How to Write a Lead: 10 Do’s, 10 Don’ts, 10 Good Examples

  • Written By Megan Krause
  • Updated: November 15, 2023

What is lead writing?

It’s the opening hook that pulls you in to read a story. The lead should capture the essence of the who , what , when , where , why, and how  — but without giving away the entire show. A good lead is enticing. It beckons. It promises the reader their time will be well-spent and sets the tone and direction of the piece. All great content starts with a great lead.

Old-school reporting ace and author of ‘The Word: An Associated Press Guide to Good News Writing,’ Jack Cappon, rightly called lead writing “the agony of square one.” A lot if hinging on your lead. From it, readers will decide whether or not they’ll continue investing time and energy into your content or jump ship. And with our culture’s currently short attention spans and patience, if your content doesn’t hook people up front, they’ll bolt. The “back” button is just a thumb tap away.

So, let’s break down the types of leads, which ones you should be writing, and the top 10 do’s and don’ts. We’ll get you hooking customers in no time.

Two types of leads

Two Types of Leads

There are two main types of leads and many, many variations thereof. These are:

The summary lead

Most often found in straight news reports, this is the trusty inverted-pyramid lead we learned about in Journalism 101. It sums up the situation succinctly, giving the reader the most important facts first. In this type of lead, you want to determine which aspect of the story — who, what, when, where, why, and how — is most important to the reader and present those facts.

An alleged virgin gave birth to a son in a barn just outside of Bethlehem last night. Claiming a celestial body guided them to the site, magi attending the birth say the boy will one day be king. Herod has not commented.

A creative or descriptive lead

This can be an anecdote, an observation, a quirky fact, or a funny story, among other things. Better suited to feature stories and blog posts, these leads are designed to pique readers’ curiosity and draw them into the story. If you go this route, make sure to provide broader detail and context in the few sentences following your lead. A creative lead is great — just don’t make your reader hunt for what the story’s about much after it.

Mary didn’t want to pay taxes anyway.

A note about the question lead.  A variation of the creative lead, the question lead is just what it sounds like: leading with a question. Most editors (myself included) don’t like this type of lead. It’s lazy writing. People are reading your content to get answers, not to be asked anything. It feels like a cop-out, like a writer couldn’t think of a compelling way to start the piece. Do you want to learn more about the recent virgin birth?  Well duh, that’s why I clicked in here in the first place.

Is there no exception?  Sure there is. If you can make your question lead provocative, go for it — Do you  think you have it bad? This lady just gave birth in a barn  — just know that this is accomplished rarely.

How to Write a Lead: Lede vs. Lead Origin

Which Type of Lead Should You Write?

This depends on a few factors. Ask yourself:

Who is your audience?

Tax attorneys looking for recent changes in the law don’t want to wade through your witty repartee about the IRS, just as millennials searching for craft beer recipes don’t want to read a technical discourse on the fermentation process. Tailor your words to those reading the post.

Where will this article be published?

Match the site’s tone and language. There are some things you can get away with on  that would be your demise on the  Chronicle of Higher Education .

What are you writing about?

Certain topics naturally lend themselves to creativity, while others beg for a “Just the facts, ma’am” presentation. Writing about aromatherapy for a yoga blog gives you a little more leeway than writing about investment tips for a retirement blog.

Lead Writing: Top 10 do’s

1. determine your hook..

Look at the 5 Ws and 1 H. Why are readers clicking on this content? What problem are they trying to solve? What’s new or different? Determine which aspects are most relevant and important, and lead with that.

2. Be clear and succinct.

Simple language is best. Mark Twain said it best: “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”

3. Write in the active voice.

Use strong verbs and decided language. Compare “Dog bites man” to “A man was bitten by a dog” — the passive voice is timid and bland (for the record, Stephen King feels the same way).

4. Address the reader as “you.”

This is the writer’s equivalent to breaking the fourth wall in theatre, and while some editors will disagree with me on this one, we stand by it. People know you’re writing to them. Not only is it OK to address them as such, we think it helps create a personal connection with them.

5. Put attribution second.

What’s the nugget, the little gem you’re trying to impart? Put that information first, and then follow it up with who said it. The “according to” part is almost always secondary to what he or she actually said.

6. Go short and punchy.

Take my recent lead for  this Marketing Land post : “Freelance writers like working with me. Seriously, they do.” Short and sweet makes the reader want to know where you’re going with that.

7. If you’re stuck, find a relevant stat.

If you’re trying to be clever or punchy or brilliant, and it’s just not happening, search for an interesting stat related to your topic and lead with that. This is especially effective if the stat is unusual or unexpected, as in, “A whopping 80 percent of Americans are in debt.”

8. Or, start with a story.

If beginning with a stat or fact isn’t working for your lead, try leading with an anecdote instead. People absorb data, but they  feel  stories. Here’s an  example of an anecdotal lead that works great in a crime story: “It’s just after 11 p.m., and Houston police officer Al Leonard has his gun drawn as the elderly black man approaches the patrol car. The 9mm pistol is out of sight, pointing through the car door. Leonard rolls down his window and casually greets the man. ‘What can I do for you?'” You want to know what happens next, don’t you?

9. Borrow this literary tactic.

Every good story has these three elements : a hero we relate to, a challenge (or villain) we fear, and an ensuing struggle. Find these elements in the story you’re writing and lead with one of those.

10. When you’re staring at a blank screen.

Just start. Start writing anything. Start in the middle of your story. Once you begin, you can usually find your lead buried a few paragraphs down in this “get-going” copy. Your lead is in there — you just need to cut away the other stuff first.

10 Things Not to Do When Writing a Lead Paragraph

Lead Writing: Top 10 don’ts

1. don’t make your readers work too hard..

Also known as “burying the lead,” this happens when you take too long to make your point. It’s fine to take a little creative license, but if readers can’t figure out relatively quickly what your article is about, they’ll bounce.

2. Don’t try to include too much.

Does your lead contain too many of the 5 Ws and H? Don’t try to jam everything in there — you’ll overwhelm the reader.

3. Don’t start sentences with “there is” or “there are” constructions.

It’s not wrong, but similar to our question lead, it’s lazy, boring writing.

4. Don’t be cliche.

We beg of you .

5. Don’t have any errors.

Include typos or grammatical errors, and it’s game over — you’ve lost the reader.

6. Don’t say anything is “right around the corner.”

Just trust us. We’ve seen it used way too much. “Valentine’s Day is right around the corner,” “The first day of school is right around the corner,” Mother’s Day sales are right around the corner” … Zzzz.  Boring .

7. Don’t make puns. Even ironically.

It’s an old example but it proves the point. From a Huffington Post story about a huge swastika found painted on the bottom of a swimming pool in Brazil: “Authorities did Nazi this coming.” Boo. Absolutely not. Don’t make the reader groan.

8. Don’t state the obvious.

Don’t tell readers what they already know. We call it “water is wet” writing. Some examples: “The internet provides an immense source of useful information.” “Today’s digital landscape is moving fast.” Really! You don’t say?

9. Don’t cite the dictionary.

“Merriam-Webster defines marketing as…” This is the close cousin of “water is wet” writing. It’s a better tactic for essay-writing middle-schoolers. Don’t do this.

10. Don’t imagine anything. You are not John Lennon.

“Imagine a world where everyone recycled,” “Imagine how good it must feel to save a life,” “Imagine receiving a $1,000 tip from your favorite customer on Christmas Eve.” Imagine we retired this hackneyed, worn-out lead.

What Is a Lead in Writing? 10 Good Examples of Lead Sentences and Paragraphs

10 Worthy Examples of Good Lead Writing

1. short and simple..

Edna Buchanan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter for The Miami Herald, wrote a story about an ex-con named Gary Robinson. One drunken night in the ‘80s, Robinson stumbled into a Church’s Chicken, where he was told there was no fried chicken, only nuggets. He decked the woman at the counter, and in the ensuing melee, he was shot by a security guard. Buchanan’s lead:

Gary Robinson died hungry.

2. Ooh, tell me more.

A 2010 piece in the New York Times co-authored by Sabrina Tavernise and Dan Froschjune begins:

An ailing, middle-age construction worker from Colorado, on a self-proclaimed mission to help American troops, armed himself with a dagger, a pistol, a sword, Christian texts, hashish and night-vision goggles and headed to the lawless tribal areas near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan to personally hunt down Osama bin Laden.

3. Meanwhile, at San Quentin.

From the 1992 story titled, “After Life of Violence Harris Goes Peacefully,” written by Sam Stanton for The Sacramento Bee:

In the end, Robert Alton Harris seemed determined to go peacefully, a trait that had eluded him in the 39 violent and abusive years he spent on earth.

Remember Olympic jerk Ryan Lochte, the American swimmer who lied to Brazilian authorities about being robbed at gunpoint while in Rio for 2016 games? Sally Jenkins’  story on Lochte  for The Washington Post begins:

Ryan Lochte is the dumbest bell that ever rang.

5. An oldie but man, what a goodie.

This beautiful lead is from Shirley Povich’s 1956 story in The Washington Post & Times Herald about a pitcher’s perfect game:

The million‑to‑one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-­hit, no‑run, no‑man‑reach‑first game in a World Series.

6. Dialogue lead.

Diana Marcum wrote this  compelling lead for the Los Angeles Times , perfectly capturing the bleakness of the California drought in 2014:

The two fieldworkers scraped hoes over weeds that weren’t there. “Let us pretend we see many weeds,” Francisco Galvez told his friend Rafael. That way, maybe they’d get a full week’s work.

7. The staccato lead.

Ditto; we found this one in an online journalism quiz , but can’t track the source. It reads like the first scene of a movie script:

Midnight on the bridge… a scream… a shot… a splash… a second shot… a third shot. This morning, police recovered the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Murphy, estranged couple, from the Snake River. A bullet wound was found in the temple of each.

8. Hey, that’s us.

Sure, we’ll include our own former Dear Megan column  railing against exclamation points:

This week’s question comes to us from one of my kids, who will remain nameless because neither wants to appear in a dorky grammar blog written by their uncool (but incredibly good-looking) mom. I will oblige this request for anonymity because, despite my repeated claims about how lucky they are to have me, apparently I ruin their lives on a semi-regular basis. Why add to their torment by naming them here? I have so many other ways I’d rather torment them.

9. The punch lead.

From numerous next-day reports following the Kennedy assassination:

The president is dead.

10. Near perfection.

Finally, this lead comes from a 1968 New York Times piece written by Mark Hawthorne. It was recently featured  in the writer’s obituary :

A 17-year-old boy chased his pet squirrel up a tree in Washington Square Park yesterday afternoon, touching off a series of incidents in which 22 persons were arrested and eight persons, including five policemen, were injured.

Time to Put That Lead Writing to Good Use

Alright, now that you’ve read this article, you’re going to be hooking readers left and right with captivating leads. What’s next? Well, if you want to showcase your new skills while working with top brands, join our Talent Network . We’ll match you with companies that fit your talent and expertise to take your career to the next level.

how to write a good lead for an article

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

How to Write a Lead

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These resources provide an overview of journalistic writing with explanations of the most important and most often used elements of journalism and the Associated Press style. This resource, revised according to The Associated Press Stylebook 2012 , offers examples for the general format of AP style. For more information, please consult The Associated Press Stylebook 2012 , 47 th edition.


The lead, or opening paragraph, is the most important part of a news story. With so many sources of information – newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and the internet – audiences simply are not willing to read beyond the first paragraph (and even sentence) of a story unless it grabs their interest. A good lead does just that. It gives readers the most important information in a clear, concise and interesting manner. It also establishes the voice and direction of an article.

Tips for Writing a Lead

  • The Five W’s and H: Before writing a lead, decide which aspect of the story – who, what, when, where, why, how – is most important. You should emphasize those aspects in your lead. Wait to explain less important aspects until the second or third sentence.
  • Conflict: Good stories have conflict. So do many good leads.
  • Specificity: Though you are essentially summarizing information in most leads, try to be specific as possible. If your lead is too broad, it won’t be informative or interesting.
  • Brevity: Readers want to know why the story matters to them and they won’t wait long for the answer. Leads are often one sentence, sometimes two. Generally, they are 25 to 30 words and should rarely be more than 40. This is somewhat arbitrary, but it’s important – especially for young journalists – to learn how to deliver information concisely. See the OWL’s page on concise writing for specific tips. The Paramedic Method is also good for writing concisely.
  • Active sentences: Strong verbs will make your lead lively and interesting. Passive constructions, on the other hand, can sound dull and leave out important information, such as the person or thing that caused the action. Incomplete reporting is often a source of passive leads .
  • Audience and context: Take into account what your reader already knows. Remember that in today’s media culture, most readers become aware of breaking news as it happens. If you’re writing for a print publication the next day, your lead should do more than merely regurgitate yesterday’s news.
  • Honesty: A lead is an implicit promise to your readers. You must be able to deliver what you promise in your lead.

What to Avoid

  • Flowery language: Many beginning writers make the mistake of overusing adverbs and adjectives in their leads. Concentrate instead on using strong verbs and nouns.
  • Unnecessary words or phrases: Watch out for unintentional redundancy. For example, 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, or very unique. You can’t afford to waste space in a news story, especially in the lead. Avoid clutter and cut right to the heart of the story.
  • Formulaic leads: Because a lot of news writing is done on deadline, the temptation to write tired leads is strong. Resist it. Readers want information, but they also want to be entertained. Your lead must sound genuine, not merely mechanical.
  • It: Most editors frown on leads that begin with the word it because it is not precise and disorients the reader.

Types of Leads

Summary lead: This is perhaps the most traditional lead in news writing. It is often used for breaking news. A story about a city council vote might use this “just the facts” approach. Straight news leads tend to provide answers to the most important three or four of the Five W’s and H. Historically this type of lead has been used to convey who, what, when and where. But in today’s fast-paced media atmosphere, a straightforward recitation of who, what, when and where can sound stale by the time a newspaper hits the stands. Some newspapers are adjusting to this reality by posting breaking news online as it happens and filling the print edition with more evaluative and analytical stories focused on why and how. Leads should reflect this.

Anecdotal lead: Sometimes, beginning a story with a quick anecdote can draw in readers. The anecdote must be interesting and must closely illustrate the article’s broader point. If you use this approach, specificity and concrete detail are essential and the broader significance of the anecdote should be explained within the first few sentences following the lead.

Other types of leads: A large number of other approaches exist, and writers should not feel boxed in by formulas. That said, beginning writers can abuse certain kinds of leads. These include leads that begin with a question or direct quotation and those that make a direct appeal using the word you. While such leads might be appropriate in some circumstances, use them sparsely and cautiously.

Summary lead:

County administrator faces ouster

By Tony Cook for The Cincinnati Post, Jan. 14, 2005

Commentary: This lead addresses the traditional who, what and when. If this information had been reported on TV or radio the day before, this lead might not be a good one for the print edition of the newspaper; however, if the reporter had an exclusive or posted this information online as soon as it became available, then this lead would make sense. Note that it is brief (15 words) and uses an active sentence construction.

Lobbyists flout disclosure rules in talks with commissioners

By Tony Cook and Michael Mishak for the Las Vegas Sun, July 13, 2008

Commentary: This lead is more representative of the less timely, more analytical approach that some newspapers are taking in their print editions. It covers who, what and when, but also why it matters to readers. Again, it uses active verbs, it is specific (170 occasions) and it is brief (35 words).

Anecdotal lead:

Tri-staters tell stories of the devastating tsunami

By Tony Cook for The Cincinnati Post, Jan. 8, 2005

Commentary: This article is a local angle on the devastating tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in 2005. As a result of the massive death toll and worldwide impact, most readers would have been inundated with basic information about the tsunami. Given that context, this lead uses an unexpected image to capture the reader’s attention and prepare them for a new take on the tsunami. Again, it is brief (23 words).

Question lead:

Same lobbyist for courts, shorter term, more money

By Tony Cook for the Las Vegas Sun, June 29, 2008

Commentary: Question leads can be useful in grabbing attention, but they are rarely as effective as other types of leads in terms of clearly and concisely providing the main point of a story. In this case, the second paragraph must carry a lot of the weight that would normally be handled in the lead.

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how to write a good lead for an article

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(Deborah Lee/NPR)

I can’t think of a better way to start a post about leads than with this:

“The most important sentence in any article is the first one. If it doesn’t induce the reader to proceed to the second sentence, your article is dead.” — William Zinsser, On Writing Well

No one wants a dead article! A story that goes unread is pointless. The lead is the introduction — the first sentences — that should pique your readers’ interest and curiosity. And it shouldn’t be the same as your radio intro, which t ells listeners what the story is about and why they should care. In a written story, that’s the function of the “nut graph” (which will be the subject of a future post) — not the lead.

The journalism lead’s  main job (I’m personally fond of the  nostalgic spelling , “lede,” that derives from the bygone days of typesetting when newspaper folks needed to differentiate the lead of a story from the  lead  of hot type) is to make the reader want to stay and spend some precious time with whatever you’ve written. It sets the tone and pace and direction for everything that follows. It is the puzzle piece on which the rest of the story depends. To that end, please write your lead first — don’t undermine it by going back and thinking of one to slap on after you’ve finished writing the rest of the story.

Coming up with a good lead is hard. Even the most experienced and distinguished writers know this. No less a writer than John McPhee has called it “ the hardest part of a story to write.” But in return for all your effort, a good lead will do a lot of work for you — most importantly, it will make your readers eager to stay awhile.

There are many different ways to start a story. Some examples of the most common leads are highlighted below. Sometimes they overlap. (Note: These are not terms of art.)

Straight news lead

Just the facts, please, and even better if interesting details and context are packed in. This kind of lead works well for hard news and breaking news.

Some examples:

“After mass street protests in Poland, legislators with the country’s ruling party have abruptly reversed their positions and voted against a proposal to completely ban abortion.” (By NPR’s Camila Domonoske )
“The European Parliament voted Tuesday to ratify the landmark Paris climate accord, paving the way for the international plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions to become binding as soon as the end of this week.” (By NPR’s Rebecca Hersher )
“The United States announced it is suspending efforts to revive a cease-fire in Syria, blaming Russia’s support for a new round of airstrikes in the city of Aleppo.” (By NPR’s Richard Gonzales )

All three leads sum up the news in a straightforward, clear way — in a single sentence. They also hint at the broader context in which the news occurred.

Anecdotal lead

This type of lead uses an anecdote to illustrate what the story is about.

Here’s a powerful anecdotal lead to a story about Brazil’s murder rate and gun laws by NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro :

“At the dilapidated morgue in the northern Brazilian city of Natal, Director Marcos Brandao walks over the blood-smeared floor to where the corpses are kept. He points out the labels attached to the bright metal doors, counting out loud. It has not been a particularly bad night, yet there are nine shooting victims in cold storage.”

We understand right away that the story will be about a high rate of gun-related murder in Brazil. And this is a much more vivid and gripping way of conveying it than if Lulu had simply stated that the rate of gun violence is high.

Lulu also does a great job setting the scene. Which leads us to …

Scene-setting lead

Byrd Pinkerton, a 2016 NPR intern, didn’t set foot in this obscure scholarly haven , but you’d never guess it from the way she draws readers into her story:

“On the second floor of an old Bavarian palace in Munich, Germany, there’s a library with high ceilings, a distinctly bookish smell and one of the world’s most extensive collections of Latin texts. About 20 researchers from all over the world work in small offices around the room.”

This scene-setting is just one benefit of Byrd’s thorough reporting. We even get a hint of how the place smells.

First-person lead

The first-person lead should be used sparingly. It means you, the writer, are immediately a character in your own story. For purists, this is not a comfortable position. Why should a reader be interested in you? You need to make sure your first-person presence is essential — because you experienced something or have a valuable contribution and perspective that justifies conveying the story explicitly through your own eyes. Just make sure you are bringing your readers along with you.

Here, in the spirit of first-personhood, is an example from one of my own stories :

“For many of us, Sept. 11, 2001, is one of those touchstone dates — we remember exactly where we were when we heard that the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I was in Afghanistan.”

On a historic date, I was in a place where very few Americans were present, meaning I’m able to serve as a guide to that place and time. Rather than stating I was in Afghanistan in the first sentence, I tried to draw in readers by reminding them that the memory of Sept. 11 is something many of us share in common, regardless of where we were that day.

Observational lead

This kind of lead steps back to make an authoritative observation about the story and its broader context. For it to work, you need to understand not just the immediate piece you’re writing, but also the big picture. These are useful for stories running a day or more after the news breaks.

Here’s one by the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty , a political reporter with decades of experience:

“At the lowest point of Donald Trump’s quest for the presidency, the Republican nominee might have brought in a political handyman to sand his edges. Instead, he put his campaign in the hands of a true believer who promises to amplify the GOP nominee’s nationalist message and reinforce his populist impulses.”

And here’s another by NPR’s Camila Domonoske , who knows her literary stuff, juxtaposing the mundane (taxes) with the highbrow (literary criticism):

“Tax records and literary criticism are strange bedfellows. But over the weekend, the two combined and brought into the world a literary controversy — call it the Ferrante Furor of 2016.”

Zinger lead

Edna Buchanan, the legendary, Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter for the Miami Herald , once said that a good lead should make a reader sitting at breakfast with his wife “spit out his coffee, clutch his chest and say, ‘My god, Martha. Did you read this?’”

That’s as good a definition as any of a “zinger” lead. These are a couple of Buchanan’s:

“His last meal was worth $30,000 and it killed him.” (A man died while trying to smuggle cocaine-filled condoms in his gut.)
“Bad things happen to the husbands of Widow Elkin.” (Ms. Elkin, as you might surmise, was suspected of bumping off her spouses.)

After Ryan Lochte’s post-Olympic Games, out-of-the-water escapades in Rio, Sally Jenkins, writing in the Washington Post , unleashed this zinger:

“Ryan Lochte is the dumbest bell that ever rang.”

Roy Peter Clark, of the Poynter Institute,  deconstructs Jenkins’ column here , praising her “short laser blast of a lead that captures the tone and message of the piece.”

Here are a few notes on things to avoid when writing leads:

  • Clichés and terrible puns. This goes for any part of your story, and never more so than in the lead. Terrible puns aren’t just the ones that make a reader groan — they’re in bad taste, inappropriate in tone or both. Here’s one example .
  • Long, rambling sentences. Don’t try to cram way too much information into one sentence or digress and meander or become repetitive. Clarity and simplicity rule.
  • Straining to be clever. Don’t write a lead that sounds better than it means or promises more than it can deliver. You want your reader to keep reading, not to stop and figure out something that sounds smart but is actually not very meaningful. Here’s John McPhee again: “A lead should not be cheap, flashy, meretricious, blaring: After a tremendous fanfare of verbal trumpets, a mouse comes out of a hole, blinking.”
  • Saying someone “could never have predicted.” It’s not an informative observation to say someone “could never have imagined” the twists and turns his or her life would take. Of course they couldn’t! It’s better to give the reader something concrete and interesting about that person instead.
  • The weather . Unless your story is about the weather, the weather plays a direct role in it or it’s essential for setting the scene, it doesn’t belong in the lead. Here’s a story about Donald Trump’s financial dealings that would have lost nothing if the first, weather-referenced sentence had been omitted.

One secret to a good lead

Finally, good reporting will lead to good leads. If your reporting is incomplete, that will often show up in a weak lead. If you find yourself struggling to come up with a decent lead or your lead just doesn’t seem strong, make sure your reporting is thorough and there aren’t unanswered questions or missing details and points. If you’ve reported your story well, your lead will reflect this.

Further reading:

  • A Poynter roundup of bad leads
  • A classic New Yorker story by Calvin Trillin with a great lead about one of Buchanan’s best-known leads.
  • A long read by John McPhee , discussing, among other things, “fighting fear and panic, because I had no idea where or how to begin a piece of writing for The New Yorker .” It happens to everyone!

Hannah Bloch is a digital editor for international news at NPR.

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In This Post:

How to write a good lead: 9 winning formulas.

Every writer should know how to nail their lead. Here's what it is — and nine ways to get a running start.

How to Write a Good Lead: 9 Winning Formulas

If you don’t know how to catch a reader’s attention in the first few seconds of an article, your writing goals will be dead in the water.

Enter the lead , the opening paragraph or opening section of a story. Sometimes misspelled “lede” for journalism shorthand, a lead is a single sentence, paragraph, or section that summarizes the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your story. Think of leads as being like movie trailers: you get a sense of what the movie is about, yet the teaser leaves you wanting more. A great lead does the same.

Key Takeaways

  • Good leads require both precision and brevity, and most editors and journalists consider it to be the most challenging section of an article to write.
  • There are several versions of the lead: straight news leads, a traditional lead, an anecdotal lead, a zinger lead, and more.
  • When you know what your lead is, your articles, emails, and/or social media posts will be much clearer.

Here’s what a lead is, the different types of leads, and how to start writing better leads now.

What Is a Lead (Lede)?

In writing, the lead is the opening sentence, paragraph, or section of your article.

The opening of your article or post must capture attention and create interest quickly; a well-written lead accomplishes this goal, and there are several ways to do it. While it’s important to write a good headline in order for readers to click through, it’s still not enough in our modern media landscape to get results. You also need a good opening.

Related: How to Pitch an Article in 2023: 72 Outlet How-Tos

There’s no one correct way to write a lead, but some approaches are better than others based on the type of article you’re writing. Here are nine different strategies to consider.

The Top 9 Types of Leads for Writing Online

  • Summary lead / straight news lead.
  • Single-item lead.
  • Anecdotal lead / analogous lead.
  • Delayed identification lead.
  • Scene-setting lead.
  • Short sentence lead / zinger lead.
  • First-person lead.
  • Observational lead.
  • Question lead.

No. 1: Summary Lead / Straight News Lead

A summary lead is the most common type of lead, and is very popular when writing about hard news or breaking news. If you’re new to writing, you can’t go wrong with a summary lead.

This approach is also called a news lead or a direct lead . Hannah Block, international news editor for National Public Radio (NPR), describes it well: “Just the facts, please, and even better if interesting details and context are packed in.”

The summary lead formula is simple: aspire to communicate most of the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your story (referred to hereafter as “the W’s”) in a single sentence.

This approach is preferred in news writing, which aspires to remain neutral and unbiased in its delivery of information, and creates immediate clarity. Prioritize active voice, journalistic writing, and proper AP style in a summary lead.

Here is an example from the Associated Press (AP).

“Intensifying its fight against high inflation, the Federal Reserve raised its key interest rate by a substantial three-quarters of a point for a third straight time and signaled more large rate hikes to come — an aggressive pace that will heighten the risk of an eventual recession.” (1)

AP’s business section has a “business highlights” subsection in which each article is a collection of leads and summary paragraphs. Read through it to get a feel for how to create clarity and context in a single paragraph that includes the most important information. AP News is free to read.

Here’s another example from Reuters:

“The Philadelphia Phillies ended their long wait for a World Series title with a short burst of baseball last night as they clinched the crown by completing a rain-suspended 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.” (2)

No. 2: Single-Item Lead

The single-item lead is similar to the summary lead, but this approach focuses just one or two of the W’s, rather than trying to stuff most or all of them into a single sentence.

This approach is good if your news story or article is very much driven by one particular detail or feeling, and since it’s shorter, it usually results in a bigger punch. Aim to land your idea in as few words as possible, preferably all in one sentence.

Let's rewrite the previous Reuters lead to demonstrate how it could be expressed as a single-item lead instead.

“The Philadelphia Phillies are World Champions again.”

No. 3: Anecdotal Lead / Analogy Lead

If the information you’re introducing to your audience is complex or overly conceptual, a more effective approach might be to use an analogy or anecdote instead.

The anecdotal lead is unique in that it does not communicate the W’s of the story, but rather leans on details or analogies to help the reader infer what the story is going to be about. The result is a more emotionally charged or stylistic lead that goes beyond hard facts and can pull readers in.

Important : An anecdote is any short story that illustrates a point.

These leads can use an overt analogy or be more descriptive. Here are examples of each.

The Cincinnati Post

“From Dan Ralescu’s sun-warmed beach chair in Thailand, the Indian Ocean began to look, oddly, not so much like waves but bread dough."

ProPublica/The New York Times

“"I tucked Joel in, but I feel so guilty I didn’t hold him longer,” Julie Rea said, her voice welling with emotion. That is all she can muster about the worst night of her life. As she tries to say more, she breaks down." (3)

Resist the urge to use an anecdotal lead that is too cheesy or cliché. The objective of this lead is to use an anecdote to create clarity faster and with fewer total words.

No. 4: Delayed Identification Lead

This lead focuses on an action or situation without revealing who is involved at first. It is good to use when someone wants to emphasize a scenario or situation effectively before revealing the W’s. When done well, it pulls people in.

In the first debate for the United States Democratic Primary in 2020, Kamala Harris used a delayed-identification lead in one of her talking points on busing legislation until the end.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate their public schools, and she was bused to school every day. That little girl was me.”

No. 5: Scene-Setting Lead

The scene-setting lead creates depth and detail. It is more lush and narrative, and is great for creating vividness or setting the stage for longer pieces.

Usually, the primary intention of the lead is to establish clarity quickly, but in literary journalism and other more longform approaches, taking the time to set the stage at the beginning often results in a more effective piece.

Here is an example of a scene-setting lead from BuzzFeed.

“For seven years before the murder, Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blancharde lived in a small pink bungalow on West Volunteer Way in Springfield, Missouri. Their neighbors liked them. “'Sweet' is the word I’d use,” a former friend of Dee Dee’s told me not too long ago. Once you met them, people said, they were impossible to forget.” (4)

Here is another example, a sentence from the book Beloved by Toni Morrison.

“Winter in Ohio was especially rough if you had an appetite for color. Sky provided the only drama, and counting on a Cincinnati horizon for life’s principal joy was reckless indeed.”

No. 6: Short Sentence Lead / Zinger Lead

This type of lead is when you pack a punch with the first sentence of your article to capture a reader’s attention. It can be sassy, shocking, unexpected, compelling, or all of the above.

Usually, when using a zinger lead, the following paragraphs fill in missing details and function like a regular lead.

Here is a sassy example from the Philadelphia Enquirer.

“Philadelphians don’t need anyone’s approval, especially not New Yorkers. But that doesn’t mean we don’t care when we get recognition.” ( 5)

Here is another example from the Miami Herald. This was a story about a man who attempted to smuggle cocaine by swallowing balloons of it.

“His last meal was worth $30,000 and it killed him.” (6)

No. 7: First-Person Lead

A first-person lead is the battle ax of many a mom blogger or aspiring opinion columnist. First-person leads are fine for blogging, and they’ve become increasingly popular in our social media-first culture.

However, they also break the fourth wall; if you’re writing a journalistic article or reporting, introducing yourself as a character in your story may be a risk.

Remember, the main goal of a lead is to get a point across quickly. If your personal experience doesn’t contribute to that goal, readers won’t understand what they’re reading, and they’ll check out.

Here is an example from a story by National Public Radio (NPR).

“For many of us, Sept. 11, 2001, is one of those touchstone dates — we remember exactly where we were when we heard that the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I was in Afghanistan.” (7)

No. 8: Observational Lead

In an observational lead, you project authority by talking about an issue at hand and relating the information back to the big picture. Observational leads usually aren’t used for breaking news, and they focus more on giving overall context to a situation, rather than just basic facts.

They’re a great opportunity to share your perspective, industry savvy, or writing style.

Here are the opening two sentences of a feature from The New York Times that leveraged the observational lead.

“In 2018, senior executives at one of the country’s largest nonprofit hospital chains, Providence, were frustrated. They were spending hundreds of millions of dollars providing free health care to patients. It was eating into their bottom line.” (8)

No. 9: Question Lead

A question lead uses question format to create curiosity and intrigue. Since a question lead is not providing details, the second paragraph of your piece will need to pull extra weight and deliver missing details.

Ensure you have this one-two punch in place so that the rhythm of your article reads properly.

Here's a terrific question lead from an article in The Las Vegas Sun.

“What’s increasing faster than the price of gasoline? Apparently, the cost of court lobbyists. District and Justice Court Judges want to hire lobbyist Rick Loop for $150,000 to represent the court system in Carson City through the 2009 legislative session. During the past session, Loop’s price tag was $80,000.” (9)

Question leads are also popular in SEO writing, especially questions addressed directly to the reader. Most search engine traffic is people with intent who are trying to have their questions answered; this approach is an easier way to hook readers, but it is sometimes considered low-brow.

Let's look at a question lead from Social Media Examiner that followed this format.

“Are you using TikTok or Instagram for business? Looking for a content strategy that works and won’t leave you exhausted? In this article, you’ll discover a three-step strategy to create highly engaging TikTok and Instagram content that will scale your audience while helping you avoid burnout.” (10)

When Should You Write and Edit Your Lead?

Consider writing your lead first, then editing your lead last.

The lead will give you a running start, and is usually one of the first things you will write when you sit down in front of a blank page. However, since the lead needs to accurately capture the essence of your article, it’s helpful to have the rest of your piece developed before attempting to summarize it. Leads are surprisingly challenging to write, but when done well, they make an article sing.

Practice both spotting and writing leads on a regular basis and your writing will improve. When you’re able to communicate a message quickly — whether it be yours or someone else’s — your words will reach more people and make a bigger impact in the long run.

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Welcome to the blog. Nick Wolny is a professional editor and online business consultant based in Los Angeles, California.

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Writing Leads - NMU Writing Center

Writing Center

Writing Leads

What is a lead.

 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: 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 (who, what, when, where, why) and the H (how).

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.

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Ken Blake, Ph.D.

Six rules for writing a straight news lead.


Every news story begins with a lead (pronounced LEED), so learning to write a good lead is the first step in learning to write a good story. Journalists use many different styles of leads, depending on the situation. But most media writing students begin by learning the simplest and most common style: the straight news lead. Below are six rules for writing good straight news leads. You can also watch my approximately 15-minute, YouTube-hosted video lecture explaining the rules.

Following these rules will help you write a good lead every time. So will breaking one or more of them, but only if you do it intentionally and for a specific purpose. The statement I just wrote, for example, is a fragment. It violates a basic grammar rule. But I broke the rule to emphasize my point. That’s OK.

Here’s a summary of the rules. Scroll down for details about each rule:

  • Rule #1: A straight news lead should be a single paragraph consisting of a single sentence, should contain no more than 30 words, and should summarize, at minimum, the most newsworthy “what,” “where” and “when” of the story.
  • Rule #2: The lead’s first verb should express the main “what” of the story and should be placed among the lead’s first seven words.
  • Rule #3: The lead’s first verb — the same one that expresses the main “what” of the story — should be active voice, not passive voice.
  • Rule #4: If there’s a “who” involved in the story, the lead should give some indication of who the “who” is.
  • Rule #5: The lead should summarize the “why” and “how” of the story, but only if there’s room.
  • Rule #6: If what’s in the lead needs to be attributed, place the attribution at the end of the lead.

Rule #1 : A straight news lead should be a single paragraph consisting of a single sentence, should contain no more than 30 words, and should summarize, at minimum, the most newsworthy “what,” “where” and “when” of the story.

  • Example: “Fire destroyed a house on Main Street early Monday morning.”

The lead is a single-sentence paragraph. Note, please, that a lead should be written in ordinary English, not the clipped phrasing reserved for headlines like “Main Street home destroyed in early morning fire.” Headlines, which appear in large print above the stories they introduce, are written that way to conserve space. But people would consider you strange if you went around talking like that all the time. Your audience will consider you strange if you talk that way in your journalistic writing.

The lead contains 10 words — far fewer than the 30-word limit. Notice that the word count includes even little words like “a” and “on.” The lead also summarizes the main “what” of the story, which is that fire destroyed a house. It provides the “where” of the story with the phrase “on Main Street.” Finally, the lead gives the “when” of the story with the phrase “early Monday morning.”

Important note: There are some mental gymnastics involved in correctly conveying the “when” of a newspaper story. Suppose, for example, that today is Monday, and the fire happened this morning. You might be tempted to write the lead like this: “Fire destroyed a house on Main Street early this morning.” And doing so might be just fine if your lead were going to be published, read and discarded that same day. But if you’re writing something that won’t get distributed until the following day, keep in mind that someone who reads that the fire occurred “this morning” will inaccurately assume that “this morning” means “Tuesday morning.” Also, if you’re story is going to hang around on the Web for a while, “this morning” could mean just about anything to someone who reads it days, months or even years afterward, even if your story carries a time stamp. To avoid such problems, AP style recommends using the day of the week for the “when” of events within seven days of the current date. For dates outside that time frame, use the month and day. See you AP Stylebook’s “time element” and “months” entries for details.

Rule #2 : The lead’s first verb should express the main “what” of the story and should be placed among the lead’s first seven words.

The verb “destroyed” expresses the main “what” of the story. “Destroyed” is the lead’s second word — a position that puts “destroyed” well in front of “Street,” the lead’s seventh word. Again, notice that the word count includes even little words like “a” and “on.” There are no other verbs in front of “destroyed,” so “destroyed” is the lead’s first verb.

Following this rule will force you to quickly tell readers what the story is about.

Rule #3 : The lead’s first verb — the same one that expresses the main “what” of the story — should be active voice, not passive voice. A verb is active voice if the verb’s subject did, is doing, or will do something.

“Destroyed” is the verb. “Fire” is the verb’s subject. “Fire” did something. It destroyed. A verb is passive voice if the verb’s subject had, is having, or will have something done to it. For example, if the lead were, “A house was destroyed by fire on Main Street early Monday morning,” “was” would be the verb, “house” would be the verb’s subject, and “house” would have had something done to it. The house “was destroyed” (by fire). If you read your lead and feel compelled to add something like the “by fire” phrase after the verb in order to express who or what did what the verb is describing, chances are you’ve written a passive-voice lead.

Rule #4 : If there’s a “who” involved in the story, the lead should give some indication of who the “who” is.

  • First example: “An elderly Murfreesboro man died Monday when an early morning fire raged through his Main Street home.”

The “who” is “an elderly Murfreesboro man.” In this case, the “who” probably isn’t someone whose name readers would recognize. As a result, the “who” angle of the lead focuses on what things about the “who” might make the “who” important to the reader. In this case, it’s the fact that the man was older and lived in Murfreesboro. That’s called writing a “blind lead.” The man’s name will be given later in the story.

  • Second example: “Murfreesboro Mayor Joe Smith died Monday when an early morning fire raged through his Main Street home.”

Smith is the local mayor, and most readers probably will recognize his name. As a result, the lead’s “who” element gives his name. So, use  the name of the “who” in the lead only when the name is likely to be recognized by a large percentage of your audience.

Rule #5 : The lead should summarize the “why” and “how” of the story, but only if there’s room.

  • Example: “An elderly Murfreesboro man died early Monday morning when fire sparked by faulty wiring raged through his Main Street home.”

In this example, “… fire … raged through his Main Street home …” explains why the man died. Meanwhile, “… sparked by faulty wiring …” explains how the blaze began.

Rule #6 : If what’s in the lead needs to be attributed, place the attribution at the end of the lead, never at the beginning of the lead.

  • Example: “Faulty wiring most likely sparked the blaze that claimed the life of an elderly Murfreesboro man last week, the city’s arson investigator concluded Monday.”

Attribution is a reference indicating the source of some bit of information. In this case, the attribution is the phrase, “the city’s arson investigator concluded Monday.” Generally, attribute assertions that represent anything other than objective, indisputably true information. Here, it is objectively and indisputably true that the man is dead, that his house was destroyed, that it all happened early Monday morning, and that the house was on Main Street. But the arson investigator’s assertion that faulty wiring caused the blaze represents the investigator’s opinion. It is, of course, an insightful opinion based upon his training and expertise, which is the only reason it is worth including at all. But it is an opinion nonetheless. Therefore, the assertion needs to be attributed to the investigator so readers can decide for themselves how credible the assertion is.

Be aware that this rule and many of the others apply mainly to written forms of journalism. In the lead for radio or TV news story, for example, attribution, if included at all, usually goes at the beginning, as in, “The city’s arson investigator concluded Monday that faulty wiring most likely sparked the blaze that claimed the life of an elderly Murfreesboro man last week.” The idea behind this alternative organization of the lead is that audience members, when listening to or watching the story rather than reading it, need a little extra time to start mentally processing  the information being presented, and they’ll be more likely to remember the information at the end of the lead than the information at the beginning of the lead.

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  • Writing Tips

5 Tips for Writing a Great Lead for a News Story

5 Tips for Writing a Great Lead for a News Story

5-minute read

  • 14th June 2021

A great lead (or “lede”) will set out the key points from a news story in the first lines. This helps to grab readers’ attention, as well as giving them the context they need to understand the story that follows. But how can you write a strong lead for a news or feature article? We have five simple tips to follow:

  • Consider the type of lead you want to use for your article.
  • Think about the “Five Ws and an H” to pinpoint the key details for your lead.
  • Use clear, concise language, avoiding jargon or unnecessary wordiness.
  • Resist puns and other newspaper lead clichés.
  • Test your lead by reading it out loud to see if it reads smoothly.

For more advice on writing a lead for an article , read on below.

1. Types of Leads

Article leads come in various forms. Three common examples include:

  • Summary leads are typically used when writing about current events. As the name indicates, summary leads aim to summarize the key details from a story. Usually, they are no more than one or two sentences long.
  • Anecdotal leads are two to three paragraphs long and most common in “feature” articles rather than news stories (e.g., profile or opinion pieces). They work by setting out an anecdote related to the story, helping to make it feel more personal or emotive. This is then followed by a nut graph , where you will explain how the anecdote relates to the main topic of the article.
  • Question leads start a story with a question, posed to the reader, about the topic of the article. This would then be followed by a summary.

The key here is to choose a type of lead paragraph that will work best for your news story. Traditionally, news focused stories start with a factual summary lead. Anecdotal and question leads, meanwhile, are great for more personal stories.

2. The Five Ws and H

In journalism, the Five Ws and H refer to six questions you should ask about the story you’re writing. These are also helpful when writing a lead for a story:

  • Who is involved or affected? Who will benefit or be harmed?
  • What happened? What is the article about in simple terms?
  • Where does/did/will it happen? Does the location affect what happened?
  • When does/did/will it happen? Is it relevant to the story?
  • Why did this happen? Why is it important?
  • How did it happen? How does it affect those involved?

Answering the questions above will help you pick out the most important details for the story, which you can then use as the basis for your lead. The story will then cover the other details in the rest of the story, starting with the most relevant points .

Even if you’re not writing a summary lead, considering the Five Ws and H is a good exercise! Picking out the most important details means you can then plan your lead to fit the story, as well as helping you to structure the overall article.

3. Use Clear, Concise Language

Article leads, especially summary leads, need to communicate the key details of a story in as few words as possible. This will usually mean:

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  • Using everyday language rather than jargon or buzzwords.
  • Writing in the active voice where possible.
  • Keeping sentences short (ideally, no more than 15 to 20 words).
  • Avoiding various forms of wordiness .
  • Omitting unnecessary details (e.g., if you know your readers will be familiar with the background information on a story, you can leave it out of the lead).

This is essential for summary leads, which may only be a few sentences long. But clear, concise language is valuable no matter what type of lead you’re writing.

4. Resist Puns and Other Clichés

Puns are a common trope in tabloid headlines . It may even be tempting to include one in your lead, but try to resist this urge! If nothing else, puns suggest a lack of seriousness, which could undermine the tone of the rest of the story.

But puns are also a cliché in article leads, so they should be avoided on that count, too. In fact, there are several clichéd leads you might want to avoid, including:

  • Dictionary leads (e.g., The dictionary defines X as… )
  • Time-related phrases (e.g., Since the beginning of time… )
  • “Good news, bad news” leads (e.g., The good news is… )
  • “Thanks to” leads (e.g., Thanks to the internet, we now… )

There are occasions where a pun or cliché might be appropriate. But it’s always worth thinking carefully about how such things will affect the tone of your story.

5. Test and Revise Your Lead

Finally, test your lead by reading it out loud. It should read clearly and smoothly. If you find yourself stumbling, look for minor changes you can make to improve it. This might mean cutting a few words or rephrasing the sentence slightly.

Don’t forget, too, that your lead is just part of a story! It is thus wise to revisit your lead once you’ve written the full article and tweak it to fit what you’ve written.

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Tips for Writing Effective Leads

By becky lowicki, mj, apr, february 2023.

As a writer, at the outset of creating any article, post or prose, you’ve got just three seconds to hook them or lose them. Think of it as your “never get a second chance to make a first impression” moment. 

And the success of your content all rides on the critical first step — creating an effective, engaging and meaningful lead that not only draws your reader in, but also leaves them wanting to know just a bit more to continue on to the rest of the story via a throughput to sentence number two. 

Miss this shot, and your article, story or post is doomed. While it sounds easy, time and time again, so many articles have met their early demise in the dustbin of reader engagement due to the lack of this key fundamental element — an effective lead.

1. Create anecdotes and analogies.

Including memorable anecdotes is more than just comparison writing, it’s about creating a visual picture that illustrates the key points with symbolic messaging, much like an artist’s painting provides color and clarity with each brushstroke.

Lackluster example: “The new office building at headquarters is 21 stories tall.” Snoozer!

Strategic approach: “Reaching the same height as the Statue of Liberty, the new office building at headquarters stands with open arms as well for all job seekers entering the XYZ  market.” The symbolic reference to new beginnings, inclusion and equity are key points that invite the reader in to learn more and provide a thematic reference point to build upon within the story’s narrative.

2. Pose a thought-provoking question.

The key to asking a question as a lead is to avoid framing the question with a “yes” or “no” response, which will instantly limit the likelihood your readers will continue reading onward, especially if the query is not relatable to them.  

Lackluster example : “Is continuous improvement helpful at ABC Corporation?” If the answer is no, then enough said. If “not sure,” then a 50% likelihood of continuing, and if “yes,” it’s still not offering attention-grabbing content. 

Strategic approach: “How have the elements of skydiving improved work productivity at ABC corporation?” Adding in a dash of intrigue helps build a sense of mystery and interest to find out more. 

3. Feature an effective quote from within the story.

Powerful quotes bring a humanizing element as a lead as well as being testimonials of personal experience within the narrative of your article. Pull out a quote from the body of your article and use it as the lead instead.

Strategic approach: “When I climbed up Mt. Everest, what I conquered was much greater than the journey itself,” said Stewart Simms, an XXZ sales rep who is legally blind.  

“I had no idea the president of the company even knew who I was,” said XXY Corp new hire Jim Smith, in Receiving, “then when he welcomed me by my first name at the orientation session, I saw firsthand how much a personal approach to customer service really meant.”  

4. Highlight meaningful data.

While words matter, numbers speak volumes if used judiciously. 

Lackluster example : “One hundred people attended the conference.” Crickets. 

Strategic approach: “With a nonstop convoy of U-Hauls traversing into the Lone Star State, more than 300,000 people have moved from California to Texas in 2020, yielding an increase in population equal to the size of Rhode Island on any given day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.”

5. Provide detailed descriptions.

Bringing the reader into the scene within the lead helps to impart emotion and feeling through the use of descriptive detail, along with a third-person account that is both relatable and believable. 

Lackluster example : “The woman picked up a flyer about her recent diagnosis.” Yawn.

Strategic approach: “The pink pamphlet clutched between her trembling fingers provided a beacon of hope amid the deluge of decisions as she sought a path of recovery following her recent diagnosis.”    

6. Don’t bury the lead.

Effective leads follow a “first things first” approach. Putting your gold nugget at the end of the article will offer little certainty that your readers will even take the time to search through the story like being on an Easter egg hunt for the pertinent information. 

7. Practice your technique.

The best way to improve your lead-writing skill is through practice — and more practice. 

Now is the opportunity for you to put pen to paper and hone your ability to generate multiple strategic leads for a single story:

  • Step 1: Select any recent article as your practice example. The length and subject are irrelevant. Choose anything you like, from sports to music, arts, cooking or a personal hobby, among others.
  • Step 2: Next, rerewrite the lead for the article using each of the lead strategies outlined here in this article. 
  • Step 3: When finished, compare each of the approaches and reread the different strategic leads — reviewing how each strategy affects not only the initial hook, but also the segue to the second sentence, as well as the subsequent paragraphs. 
  • Step 4: Knowing that different articles are more strategically fitted to various lead types, ask a colleague for feedback about which strategic lead resonates most for them for your practice example. Would they continue reading on? Why or why not? 

Most of all, use these top tips as tools within your writing toolbox, recognizing that crafting effective leads is all about engagement — by enticing readers to continue reading onward in a meaningful and memorable way by utilizing a strategic lead approach. 

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Becky Lowicki

Becky Lowicki, MJ, APR

An award-winning executive communications writer, Becky Lowicki, MJ, APR, is a strategic change management leader in the energy sector who serves on the the board of directors for PRSA's Houston Chapter as chair of the Ethics Committee. She earned both a master’s and a bachelor’s in journalism/public relations from The Manship School of Journalism of Louisiana State University where she was a founding member of the PRSSA Chapter. Connect with her on LinkedIn  to learn more.

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