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Writing Better Leads (TOW-8) March 12, 2010

Posted by Chris Yates in PRCA 3330-Topic of the Week.

     A good lead is essential to most types of writing, especially when trying to persuade someone. The lead is there to engage the reader and convince him or her to continue, so it must contain enough information to hook them, but not so much that they feel they don’t have to read the rest. The Lead Lab at Poynter News University was a great exercise for writing 2 different types of leads, direct and delayed leads.

Types of Direct Leads

  • Analysis – puts the story immediately into perspective
  • Summary – a hard/breaking news lead

Types of Delayed Leads

  • Anecdotal – tells a story
  • Significant Detail – a shocking fact to attract attention
  • Emblem – using human interest to subject a theme to the story
  • Round Up – used to demonstrate trends

     It surprised me to see how easy it is to underappreciate the basic elements of effective lead writing. A long time ago in Inro to Journalism, I was taught the importance of conveying the five W’s: Who, what, when, where, and why. A lead might seem good, but if it doesn’t incorporate these elements, then it needs to be re-written. The lead lab also called attention to a sixth element, the “So What?” element. This is just a reminder that people want stories that help them understand what matters in the world right now. If something is not newsworthy, then it will take a really creative lead to draw attention to it, which is an important consideration to make when choosing a story or event to cover.

     In addition to the points that were addressed in the News University course, it’s very important to practice writing leads. Writing is much like exercising, in that if you don’t use it, you lose it. I personally find that lead-writing is the most difficult part of writing a persuasive message. So much depends on the success of the lead. In the future, I’d like to figure out some better ways to practice this skill.


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