is your hook (the thing that makes the reader interested in your story). If you bury it, then their interest might be buried along with it! They shouldn't have to ask themselves what the story is about, you should be telling them upfront.
  • The ABCs of journalism: (There is an entire handout on this called Introduction to Newswriting). Remember your ABCs which are Accuracy, Brevity, and Clarity. Though these should be incorporated throughout your article, they are especially important in the lead.

Different Types of Leads

Summary Lead
A summary lead is the most common and traditional lead in journalism. It is meant to give a quick summary in as few words as possible, and is usually one sentence. It contains most of the 5Ws and H.

Single-Item Lead
This lead focuses on just one or two elements of a summary lead.  The purpose is to pack a bigger punch than a summary lead.

Delayed Identification Lead
The "who" is not identified right away in this lead because it isn't deemed as important (for example, a member on the school board punched the president). Instead a descriptive pronoun is used to describe the person and his title and specific name is revealed in a later paragraph.

Creative Lead
The purpose of the creative lead is to capture the interest of readers where a summary lead might not.

Short Sentence Lead
A short sentence lead uses one word or a short phrase as a teaser with the rest of the lead appearing later. This is often considered gimmicky, so only use it now and then.

Analogy Lead
This lead makes a comparison between and issue or event and something else a reader may be more familiar with.