Writing Leads

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. Take a look at this example from the New York Times.

A delayed lead often sets the stage with some concrete details, incorporates a good quote, or sets a scene before conveying the basic information. Take a look at this example about figure skating in the last Olympics.

But there are also other ways to write a lead; for examples, see How to Write a Lead Like a Professional Blogger.

In-class practice:

What: Bostonians are jumping out of window into giant snow banks and posting videos on social media. The mayor is concerned. He wants it to stop.

Where: Boston, Mass.

When: At press conference yesterday

Who: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh

Why: There are 8 foot snow drifts. People are going a little stir-crazy. They may seriously injury themselves or even die.

Quote: “This isn’t Loon Mountain, this is the city of Boston, where we’re trying to remove snow off of the street and it becomes very dangerous. And the last thing we want to do is respond to an emergency call where somebody jumped out of the window because they thought it was a funny thing to do,” Walsh said.

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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, Slate.com, 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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