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.
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.