In Class Lead Writing Exercise

After the headline, your lead – a simple, clear statement consisting of the first few sentences of your story – is the most important part of your article.

A lead must:

  • Pull the reader in.
  • Convey the basic information (who, what, where, when, why and how)
  • Include only the most important information
  • Tell the reader what is unusual or unique
  • Focus on people doing things
  • Tell reader why they should care
  • Be accurate

If your lead isn’t compelling, chances are your reader will go elsewhere.

There are many ways to craft a lead. Two of most common leads are 1.) the hard news(or inverted pyramid) lead and 2) the delayed (or anecdotal) lead.

A hard news lead answers the basic information: who, what, where, when and why in the first paragraph. It is usually short, often fewer than 25 words, unless you use two sentences.

A delayed lead often sets the stage with some unusual details, incorporates a good quote, or sets a scene before conveying the basic information.

Look at some examples of leads about Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show debut:

  2. USA Today
  3. CNN
  4. New York Times
  5. Defamer
  6. Buzzfeed

Here is an article on 10 Ways to Write a Great Lead

Now try writing your own lead with the following information….

WHAT: Rowan University Recreation Center runs a program called Santa Callings, in which local South Jersey kids get a phone call from Santa asking what they want for Christmas.

WHO: Rowan University students call local kids who participate in summer camp at the Rec Center. Female Rowan students pose as elves. Male students pose as Santa Claus.

WHEN: Calls are made two weeks before Christmas.

HOW: Parents fill out questionnaires for their children that include information like the name of their school, siblings, family members and what gifts they want. Rowan students use the information to make the call seem more real.

WHERE: Rowan University Rec Center.

WHY: It’s a fun activity that reinforces relationships between the Rec Center staff and parents. And it’s fun for kids.

QUOTE: “When I was told what the Santa Callings were I was a little hesitant to try it,” said Marty Marcinkiewicz, a former Rec Center employee. “I was afraid the kids would not believe I was Santa. But after a few calls I loved it. The kids get so excited, it’s awesome.”


About Nick DiUlio

My name is Nick DiUlio, a freelance writer and editor from New Jersey. I have been passionate about the craft of writing since I was old enough to spell, and this love has led to a successful career in journalism and creative nonfiction. As a freelancer, I have covered a wide range of topics and personalities, as my published work has focused on everything from profiles of artists and important political figures to hard-news stories with both national and local appeal; from restaurant and beverage reviews to tips on fashion and finance; from health and wellness pieces to celebrity Q&A’s. My work has appeared in several local, regional and national publications—both in print and online—including Philadelphia Magazine,, Miller-McCune, New Jersey Monthly, Eating Well, and Delaware Today. Additionally, I am the South Jersey Bureau Chief for New Jersey Monthly and an adjunct journalism professor at Rowan University. To be sure, the broadness of my body of work seems only to be matched by my boundless interest in almost every subject imaginable (except Warren Zevon). Check out some of my most recently published work here.
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2 Responses to In Class Lead Writing Exercise

  1. Pingback: Wednesday, February 19 | Southern Accents

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